Imagine an office space that uses the latest eco-friendly materials and technologies to create a completely sustainable environment; a tranquil, airy workspace filled with natural sunlight and surrounded by natural foliage. My team and I are lucky enough to occupy just such a workspace – a sustainable building in Westlake Business Park, Cape Town.
Known as The Green Building, this sustainable office has provided us with a pleasant and peaceful working environment for almost a year now, and we’ve learned a great deal about sustainable living from our fellow tenants.
There are plenty of benefits to working in a sustainable building; for one thing, it will encourage you to make more environmentally responsible choices in your everyday lifestyle, and for another, it will provide you with a happy and healthy environment that makes your working day a more enjoyable experience. At The Green Building, we’re able to spend our lunch breaks out on the wooden balcony, overlooking a lush water-saving garden filled with birdlife and playful squirrels.
Of course, it goes without saying that the advantages of sustainably designed office space go far beyond these little day-to-day benefits, so I’ve done a bit of research on The Green Building to find out just what makes our office (and sustainable building practices in general) so special.
The Green Building was built as an office space for Sustainable Energy Africa and a number of other companies. The aim behind the project was to demonstrate that sustainable buildings can be constructed as a viable commercial investment, even with limited funding, and to show why the green construction process should become standard practice in the coming years. Overall, the project team aimed to create a healthy, beautiful working environment that was kind to the environment while serving as a fully functional office building.
The Green Building had to meet the needs of all tenants while using only environmentally responsible materials and resources. Funding was also limited, as the project was to be carried out with no grant financing. The building design is simple and efficient, and the architect behind the sustainable project made use of principles such as passive solar design to ensure that the building could effectively harness the power of solar energy.
In order to meet the necessary sustainable building standards, it was vital that all materials for the construction of The Green Building were sustainably sourced. The building was constructed using the following eco-friendly materials and methods:
- Recycled doors, windows and timber flooring
- Non-toxic water-based paints and masonry sealers
- Environmentally friendly timber treatments
- Reconstituted bricks (no plaster used)
- Reflective bubble insulation
All aspects of the building process were carried out with the environment in mind; the sustainable materials were sourced from local contractors, ensuring minimal transport requirements and lower carbon emissions. Leftover materials were put to use in the landscaping and the garden to minimise waste.
The Green Building makes use of the latest sustainable technologies in order to keep environmental impact to a minimum on a daily basis. Water, energy and waste are all carefully managed in the following ways:
The restrooms in The Green Building are equipped with water-saving technologies such as low-flow taps, multi-flush toilet cisterns and water saving shower heads. The indigenous garden was planted following sustainable water-wise guidelines, and has a rainwater collection capacity of 6000 litres. Grey water recycling takes place on site, and even the building’s external paving is sustainably designed, allowing rainwater to run through to the aquafer with ease.
The entire building was constructed according to passive solar design guidelines; there is plenty of natural lighting, good ventilation and insulation, which negates the need for all-day artificial lights or air conditioning. The sustainable building is also equipped with energy efficient LED lighting and a solar water heating system.
Employees in The Green Building make eco-friendly practices part of their daily routine, making sure that all plastic, glass and paper waste is collected for recycling. A sustainable composting system is used in the indigenous garden. All cleaning products, soaps and sprays are made using natural and organic ingredients, and the same goes for fertilisers and pesticides used in The Green Building’s garden.
This carefully executed sustainable building project was highly cost-effective; the development of The Green Building cost 30% less than a conventional construction process, and was carried out without the need for any corporate financing. In a mere 2 years following its construction, the sustainable building had increased in value by an impressive 35%. Tenants renting space in The Green Building find the environment is a pleasure to work in, surrounded by natural light, attractive greenery and a comfortable, flexible workspace.
Working in the sustainable building gives tenants the opportunity to learn about green technologies and techniques that they can use every day to do their part for the environment. Many of these tenants go on to spread the word about the importance of sustainable living, and The Green Building’s impact doesn’t end there; the maintenance and repairs within the building are all carried out by local contractors, thereby creating support for small local businesses.
The Green Building won the Cape Times Caltex Environmental Award for 2004, in recognition of outstanding achievement in environmental conservation under the category of architecture. That same year, the sustainable workspace also received the Sustainable Building Best Practice Award for being one of South Africa’s noteworthy examples of sustainable construction.
If you’re dreaming of a workspace where the roar of traffic is replaced by the sound of chirping birds, natural sunlight takes the place of harsh fluorescent bulbs, and environmental impact is at an absolute minimum, why not move to a sustainable building, or even look at investing in a green construction project of your own? Sustainable construction is a sound investment not only for your company, but for the future of our planet.
By Julia Laubscher