Green leases: the benefits of going green

Rising in popularity among corporate tenants, green leases are a true real-estate opportunity for landlords, and a promise to the environment.

You might have heard of green leases and wondered if you should consider signing one. The answer is yes and the reasons why might surprise you.

What is a green lease? First introduced in the UK and Australia in 2006, green leases are an opportunity to fight climate change while also making profit. It is an energy and cost saving approach that aims to improve the environmental performance of your leased office space, thus increasing its appeal to corporate tenants.

Brent Civic Centre in London - 'outstanding' BREEAM rating. Architect: Hopkins Architects. Main contractor: Skanska.

At the start of this year, the UK commercial property market saw a record activity in the London real estate market with a total of £4.9bn worth of transactions between January and March 2017. By retrofitting your commercial property, you will not only distinguish yourself from the competition, you will also show commitment to the future and set yourself apart as a forward-thinking commercial real-estate leader.

UBM’s 240 Blackfriars office in London - ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating. Architect: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. Developer: Great Portland Estates

Having environmentally sustainable features is seen as a competitive advantage.

Michael De Jong-Douglas

So how can a green lease benefit you and your tenants? What are the incentives of designing, constructing and managing sustainable commercial buildings?

  • Your core asset is maintained in compliance with its sustainable design
  • As a result, the building achieves maximum rental returns and occupancy rates
  • Maintenance and operating costs are minimized and utility consumption is reduced
  • Your public image is enhanced and your asset scores better on green rankings
  • Waste stream diversions lead to extra savings
  • Landlord-tenant relationship is strengthened: green leases help provide financially beneficial incentives for both parties. 
  • Show leadership in energy and environmental design by getting BREEAM certified: in accordance with the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive, the UK has a national energy efficiency target to reduce energy consumption by 18% in 2020. Contributing to the national target shows ambition and civic leadership.
PWC's office fitted-out by Overbury and Morgan Lovell - 'outstanding' BREEAM rating.  

Looking at the commercial real estate market last year, it's becoming clear that tenants value sustainability when looking to lease new office spaces. For tenants, green buildings are synonymous with efficient buildings – smart, forward-looking landlords can reap the benefits of this energy efficiency.

Opening photo: Sea Containers, BDG

Green with envy: the world’s most sustainable offices

From wind turbines and CO2 monitors to foam flushing toilets and treadmill desks, sustainable office buildings around the world are raising the bar for innovation.

Three years ago, Angela Loder, then an adjunct professor at the University of Denver and a researcher in health, buildings and urban nature, highlighted three key elements in the field of sustainable buildings

  1. Materials and ventilation
  2. Daylight 
  3. Proximity to nature

It comes as no surprise, then, that the green contenders on this list have all mastered at least one, usually all three of the above. 

The Edge, Amsterdam

the-edge-amsterdam-sustainable-office

Until recently, The Edge was billed as the most sustainable office building in the world (Bloomberg's new European HQ in London recently stole the show in October 2017!) Designed by PLP Architecture. The sophisticated design, coupled with the use of innovative technologies resulted in an astonishing 98.36% BREEAM score. Home to Deloitte's headquarters, the building harvests rainwater to flush toilets and water its gardens. It also gives staff full control over temperature and light, both regulable via a smartphone app. The building produces its own energy through the use of 800 solar panels and its roof boasts a floor-to-floor scanner that detects when rooms are not being used, thus helping reduce electricity consumption.

Manitoba Hydro Place, Winnipeg, Canada

 HTFC Planning and design +  planning, urban design and landscape architecture firm PFS Studio

Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro Place uses passive design and natural ventilation to cement its place as one of North America's most energy-efficient office buildings. 

The building uses a geothermal system to heat and cool the interiors, triple-glazed windows to maximise daylight and reduce the need for artificial lighting, and exposed radiant ceiling slabs that help maintain the temperature at a comfortable 20 degrees Celcius all year round. By applying these techniques, the building achieved 65% greater energy efficiency.

The Sun-Moon Mansion, Dezhou, China

Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

Shaped like a sundial, the Sun-Moon Mansion houses the headquarters of the world’s largest manufacturer of solar thermal water heaters - Himin Group. With over 15,000 square meters of solar panels, the 750,000m2 building is one of the world's largest solar-powered offices.

Bank Of America, New York City

Photograph: David Sundberg / Esto

The first high rise building to get LEED Platinum certification, the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in Manhattan, is one of the most sustainable skyscrapers in the world. Complete with CO2 monitors, dry urinals and LED lighting, the building also produces 4.6 megawatts of sustainable energy in its own power station.

The Shanghai Tower

Photograph: Connie Zhou/Gensler

With its 200 wind turbines, rainwater collection and reuse system, plant-filled sky lobbies and double-skinned glass facade that allows for natural ventilation, the 121-storey Shanghai Tower achieved LEED Platinum certification in 2015.

Autodesk's Spear Tower, San Francisco

Photograph: Michael Townsend/Gensler

The 3D design software company's 21,000 square metre office in San Francisco holds a LEED platinum rating, with particular emphasis on sustainable sites, water efficiency and innovation.

With its reclaimed wood ceiling, living wall and treadmill desks in an effort to keep staff active, Autodesk's minimalist office space puts an emphasis on functionality.

BrightHR, Manchester

Photograph: Jonathan Pow

All work and no play shines through as the motto of Manchester-based BrightHR, where staff can benefit from office space hoppers, scooters, game consoles and ping-pong tables. The office also prides itself on a double bed for power naps and an 18-metre lawn with football nets located at the heart of the office.

 Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China

Completed in 2012 and designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the Pearl River Tower utilises cutting-edge technology including a radiant ceiling cooling system, solar panels, double-glazing curtain wall, demand-based ventilation air, 

SOURCE: Xinhuanet Guangdong Channel

and daylight responsive controls to claim a spot among some of the world's greenest buildings. The tower's design also helps draw wind to giant turbines that, in turn, generate clean energy.

