SUCCESS STORIES

Smart Sustainable Offices

Smart Sustainable Offices (SSO) is a multi-disciplinary project within the Urban Transitions Building Technologies Accelerator programme run by Climate-KIC partners Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Valencian Institute of Building and the University of Valencia in Spain.

The project has developed a comprehensive database with models and methodologies that demonstrate patterns and interactions between office design, building systems, indoor comfort, wellbeing and employee productivity. SSO takes a holistic view of the office to evaluate the relationship between energy building performance and the end user’s wellbeing. This approach links improved work environment to enhanced productivity, demonstrating how it can boost an organisation’s overall performance due to less sick leave, higher engagement, greater job satisfaction and lower staff turnover. The programme has developed Europe’s first such knowledge of workspace buildings.

Key points

  • The building sector is one of the most resource-intensive in EU
  • Making the case for sustainability through renovation requires integrating the user, and new approaches beyond energy cost savings
  • SSO takes a holistic view to evaluate return on investments in energy performance and carbon savings for the office
  • Improving work conditions can also improve productivity, boosting an organisation’s overall performance
  • The programme has developed Europe’s first such knowledge with empirical data of workspace buildings in Spain and Sweden
  • SSO is formalising this research, developing a suite of consultancy and building certification services for users including real estate owners, architectural practices, engineering companies and office furniture suppliers

Project Background and Drivers

The building sector is one of the most resource-intensive in EU – from extracted raw materials to energy use, water consumption and waste. As such, the European Commission is increasingly looking to drive improved environmental performance, energy and resource efficiency in the continent’s building stock. The ability to make comparison between buildings through a common framework is fundamental to achieving these goals.

Offices play a major part in this – while they make up around 8 percent of the overall building stock, we spend up to 90,000 hours of our working life in them. Sustainable building standards such as BREEAM and LEED provide guidance on the materials lifecycle for renovating existing or constructing new office buildings, but these are generally based on conventional cost-benefit approaches. There is little focus on the occupant, how the building is used, or how the renovation may impact wellbeing or comfort.

Basing renovation purely on cost savings from energy enhancements can fall short with real estate owners, increasingly asked to make such investments. “Trying to convince real estate owners to tackle the energy and carbon issues in the building stock can be difficult when energy prices are too low, labour costs too high or solutions are too technical. Portfolio owners would like to see a return on investment within ten years, but the solutions lifecycle ROI often goes beyond that,” explains Holger Wallbaum, Professor, Sustainable building, Civil and Environmental Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology.

There is a need, then, for different approaches that leverage a co-benefits perspective. Increasing wellbeing and resilience, and providing adaptable solutions provides a way forward. Many studies indicate that smart and sustainable offices may positively affect health. Improving work conditions can also improve productivity, boosting an organisation’s overall performance due to less sick leave, higher engagement, greater job satisfaction and lower staff turnover.

Project Detail

Smart Sustainable Offices (SSO), run by Climate-KIC partners Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Valencian Institute of Building and University of Valencia, Spain, is based on this thinking, taking a holistic view of the office.

The project has developed empirically robust, region-specific models and methodologies that demonstrate patterns and interactions between office design, building systems, indoor comfort, user behaviour and employee productivity. At its core is a comprehensive database – Europe’s first – that offers insights from Spanish and Swedish workspace buildings, and crucially, how they are used. In-depth research was collected from employees through a multi-method research approach, before aggregated, analysing and compiling the data.

“What we see is that if there is a poor [building] design, then people misuse buildings. They cover ventilations, put extra fans in or use personal heaters. All these observations suggest that the real energy consumption in the design can be very different to the real energy use,” points out Professor Ulrike Rahe, Industrial Design at Chalmers University of Technology.

She adds: “Stating sustainability aims or standards can also impact people’s behaviour. People then often overestimate the functionality of the building and assume that they do not have to adjust their behaviour, or that they can use energy freely. This is why we have psychologists from University of Valencia on our research team, as well as designers, engineers and architects. We can make recommendations with regard to this.”

Developing SSO Tools and Services

Smart and Sustainable Office has begun to formalise this critical research, creating a suite of tools and services that can be harnessed by stakeholders across the industry, from real estate owners and architectural practices to engineering companies and office furniture suppliers.

Its office insights and diagnosis are intended to evaluate user demands, while an office improvement strategy and building certification provides a methodology and the parameters with which to design a more comfortable office. Consultation on how to execute this combines sustainable building systems technologies with improved indoor environmental quality and high quality interior design. the project is also developing an Office Planning Tool providing specific information on products, materials and constructive systems including prices, technical characteristics and visual information form the SSO online office planning tool.

The team is also developing critical guidelines for sustainable offices in different climate zones in Europe, based on the data collected. The SSO office building certification, currently in development, will encompass accessibility, indoor environmental comfort, design, space quality and environmental efficiency.

Carolina Mateo Cecilia, Head of International Affairs at the Valencian Institute of Building (IVE), who is working on the building certification, explains that the real added value for the project is having actual data of different climate zones, something very much appreciated by the Sustainable Buildings Alliance, the European association for which IVE represents the Spanish market.

“In the case of Spain, we have symphonised real data of energy consumption and building indoor environmental quality parameters, directly related to employees wellbeing, health and work performance during three different climatic periods in five real office buildings. In this work, the contribution of psychologists from University of Valencia has been crucial. All this data is really valuable to design a tailored building certification for offices in specific climatic zones” says Mateo.

Climate-KIC Support

Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and the Valencian Institute of Building and University of Valencia have been leading the SSO project, bringing in other critical players including global real estate consultant Knight Frank and the Sustainable Buildings Alliance.

Climate-KIC, through funding and its network, has played a crucial part in helping consolidate the research, according to Wallbaum. “Being able to take on post-docs and PhD researchers was fundamental. As a result, we’ve developed a rigorous scientific model and methodology for advanced indoor environmental quality, with multi-disciplinary experts from all around the world. This has never been researched before. The unique proposition is our database and its insights,” says Wallbaum.

Climate-KIC’s support and network has also enabled the SSO team to explore strategic avenues for the certification system, introducing global real estate partners like Knight Frank, according to Mateo. “Climate-KIC support has been key. We were not certifying offices, just the residential market for direct demand of our regional government, so it helped us to open up to the kind of building we could certify. Additionally, we have changed the paradigm of the building certification. Instead of being focused on building performance itself, now we are more focused on the effects of a low carbon building in in health and wellbeing. Offices are cradles of innovation and we need to take care of the people inside.”

We can really add value for the architectural practice, engineering and ventilation and office furniture. We’re looking to build long-term cooperation in the market and to have the flexibility to work with a range of competitors.

Mateo Cecilia, Head of International Affairs at the Valencian Institute of Building (IVE)

 

For more information visit the Business Technologies Accelerator website.

 
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