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edition 12 (196)
December 2014
Green projects

Greener than the average office

There are now more than 150 buildings in Poland with ecological certificates – but only seven offices that possess such a document

Tomasz Szpyt

It has only been four years since the first office building in Poland was granted a green certificate and we have already become used to this becoming the standard. However, not many people know that the same time has passed since the certifying of the first interior. But in what might seem like a similar issue, the difference in numbers is now huge

Let’s imagine that we buy an ultra-modern sports car. Our racing machine is equipped with all the latest technical innovations, designed to make us feel like Vettel behind the wheel. After doing so, however, we then decline to take any advanced driving courses. It is possible to drive the car of course, even impress our friends in it, but our first circuit on a racing track will show us up for the amateurs we are. It would probably be better to leave such a car in the garage and show pictures of it to our friends, or possibly drive it to an aunt’s birthday party or go shopping in it. In a way, with offices it’s much the same.

Forgotten certificates

Leasing premises in a super-modern green building is only half the job. In order to fully utilise the possibilities your new office will provide, you need to make an effort and arrange it at least at the same level as the building it is located in. It is also worth knowing how to use it. The awareness of such seemingly obvious facts is, however, very low – and there are not too many specialists in this field, either. Even though the number of certified buildings has already exceeded 150 in Poland, certified offices could be counted on the fingers of... well, not one – but a maximum of four hands. “In Poland we have seven LEED-certified offices, another 13 are applying for the document,” claims Michał Marszałek, the sustainable development coordinator at Skanska Property Poland. “There are app. 8,000 such offices all over the world,” he adds. This clearly shows that the approach to sustainable development in Poland has stopped halfway through. The contrast between these numbers reveals another phenomenon: that there are a growing number of companies interested in certification. “The first certification of an interior in Poland took place in 2010 in a branch of Deutsche Bank in the Atrium City building in Warsaw,” recalls Jerzy Wójcik, an architect of the Office of the Polish Chamber of Architects, LEED AP BD+C, BREEAM, international assessor and senior associate of the green building advisory of Colliers International. This means that only a few offices have been certified over a four-year period. The number of applications is almost twice as high now, which would confirm the growing interest in the issue. However, the experts are under no illusions: it is not the growing ecological awareness of Polish companies that is pushing them towards certification – any movement in this direction is coming from above. “Tenants who have quite a restrictive corporate policy in terms of sustainable development are the ones who usually opt for certification. Thus the push is coming from the top, from the headquarters,” remarks Jerzy Wójcik. However, much points to the fact that the trend might be maintained or even become stronger, particularly taking into account the fact that developers and agents themselves are leading by example. “So far the phenomenon has a limited scope, but we expect intermittent growth in the near future. This was also the case with building certification. We introduced this to Poland and it has now become the norm. Things could go a similar way with office certification,” predicts Michał Marszałek. “Skanska in Poland is currently certifying its new offices. We are the only developer in the country that is helping in the certification process. Nordea carried out one of the larger office certifications in our Green Corner office building in Warsaw. We also have a large tenant in Kraków who opted for this and is now nearing the end of the process,” adds Michał Marszałek. Meanwhile, as Jerzy Wójcik reveals, Colliers is currently taking part in a few interior certification procedures in Polish office buildings, e.g. for The Bank of New York Mellon in Wrocław, while the consultancy itself is also certifying its own office in the Metropolitan building in Warsaw.

Green offices mean profits

A newly-built certified building is of course a significant asset, but it is not enough on its own. In order to fully exploit the possibilities it provides, an office that is compatible with the building needs to be created. This is something that more and more companies are now beginning to realise. “Certification makes it possible to individualise the solutions that are the best for the particular tenant, choosing suitable carpets, low-emission paints, suitable light and water installations, the furniture and the office layout,” explains Justyna Olczak, a sustainable development specialist at Skanska Property Poland. Giving the office such a finish leads to calculable savings. “These are correlated with the lease period – the longer it is, the higher the savings. With the right systems installed in buildings, e.g. daylight control – adjusting the intensity of artificial light to the amount of the natural light that penetrates the building – could provide savings in the range of 40–45 pct with fluorescent lamps and as much as 70 pct with led lighting. Installing water saving systems – watertight fittings, aerators and the utilisation of so-called ‘grey water’ or rainwater – can reduce its consumption by 40–60 pct. In our buildings we generate electrical power savings of a minimum of 25 pct,” estimates Michał Marszałek. Offices with a greener hue should also be popular among employees. The comfort of work is greater if staff are less prone to illness. “Savings from reduced absences could be much higher than those that result from lower consumption of water and energy. In such offices there are usually 4–6 pct fewer absences – at least this is what international research tells us. We are currently working on a Polish methodology to gauge the extent of this. These numbers might not be so impressive at first sight, but the savings they generate are in fact very high,” insists Colliers’ expert.

