By Marina Vassilopoulos for PSG Global
The biodiversity of your office space is more important than you think. From reducing stress, increasing productivity, promoting well-being and helping to purify the air in your workplace, adding greenery has many values beyond aesthetics – and your office walls. The system of biodiversity is integral for the continuation of life on Earth, whether humans, animals, plants or microorganisms.
The UK is one of the most nature-denuded countries in the world due to centuries of farming, industrial works and building destroying natural habitats, with only 53% of its biodiversity remaining. This means that the country is well below the global average of 75% – and that green spaces are severely lacking.
There has resultantly been a significant drive towards sustainable offices and developments across the UK. The majority of these are located in London, which is home to nearly 3,000 green-rated buildings. These are buildings that, via innovative design, construction and operation, help to reduce or eliminate any negative impacts and therefore have a positive impact on both the climate and the natural environment.
PSG Global has resultantly written an article exploring why these spaces are necessary, when they became popular, innovative examples and what may come next to protect our planet.
Why Promoting Biodiversity is Vital
All businesses, regardless of industry or sector, rely on the system of biodiversity. The system refers to diversity within species and ecosystems, with a high level of biodiversity the optimum. Many religions, cultures and national identities moreover rely on elements of biodiversity, with animals and plants a key figures of society.
Unfortunately, this figure is declining at unprecedented rates. Humanity has caused an 83% loss in wild mammals and 50% of plants through changes in land use, such as deforestation, urbanisation and overexploitation. We are resultantly liable for introducing policies and strategies to reduce and reverse this damage.
With over one million species at risk of extinction, including wild tiger populations in areas that include India, Nepal and Bhutan, the stakes are high. However, failing to support biodiversity could be catastrophic, both for human life and the planet. As wildlife supports healthy ecosystems, losing these spaces has a longstanding and significant impact on stability. From pollination levels, soil fertility and fresh water levels to food and medicine, the loss of an ecosystem (and therefore biodiversity) can have tragic consequences. And, as animals are displaced from their destroyed habitats, they are forced to relocate to new, unfamiliar terrains.
With 70% of emerging viral diseases spread from animals to humans, this increased exposure to wildlife is dangerous. Similarly, as we penetrate further into tropical forests as development projects grow, mankind and nature are interacting in new ways that breed disease. For example, it is likely that the wet markets in Wuhan, China are the likely origin of the Covid-19 pandemic. With open-air stalls selling a medley of exotic animals that do not normally interact, zoonotic viruses are able to emerge and spread to humans. As a result, the failure to tackle biodiversity in these spaces has not only had a devastating impact on human life and health but damaged global economies.
Finally, biodiversity is key to tackling climate change. As human activities release greater amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, more plants utilise the gas for photosynthesis. During the process, plants convert water, sunlight and carbon dioxide into fuel and oxygen, which are both positive for the environment.
But at what cost? For starters, plants are becoming less nutritious, with less zinc, iron and protein in staple foods such as rice and wheat. Levels of resistance against pests are similarly impacted, meaning that crop yields may be more likely to suffer disease and subsequent destruction. With malnutrition and food shortages potential global impacts, the importance of biodiversity is evident.
The Rise of Green Office Buildings
The 1960s was a pivotal time for environmentalism, following significant discontent sparked in the USA after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. The book outlined the environmental harm caused across the USA by means of pesticides, with Carson accusing the chemical industry of several failings, including spreading disinformation.
The novel instigated the public to question their relationship with the government, alongside
the Deep ecology environmental philosophy, which has a core principle that the living environment, as a whole, should be respected with basic moral and legal rights to live and flourish. With the serving president, Lyndon Johnson, taking an interest in preservationist issues, and signing over three hundred conservation and beautification measures into law, these ideologies swiftly encouraged a mass social movement.
This led to the first Earth Day in 1970, with the affair instigating more than 12,000 events across the USA. Now celebrated annually by more than one billion people in over 193 countries, the campaign rapidly gained traction.
As a result, the landscape of the office began to change. Hastened by the rising prices of oil in the 1970s, businesses began to introduce energy-efficient and environmentally friendly architecture. For example, many of these ‘green offices’ began to incorporate and capitalise upon natural lighting. This was completed by introducing windows, and skylights and considering building orientation.
Similarly, builders were instructed to use radon-resistant techniques, alongside installing technology that promoted good air quality. These included ventilation, heating and air-conditioning systems, encouraging more sustainable spaces that supported biodiversity.
