Friday, January 10, 2014

5 Ways to Create a More Sustainable Workspace

Do you know which materials went into producing the desk chair you sit in every day or how energy efficient your office building is? Sustainable interior design has not had as much time in the green spotlight as hybrid or electric cars, but it has a much larger impact on our everyday lives than many are aware of. With the impressive increase of LEED-certified buildings in previous years, architecture and design companies have been making massive strides to ensure interior sustainability, creating healthy and sustainable interior designs for workers to benefit from.
What is sustainable interior design? Green or sustainable interior design focuses on the elimination of harmful environmental elements through thoughtful and skillful design in a room. Sustainable interior designers aim to create rooms that are safe for occupants to establish long-term relationships with their surroundings. Designers are mindful of the health, wellness, and user-efficiency of the room’s occupants. They are aware of how the furniture was manufactured and how they can increase energy efficiency in the design and flow of a room. They strive to ensure the long-term preservation of indoor atmospheres so occupants remain healthy and productive. Five aspects they focus on to make a space greener are:

  • Lighting. There are now many industrial and commercial lighting options that are considerably less energy intensive and meet international standards for environmental impact. LED lighting utilizes Light-Emitting Diodes as the source of light. These diodes emit large amounts of lumens while conserving wattage. Another way of conserving energy is to incorporate as much natural light into a space as possible through the use of windows, skylights, and clear or opaque walls. 
  • Furniture. Many manufacturers use greener methods of production, making the office furniture itself greener. Responsible companies offer their clients the specific details of how their products are produced and delivered. They build from the scrap generated by other industries; some of it is 100% post-industrial recycled content. Designers who care about sustainability check to see that any chairs or desks a business uses are not made from endangered rainforest wood species, but only from sustainably forested wood. Non-wood pieces can be sustainable as well. BioFlex is a chair foam that is made with soybeans grown by American farmers. Leather supplied should be 100% recyclable, and synthetic fabrics are vetted for health consciousness. Metal products should not emit unfriendly waste, as plated chrome does. Stainless steel is better. 
  • Walls. In today’s workspaces, many of these are portable instead of fixed, allowing for more flexibility of design and better use of architecture and light. Movable walls can be made from recycled glass, wood and metal. 
  • Heating and cooling. Much of a building’s energy efficiency is determined by its architecture and systems, but designers with an eye on future costs and comfort will pay attention to window treatments, seasonal ambient temperatures and worker placement within a workspace. 
  • Water. By using low-flow toilets and automatic faucets in an office setting, thousands of gallons of water can be saved. One toilet can consume as much as 7 gallons of water per flush. Multiply this by the number of employees in a large office, and that is a lot of wasted water and money. Improperly designed bathrooms can also be breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria. Designers who monitor employee use can help create continuously healthier spaces. 

Why is sustainable interior design important? Designers who focus on sustainability have advanced knowledge of the furniture and other materials that are incorporated into floor plans as well as employee habits of use. Creating greener workspaces can be a time and paperwork intensive venture, but the rewards will pay out for years to come in health, safety, money, and conservation of our natural resources. These are the offices, classrooms and other rooms that we spend much of our time in - they should not be toxic to our physical and mental health, but should inspire us to work better and more productively.

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