1. Introduction: The Environment Is Not Something “Out There”; it’s Where We Live & Work
Can a company be environmentally conscious and still make money? That might seem like a strange question, given that many of the most vigorous opponents of environmental regulations seem to come from the business world. But the experience of the UAE, Dubai in particular, in advancing a green agenda while engaging the corporate world in this transformation proves that not only is it possible to marry environmental initiatives with sustainable economic growth, it is a matter of the utmost urgency.
Climate change is real and it is affecting the lives of millions of people around the globe. Experts and pseudo experts can debate how much human activity is directly responsible, but the unending stream of news about record-breaking hurricanes, cyclones, and flooding; the unseasonable heat waves and the monster blizzards means that whatever the causes, humanity is facing the consequences of changes to our eco-system. But there are efforts being made to mitigate and perhaps reverse some of the worst damage we have wrought on our planet. Efforts to make our lives happier, healthier and more productive should be acknowledged and celebrated.
Signatories to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement have tried to coordinate international efforts to promote sustainable development and to reduce carbon emissions. Although there is as yet no consensus on the actions that must be taken, some nations are going even further than the stipulations of these agreements.
The UAE has been at the forefront of countries adopting forward thinking policies to encourage the sustainable use of resources. Through the UAE 2021 Vision and the UAE 2030, the country has outlined a set of rigorous initiatives to move towards a green economy by diversifying income sources, moving away from a dependency on oil, and becoming a global hub for environmental products and technologies. The measures introduced cover the energy, agriculture, investment, transport and construction sectors, and focus on environmental quality and sustainability. This arises from the UAE government’s conviction that long-term economic growth can only be guaranteed through environmental conservation and as well as green technology innovation.
At the same time, Dubai has affirmed its ambition to become the green capital of the world by reducing carbon emissions, investing in green technology and renewable energy and by making the emirate a cleaner, greener, happier place.
2. Why Having Sustainable Interior Fit Out Makes (Dollars &) Sense
One area where we can see the direct correlation between environmental (green) business investment and profitability is in office fit out. We spend 90% of our time indoors and there are numerous benefits to health, well-being and productivity arising from having environmentally sustainable (Green) working spaces.
2.1 Environmental Impact
Buildings are an enormous drain on environmental resources and major source of greenhouse gas emissions. At the global level, buildings are responsible for an enormous consumption of energy, water and materials. One study estimated that buildings are responsible for up to 18% of global emissions today. The same study stressed that the building sector can make extremely significant cuts in its carbon footprint if designers, contractor and interior fit out companies apply environmental design standards.
It has been estimated that in the US buildings cause almost 40% of national carbon gas emissions due to their energy consumption. This is greater than both the industrial and transportation sectors. However, buildings which are constructed or remodeled taking into account the environmental and sustainability dimensions have 34% lower CO2 emissions, consume 25% less energy and 11% less water as well as producing significantly less non-recyclable waste.
2.2 Employee Health & Happiness
Researchers at Harvard have discovered that working in green-certified buildings has positive and measurable effects on employee decision making abilities. When they examined the relationship between building conditions and workers’ productivity and health, they discovered that workers in green-certified buildings out-performed those in traditional office environments. The study found that Green office environment employees:
• Perform 26% better in cognitive function tests
• Exhibit 30% less symptoms of “sick building” syndrome (malaise, fatigue, lack of concentration, etc.)
• Have 6% higher sleep quality scores
Less measurably, but no less importantly, employees of companies that have moved to an eco-friendly interior fit out report feeling happier and more positive about work.
2.3 Operational Performance & Profitability
According to the World Green Building Council (WGBC) small changes in the office environment like increasing natural light, improving air quality and introducing greenery and exterior views not only reduce energy consumption but can dramatically improve employee morale, and performance boosting the bottom-line. The WGBC has identified several examples of environmental fit out impacting
company performance and profitability:
• Skanska (Doncaster, UK) slashed sick days nearly 70% by improving office layout, indoor air quality and lighting. £28,000 were cut from staff costs in 2015.
• Heerema Marine Contractors (Amsterdam) forecast a net present value uplift of €42 million ($47 million) over 20 years due to improvements in its office (air quality, temperature control, natural lighting) leading to increased productivity and staff retention
• Saint-Gobain doubled their call centre staff productivity at their new North American premises. Sales generated leads increased 97% and leads per call increased 101% all because the new building has a fitness centre, 100 collaborative workspaces and 92% of offices enjoy outdoor views
If you factor in the fact that employee costs typically account for 90% of operating costs, according to the WGBC, every 1% improvement in productivity can have a tremendous knock on effect on any business’ bottom line.
Other studies indicate that buildings which are designed taking environmental principles into account or that are retro-fitted have 20% lower maintenance costs than conventional commercial buildings. Green building retro-fit projects can in some instances reduce operational costs by 10% within a single year!
2.4 Economic Benefits: Investors, Owners & Tenants
If we go beyond the not inconsiderable benefits to employee health and the associated reduction in operational costs and look at property investment and development, analysis confirms that “green buildings” can provide better investment returns to owners because of higher rental rates and asset value, as well as better tenant attraction and retention.
In a study of publicly traded REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) in the US and UK, those with a larger proportion of properties with green building certifications showed greater cash flow that those with less such certifications.
In another study, examining over 25 thousand US commercial properties, researchers found that rental, occupancy and pricing levels of eco-friendly buildings are significantly higher than for non-certified ones. Green buildings have a higher value not only because of increased energy efficiency but also because of improved water efficiency. The sustainable materials and resources used in fit out also have a great effect on rent levels as they are more attractive to potential tenants.
3. Interior Fit Out Companies: Being Green in Dubai
At Summertown Interiors we practice what we preach, being the first contractor in the UAE to receive the prestigious Gold LEED rating for its Jafza headquarters fit out in 2009. The LEED rating system created by the United States Green Building Council assesses the overall environmental performance of a building. After the fit out, it is estimated that the Summertown headquarters consumes 35% less energy, 50% less water and diverts 90% more of its waste from landfill compared to a conventional office building.
In another recently completed project, the fit out of the Smart Dubai office, Summertown worked with DWP designers to ensure that the 1,850 square meter project not only met stringent green building standards but provided employees with an attractive and healthy working environment. Summertown was awarded the contract because of its 20 year history in company fit out solutions taking into account sustainability and environmental design, which put it far ahead of any competitors. With a focus on promoting sustainable environmentally friendly development, the Smart Dubai office fit out relied on organic materials, including wood and rope, took into account air quality, energy consumption and lighting, in addition to some complex IT requirements.
If you don’t currently work in a Green office, don’t you wish you did? And if you have not yet considered investing in an environmentally sustainable fit out of your business, isn’t it time that you did?