Co-operative Group HQs, Manchester

Photograph: Christopher Thomond, via the Guardian

Just like the Shanghai Tower, the 15-storey building at One Angel Square boasts a double-layered glass facade and an open atrium designed to facilitate natural ventilation and lighting. Rated 'outstanding' by UK certification body BREEAM, it is powered by a plant oil fed system that uses rapeseed oil grown in The Co-operative's own farm.

Medibank Place, Melbourne

Photograph: Earl Carter/Hassell Architects

The design of Medibank Place was highly influenced by a thorough research on workplace design, the results of which led to a dynamic office building which promotes wellbeing working with sit-to-stand workstations. With almost 5,000 plants outside and in, 520 modular planter boxes adorning the facade, a landscaped roof garden and a 25-meter living wall, nature plays a key role in Medibank's sustainable image.

 

The secret acoustic benefits of plants at the office

Acoustic insulation in the form of lush green walls is a sound approach every landlord should consider. 

Phone chatter, obnoxiously loud conversations in adjacent cubicles (we've all been there,) printers, photocopiers, HVAC systems... all distract and make employees less efficient. There are several ways to remedy noise levels in the workplace - sound absorption and sound masking are increasingly popular strategies, but what about living plants?

In 2015,  an agricultural engineer of the University of the Basque Country conducted a research on the benefits of green walls as passive acoustic insulation for buildings. Zaloa Azkorra concluded that “the green wall showed a similar or better acoustic absorption coefficient than other common building materials, and its effects on low frequencies were of particular interest.”

Despite a rising number of studies highlighting the acoustic potential of plants, biophilic design is a resource yet to be explored by acousticians, particularly in sectors like the workplace, still in dire need of fine tuning.

NB: Biophilia refers to the innate love for the natural world, in other words, for nature and the outdoors.

Segment's office reception

How do plants regulate noise in the workplace?

To understand this, we must first brave the acoustic jargon and grasp the meaning of reverberation time.

Let's get technical for just a sentence. Reverberation time refers to the time it takes for a sound wave to die away to a level 60 decibels below its original level. And now, in English: when a source creates a sound wave in a room, what you hear is not only the sound wave spreading directly from the source, but also the sound reflecting from various surfaces around you.

Let's put this in context. The average reverberation time (now that you're an expert, we can call it RT) in an open plan office should be less than 1 second. In an enclosed office, the recommended  RT is less than 0.6 seconds. In a meeting room, 0.6-0.8 seconds. What does this mean? Simply that an open plan office sporting an RT of 0.6 seconds will be significantly quieter than one with an RT of 0.9 seconds.

But how exactly can plants help reduce reverberation time, and therefore noise levels, in your office?

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound deflection

When sound hits a masonry wall, it bounces off the rigid surface and back to its source, like a solitary tennis ball between a racket and the wall. In contrast, when a sound wave hits a plant, the flexible surface will vibrate and transform sound waves into other kinds of energy. This is the same principle behind acoustic panels that absorb sound by converting sound energy into heatwaves.

Partitions with integrated living walls. Climate Office Mobile Wasserwand. Manufacturer: C+P Möbelsysteme

Sound diffusion

There is a clear correlation between the way sound behaves and the surfaces around it. Think of a home with a carpet versus a home with solid floors. Usually, a carpeted room will prevent the sound from bouncing all over and creating echoes. Much like a carpet, plants and shrubbery are naturally uneven - covering surface areas with greenery will help accomplish the same feat. Think vines on walls, lawns, green walls, moss walls, etc.

Moss Wall by Dutch designers Oasegroen

How to use plants to reduce noise?

Genzyme Center, Massachussets, USA. Architect: Behnisch Architekten, Los Angeles

Rough bark and leafy plants are particularly effective but for maximum acoustic potential, you should also consider number of plants, location, size and surface area.

Large planters

Larger planters contain more compost and provide more space for greenery. Combined, these two have a significant impact on noise reduction. As a result, your office benefits from better acoustics, and cleaner air. It's a win-win.

Tip:  For better acoustics, arrange your planters throughout the space as opposed to clustering them. It's all about that surface area - the more spread out your plants are, the more opportunites there are for sound diffusion.

Focus on corners, edges and walls

Along the same principle, plants placed in the periphery of your office - corners, edges, walls - are more likely to reflect sound than plants placed in the middle.

Woods Bagot Melbourne studio

Replace partitions with plant screens

Offices are inherently loud - open plan offices even more so. Oftentimes, this means partitions or rows of filing cabinets. What if you could use plants instead? Effective in reducing noise, and more attractive than your average office partition, plant screens are a great alternative.

If your tenants are reluctant to lose the filing cabinets, these and other surfaces can also be used to place small bushy plants in narrow containers.

Joost Bakker’s Schiavello Vertical Gardens

Biophilic design guidelines for good acoustics

If utilised strategically, biophilic design can drastically improve acoustics in the office and its common areas.

There are few studies on the relationship between plants, architecture and acoustics. In a study performed by P. Costa of the South Bank University in London (1995,) Costa tested several single potted plants and combinations of plants in various areas in a room. His conclusions amount to a certain number of guidelines covered above.

If you accidentally skipped to this last paragraph, here's a summary:

  • Plants need to be large and healthy
  • Plants should preferably be leafy
  • Arrangements with a minimum of three plants seem more efficient than single plants
  • Spread out arrangements are better than a concentrated few plants.
  • Placing plants alongside walls has a greater impact on acoustics than if they're placed in the middle of a room
Opening image: Slack office, Melbourne. Breathe Architecture