Key Examples of Successfully Building For Biodiversity
Modern sustainable offices have come a long way from the 1960s. From smart windows to strategic recycling models, green lighting and the protection and conservation of water, green offices not only prevent emissions but can actually offset them. One such model is the
Bloomberg HQ office in London, has achieved a 98.5% score on the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
The office has achieved this by introducing innovative and powerful technologies around the building. From sensors that monitor the movement of people and adjust airflow and LED lighting accordingly, to an on-site water treatment plant and a ‘living wall’ of plants in the meeting space, sustainability is at the forefront of the building’s design.It is not only the interior that promotes biodiversity to a high degree: the exterior of the building has custom bronze blades that can replace the HVAC system. These can resultantly cool the building down using outdoor air and act as shade. The result is reduced energy consumption and an exemplary case of eco-friendly architecture.
Similarly, the Co-Operative Headquarters in Angel Square, Manchester was declared one of the most environmentally friendly in the world, achieving a score of 95% in 2011. It was the first building of its kind to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating, a testament to its high and sustainable energy credentials. A notable design feature of the property is its ‘double skin’ facade, which utilises an intelligent heat recovery system, which uses heat generated by the IT systems to warm the building. In the colder months, the ‘skin’ works to retain heat. In addition, the site has low-energy LED lights to complement a tilted glass roof that maximises sunlight and solar gain, grey-water and rainwater recycling systems and high-efficiency passenger lifts. This is supplemented by low energy consumption, with the site only incurring 40-60% of the standard costs of a head office.
Finally, with the rise of ‘green’ developments, reputable businesses are moving into pre-existing sites, rather than building their own from scratch. This allows them to associate with and capitalise upon sustainable and eco-friendly policies without investing in planning or construction costs. For example, both Sony Pictures and the Premier League reside in the Brunel Building, a project located in Westminster, London. A seventeen-storey new-build overlooking the Grand Union Canal, Paddington Station and the Great Western Railway built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the property was cleverly built to accommodate the surrounding sites.
Utilising an aesthetic steel diagrid exoskeleton, the building spans the tube lines situated below the cast-iron subway tunnels beneath the site. The external structure is capable of shading the windows, while tall perimeter glazing and floor-to-ceiling windows encourage maximum sunlight. With the environment and social sustainability at the forefront of the project, the site possesses an Aquifer Thermal Energy Store (ATES). This system uses two forty-storey deep boreholes to generate low-carbon heating for the building, with intentionally exposed ceilings saving in excess of 540 tones of embodied carbon. As 90% of construction waste was recycled and waste products used in concrete, the behemoth building is proof that no matter how large the project, biodiversity can be prioritised – all while using dynamic new technologies in the architectural fields.
Biodiversity: What is Next?
One key feature that features in every biodiversity-forward project is greenery. From Angel Square’s produce garden and bee hotels to the Brunel Building’s planters with wildflowers, trees and nesting boxes, supporting and re-establishing local ecology systems is integral to a green building. As a continued number of multinational companies open new headquarters and sites in the UK, we can expect larger and more impressive greenery across sites.
For example, Google’s new King’s Cross HQ (KGX1) will not only feature a rooftop exercise track but a panoramic roof garden with a bespoke rainwater irrigation system. This space will not only accommodate workers needing downtime but will also function as a habitat for bats and birds to nest. Similarly, the 105 Victoria Street development, spanning 470,000², is a mixed-use building that will be fully electric – with zero emissions. The space is set to feature a 200 metre-long looped ‘walk and talk’ track, an urban farm and plant rooms in the basement.
However, it is not only new sites that are having to design sites with property in mind. Instead, pre-existing buildings are feeling the pressure to add green space to promote biodiversity and improve the well-being of staff. One example is Citi, a financial services giant, which is refurbishing all European, Middle East and African headquarters. The London site in Canary Wharf will not only undergo a complete interior renovation but introduce several green spaces, including a winter garden that wraps around the entirety of the building. Similarly, the 24,000² Portslade College in Brighton & Hove has recently had a £15,000 sensory garden created on-site. It is resultantly evident that both small and large businesses are having to adapt as climate change worsens.
While an obvious next step may be unclear, the Danish Maritime Architecture Studio (MAST) recently developed a “Land on Water” project. Utilising flat-pack floating foundations created from reinforced and recycled plastic alongside locally sourced and upcycled floatation materials, the platforms can support significant weights. Providing an adaptable solution to repurposing land, you can build floating homes, campsites and other alternatives, the sites are moreover reversible. As such, if the natural ecosystem suffers, you can easily relocate to a more environmentally-friendly area. With land-use change one of the largest detriments to the environment, perhaps temporary yet sustainable architecture is the answer to the many problems faced by biodiversity.
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