When we moved Leap into a new space at Truro’s Old Bakery Studios this summer, we saw it as a great opportunity to create a flagship sustainable studio from a blank canvas that went deeper than simply how the place is decorated. Here’s how we went about creating a work space that has the lightest possible impact upon the planet and is a positive and productive space for the team and visiting clients:
The Space and Services
One of the most impactful steps towards creating a low-impact and environmentally friendly space is to switch to a renewable energy supplier. Before we signed our lease, we spoke with our prospective new landlord at the Old Bakery Studio about the benefits to their bottom line as well as to the planet, of switching from their current electricity supplier to renewable; they actually stand to make an overall saving on their electricity costs because the UK’s fossil fuel levy will no longer be applied to their business energy account. This means that from June 2020 when they renew, all of the 60 studios and workspaces here will be running on electricity from renewable sources. A significant portion of any businesses carbon footprint will be power, so making this switch will have an immediate and significantly positive impact. If you don’t have any say over your electricity provider or your landlord isn’t open to negotiating a switch, then the next best thing that a business can do is to measure your electricity consumption and offset it through a certified carbon offset scheme.
If your work space has its own toilet, then installing a water-saving toilet (such as a dual flush cistern) or simply “installing” a cistern displacement device so that your toilet uses less water when it flushes, will reduce your water consumption. A cistern displacement device can usually be supplied for free by your water company, or you can fill a plastic bottle with water and submerge it in the cistern to reduce the volume of the flush by 1-3 litres. In the average UK home toilet flushing accounts for 1/3 of water used, and in an office space it is likely to be significantly higher.
You can also reduce your business and workplace’s carbon footprint by switching your digital properties (your website and e-mails) to a sustainable web hosting provider. Read our guide to switching here.
Fixtures and Fittings
The space that we moved into on the ground floor of the Old Bakery Studios was an empty rectangular box; it was a completely blank canvas with a concrete floor, three bare walls and windows along one wall.
By maximising the use of natural light it’s possible to reduce reliance upon artificial lighting, which also has measurable health benefits for the people working in that space. Last year the Harvard Business Review reported that employees cited access to natural light as the most important thing in their workplace environment; it boosts vitamin D absorption (the “sunlight” vitamin), improves sleep and reduces the instances or severity of seasonal affective disorder or “the winter blues”. Where light coloured wall and mirrors can’t bounce natural light around a space and artificial lighting is necessary, energy saving bulbs such as LEDs will reduce your energy consumption.
We installed some up-cycled vintage light fittings from Cornish company Skinflint, who refurbish and modernise old industrial lights and fitted them with LED bulbs. Here at Leap we built in a small meeting space and the partition walls are made using an opaque decorative plastic panel made from recycled plastic inset with drinking straws collected by our friends at Cornwall’s Final Straw campaign. These panels mean that both the main room and meeting room benefit from “borrowed light” shared between both sides.
Another significant contributor to a workplace’s carbon footprint will be the energy used to regulate the temperature. A well insulted space is important in ensuring that the energy expended in maintaining a pleasant working environment is kept to a minimum. Leap’s studio is on the ground floor of a larger building so we benefit from the economy of shared space, being insulated by the spaces on the floors above us. If your workplace is a garden office or is built into a commercial facility such as a warehouse or large industrial unit, then insulating the ceiling, floors and under the floor of the office will mean that you use less energy and spend less money heating it. If your electricity comes from a green energy supplier then using electric heaters (such as wall-mounted panel heaters) mean that you are not using fossil fuels to heat your space as you might be if you have radiators running of a gas or oil powered boiler. Electricity generated using fossil fuels however will result in electric radiators adding to your carbon footprint. Other options such as installing a biomass boiler are likely to be unsuitable for businesses that are renting their space.
When it came to office furniture we were not starting totally afresh, however you might be. We were moving from one space into another so we brought with us all of our desks; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and if it is broke then try to fix it before throwing it away and buying something new. There was no need for us to purchase new office furniture and use up more resources whilst sending old desks to the tip, so we didn’t. You don’t have to either. If you are kitting out an office from nothing, then buying second hand furniture is a great option or you can up-cycle old desk tops or work tops and buy new legs for them. Creating standing workstation options will also reduce the number of chairs that you need, if you or members of your team are open to the benefits of standing desks.
Where we purchased new items of furniture or built-in, we used local craftspeople and trades who utilised FSC-certified timber or recycled materials (such as our built-in seat covers upholstered in a up-cycled silk fabric from pending B-Corper Stitched). If you are buying new or commissioning built-in furniture then design for minimum wastage and talk to your suppliers about the lowest impact or most sustainable material choices.
If you decide to undertake any changes to your work space that require the skills of a tradesperson, then we would suggest and encourage you to select a supplier who meets the same standards that you might have applied when purchasing furniture and other physical items. It is easy to overlook this aspect of any work, but it is important that you scrutinise this supply chain as you would any other. It could be as simple as some quick questions such as asking what happens to any trade waste, or where they source miscellaneous materials from. You might be lucky enough to find a supplier with eco-credentials or maybe one who is a B Corp or on the way to becoming certified. Or, through asking some reasonable questions, you might be able to influence your chosen supplier to make some changes to their operating practices for the benefit of the environment that they continue with after your project.
Plants and greenery can contribute to a positive and creative working environment. As well as the plants themselves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, microorganisms in the soil have been proven to remove VOCs such as benzene from the air too. We have also installed a “living wall” panel on the end of a pillar made from preserved bun moss. This is a real moss that has been treated with natural ingredients to preserve it and so no longer needs water or light. The moss is no longer alive but will continue to draw moisture and airborne particles out of the air, helping to clean the air. Both of these solutions reduce any need for air purifiers or ventilators in a space.
As you can see, there is a wide range of changes that a business can make to reduce its impact upon the environment and whether or not these changes are accessible depend upon whether a business is retrofitting its current space, moving space, or starting afresh. Wherever your organisation sits on that scale, it is undeniable that doing something is better than nothing, for your people, for your clients, and for the planet.