Working between certified walls

Operating a ‘green office’ is not too different, but it requires a change in some of the habits of the employees. “Some issues connected with user behaviour are encouraged, such as facilities for cyclists, the prohibition of smoking within an 8m radius of the building, encouraging people to use the stairs instead of the lift and waste sorting,” says Jerzy Wójcik. “Education and close cooperation with the tenants are necessary for this. Particularly at the beginning. However, using a green office is no more absorbing than using any other type of office. But it does help if the people using it develop habits that are actually appropriate anywhere but which are easy to forget in offices, such as the last person turns off the lights and turning off computers when we leave, etc.,” adds the expert from Skanska Property Poland. However, the game is worth the candle because the savings could exceed most people’s expectations. “Skanska’s office in the Empire State Building in New York could serve as a good example. Skanska invested in the certification of the offices inside the building, which was neither new nor certified, thus the costs were quite high. The estimated length of time for a return on the investment was up to 15 years, but the expenditure paid for itself within four years – mostly due to the lower operating costs,” claims Justyna Olczak. However, the interior certification process itself is not very difficult or alarmingly expensive – and is somewhat similar to what is required for the buildings themselves. “The components of the design, such as the fittings, lighting or other systems regulating the consumption of utilities, are assessed at the design stage. During the next stage, the implementation, the construction process is evaluated, as well as all the materials used: their amount and characteristics, etc. need to be catalogued in detail. All the equipment in the office, including the computers and furniture, as well as the organisation and implementation of the building process, are monitored. You also need to air the rooms well before they are used. The smell of ‘newness is not the healthiest, due to the more volatile components of the paint, glue and finishing materials used in the construction process,” explains Jerzy Wójcik. It is best to opt for office certification as early as the design stage. Then it is cheaper and there is also time to plan the layout of the office and the choice of materials.

What are the costs?

Sooner or later the time comes to face the certification costs. However, these seem to be moderate compared to the entire expenditure needed to design the premises. Of course, the costs depend on the stage at which the tenant opts to undergo the certification. “If it is at the design stage, the costs are minimised. If the decision is made later, the costs get higher, basically due to the changes needed in the design,” explains Justyna Olczak. The costs are also determined by the standard of the finishing and the area of the office. They are lower if a new building is chosen that is designed with sustainable utilisation in mind. But for an older facility the costs could be much higher. “A building certified under the LEED core and shell system provides the necessary conditions, and the required systems are already installed in it. If a building is well designed and constructed, any additional costs are basically limited to submitting and registering the documentation with a certifying institution. This comes to app. PLN 10,000 for an office with an area of 1,000 sqm. The entire expenditure is generally difficult to establish as a fixed amount. It could be that the certification costs come to app. 1–3 pct of the fit-out costs,” estimates Michał Marszałek.

Changing the scene

It could be some time yet before the certification of interiors becomes the norm, in the same way that it has with the certification of whole buildings. “However, the market remains promising, so we could expect the number of interior certifications to grow,” insists Jerzy Wójcik. It is hardly surprising that some firms are trying to keep ahead of the changes that lie ahead of us. Certificates on their own and green policies in offices are no longer sufficient. The attention is now being increasingly focused on the human, that is, the individual who benefits from how green the working environment is. “We will be working on this strategy until 2020. We are carrying out a great deal of research, but so far it is too early to reach any final conclusions. However, the human factor is obviously becoming more and more important. There is more emphasis on improving the quality of working conditions and the surrounding areas of buildings. We are currently implementing our deep green policy, but the deep human solution, i.e. focusing on the needs of people who work in the buildings, is becoming increasingly popular,” says Justyna Olczak. ν

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