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  • Amanda Borneke

Ten Sustainability trends for 2020

The future office strives to be better, focus more on the people who inhabit it, and contribute to the success of the company



Practicing sustainability has always been important to office design. We know that people spend 90 percent of their time indoors. Progressive design firms and corporations have been leveraging green principles and practices, like LEED and WELL, for years. Recently, we have seen an enormous push to think about sustainability not as just a “good thing to do” but something we must do to stay competitive.

Millennials and Generation Z will be the first generations willing to pay more for sustainable products, (72 percent already do or say they would, according to a recent Nielson study). It’s no surprise their passion for sustainability has transformed green design into a critical factor in attracting and engaging top talent. As we enter one of the largest talent crises the world has seen, forward-thinking organizations are looking at sustainable practices as a differentiator.

Looking beyond access to daylight and green materials, we are seeing exciting and deeply green trends being embedded into the design and culture of top companies.



1. Pre-fabricated construction as the norm

In addition to labor shortages and the rise of material cost, companies are seeing the resounding impact and increase in pre-fabricated materials. Offices are leveraging demountable partitions to support daylight, ventilation, and flexibility while also reducing the amount of drywall and waste they contribute to landfills. Prefabrication allows the system to ship finished to site, reducing the volatile organic compounds (VOC) and air quality concerns of traditional drywall and finishing. 


2. Green on display

Employees care about a company’s investment in sustainability. In a knowledge-hungry world, share your investments and educate teams on the green products and practices that were integrated in your space. Think about the fixation society has on the food we eat and the amount of time spent trying to understand labels and ingredient lists. Imagine sharing with your clients and employees eco-friendly product manufacturing details, VOC levels, how lighting is harvested, or how water is being conserved through design and messaging.


3. Biophilic design will continue to rise

There is a scientifically-proven link between people and a connection to nature. Biophilia is not just adding plants or living walls to your space—it encompasses true relationships between people and the patterns, rhythms, and textures of nature and natural materials. As well, it leverages knowledge of views, lighting, and climate concerns within the indoor environment.

Stantec has recently sponsored research with Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health to collaborate on a study of the cognitive impacts of biophilic design in the workplace. We are excited to share in the future the results of these important initiatives.


4. Holistic wellbeing  

Green design has expanded to encompass not just green for buildings but green for people. Employers are pushing beyond physical wellness support and looking at supporting the cognitive and emotional wellbeing of their employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 60 percent of lost workdays are due to stress. We continue to see designs focused on supporting the whole person. Additionally, we see an increase in social—or third spaces—where people can connect with their teams, as well as the addition of quiet, respite spaces to encourage recharge.


5. Information overload backlash

We have become a hyper-connected society, constantly engaging with technology, phones, and email. The Global Webindex reports a 200-percent increase on time spent on mobile devices since 2012, and Mashable found an average of 204 million emails sent per second.

Our brains are exhausted.

This encourages my team to bring mindfulness, meditation, quiet, and thoughtfulness to design. Our space designs are crafted from materials meant to calm, center us, and support our best ideas.


Stantec’s Arlington, Virginia, office, serves as a catalyst for creativity, collaboration, and social interaction. The terrace allows staff to also work outdoors


6. Green as a business strategy

In 2015, The Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a study that looked at indoor air quality, CO2 levels, and chemicals that have a direct impact on cognitive function. They found scores in strategically-designed green offices were on average 61 percent higher in employees’ cognitive function than their non-green counterparts.

As more people are being paid to think and innovate, the investment made into their cognitive health is more important than ever. Because of this, I’ve seen a rise in quiet zones, where people can choose to work uninterrupted. Color theory and access to daylight are also being leveraged for their known benefits in increasing cognitive function.


7. Sustainability = community  

In a global world, we still crave our small towns. “Shop Local” is a methodology we embrace because it is meaningful to support our neighbors and community. Companies continue to make investments in their local communities as a sustainable and strategic business practice. Promoting volunteerism in your local community, greening a park or school, or buying your office coffee from a local roaster instead of a national brand are easily identified trends that can make a difference.



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