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Wellbeing and sustainability: two pillars of the modern office building

25th January 2023

The importance of sustainability alongside wellbeing in the workplace has taken centre stage over the last few years, and as our understanding of how buildings impact both climate change and our health grow, so does occupier demand for better spaces in this regard. As a result, developers are pouring more resources than ever before into creating high performing, welcoming and supportive environments.

There is a commercial angle here too. Investors and developers are benefitting from the link between wellbeing and sustainability and real estate asset value, in both leasing and sale terms. These facets of a development are now essential to attracting investment and occupiers as well as maximising longevity and sustainability.

Occupiers and indeed their employees have been a major driver in this process. They are increasingly more rigorous in assessing the buildings they occupy and are demanding the highest ESG standards and flexibility to provide an enhanced experience. A range of multi-use spaces that can cater for everything from private work to relaxation and collaboration, including access to nature, are now a prerequisite.

It’s not just about amenities either. Employers have embraced their pastoral role and want their teams to feel cared for, with a sense of belonging and community and a focus on their physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s important for retention and attraction, but also for their employer responsibility and brand reputation. Employees in turn want to be inspired and encouraged to go to the office.

That said, while we are seeing a lot more businesses commit to wellbeing and sustainability targets, there is still a lack of creative expertise and knowledge; however, we expect this to change with rising understanding and adoption of smart technology, real-time data use, efficient heating solutions and biophilia.

Our 150,000 sq ft 11 Belgrave Road redevelopment in London Victoria is a good example of what a workplace of the future will look like. What does this mean in practical terms? The process of making improvements to sustainability and wellbeing is a hugely detail-led approach. Measures like preparing building materials off site, prioritising non-toxic materials such as timber and stone, as well as low carbon concrete and steelwork, all reduce an asset’s carbon footprint.

Next, the internal environment. Intelligent heating and cooling systems deliver thermal comfort alongside huge reductions in peak demand. Measures like passive ventilation remove fine dust along with carbon filters to remove carbon dioxide and, together with display screens to inform occupants of energy use, empower occupants to better manage their own carbon footprint while creating a better work environment. Tuning a building’s indoor LED lighting to circadian rhythms as well as adjusting the natural colour temperature of any particular time of day also keeps occupants comfortable.

Biophilic design is also key. We have a 2,600 sq ft garden on the ground floor of 11 Belgrave Road – re-assigning prime lettable space like this would have been unheard of, but it’s made our scheme more health and sustainability conscious. Pollution-filtering plants, such as ivy, contribute to the removal of toxic pollutants while helping to regulate indoor building temperature.

Finally, placing workstations in proximity to windows or an atrium will improve lighting, and with smart lighting and solar controlled glazing, can optimise energy savings while improving occupier wellbeing.

Technology like smart apps can also optimise digitally-enabled services to tenants, such as bike booking and charging along with smart lockers at on-site gyms, both reducing the individual carbon footprint of visitors, while also supporting them in their fitness goals.

Apart from higher asset value, better performing buildings are inherently more future-proofed and ready for regulatory changes. They will be at the forefront of the workplace revolution and drive environmental and social value too, ensuring the real estate sector plays its part in a more sustainable world for generations to come.

Ilyas Aslam is chief operating officer at real estate private equity investment and advisory group Quadrum.

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