Breaking new ground – businesses get savvy with sustainability

Think Progress Team

Thursday 3 July 2014

Innovation drives success in any business, but the quest for sustainability is driving an explosion of innovation in building and office design.

Science and new technologies are fundamentally changing how businesses operate. Whether it’s building from scratch or retrofitting, the results are staggering – from reduced operational costs to improved employee health.

If you’re looking for ways of making your business greener, consider the following:

1. Solar photovoltaic panels

Solar is arguably the best-known energy efficiency technology. It provides power for a building and energy back to the grid. But attention is shifting away from large-scale solar farms and instead towards solar installations on building roofs and ultimately towards enabling large buildings to become power stations.

Germany is groundbreaking in this area. By the middle this year the country generated more than half its energy from solar. WWF’s internationally recognised Living Planet Centre, in Surrey, is also an example of how solar panels are being integrated in smart design.

2. Green roofs

Solar cells are not the only consideration for a roof space – roof gardens offer a range of benefits and possibilities, from absorbing rainwater and providing insulation to creating wildlife habitats, growing edible plants and installing beehives.

Roof gardens are important for building sustainability and can at least double the lifespan of standard roofing material, according to the Green Roof Centre. London’s Canary Wharf has several green roofs, some of which were installed during construction and others retrofitted. Ready access to green spaces has also been shown to reduce employee stress.

 3. Advanced insulation

Given the difficulty for most businesses to rebuild, many are retrofitting their offices using high-tech insulation materials to reduce their carbon footprints. Low-emissivity coatings are added to window glass to stop heat escaping and inert gas, such as argon is used to fill the cavity between panes. A Swiss manufacturer has even developed a product that makes it possible to replace solid walls with glazing, and also provides integrated shading. As a result, the building retains heat, but doesn’t overheat in the summer.

 4. Energy-saving sensors

While sensor lights are not new, technology that detects human movement can also be used to control heating and air conditioning, and many other appliances. The results can be profound: turning laser printers off overnight and on weekends can cut energy consumption by as much as 75 per cent. It’s not surprising since a photocopier left on overnight uses enough energy to make 5,000 A4 copies.The Crystal, Siemen’s internationally recognised building in the Green Enterprise District, in east London, is an example of how energy-saving censors work. The facility has more than 2,500 individual building control devices.

5. Heat-recovery ventilation

Also known as mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR), this system uses a heat exchange to extract heat from the internal airflow and replace it with fresh, warmed air. Some systems also allow for the air to bypass the heat exchanger when it’s warm outside, keeping a building cool in summer. MVHR systems improve air freshness and climate control, and reduce the energy needed for heating and cooling a building. The multi-award winning Co-op HQ in Manchester uses a heat-recovery system to heat fresh air, as well as using waste cooking oil and rapeseed oil for fuel.

6. Green walls

Vertical gardens improve insulation and air quality, can reduce noise and improve overall health. Green walls can also be built to filter and recycle greywater. Indoors, interior green walls can be built using sophisticated hydroponic technology, which carefully controls lighting, moisture and the nutritional needs of plants. These can reduce sick building syndrome by improving indoor air quality, with certain species removing toxins, such as formaldehyde, xylene and toluene from the air.

We may still be some way away from being fully carbon neutral, but technology is making it more achievable. With increasing competition for green credentials, it’s no surprises that strong growth is predicted for green buildings.