Laying the foundations for a sustainable future

Grace Mair

By Grace Mair, regional director at Thomas & Adamson

MORE and more, we are seeing sustainability continue to be a pressing priority for clients, particularly when it comes to the fit-out of office space. Carbon assessments are becoming a normal part of client briefs at the outset, with each having specific targets and goals. But how do they go about achieving those goals?

The simple truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are many factors at play, from budget to what sustainability means for them as an organisation, all of which will have an impact on the outcome. It is also important to keep sight of the client’s objectives – the end-user experience must be considered to ensure that the client is satisfied and has a functional fit-out at the end of the project.

With that said, there are some key aspects which must be considered. The first is the base build of the space. The bones of any project determine what can be done when it comes to fit-out and there is a limited amount which can be done to improve this further down the line. For example, the heating system and its source will play a vital role in what is viable when it comes to a sustainable fit-out.

The base build will also be important for any accreditations which the client is aiming to achieve, and an open conversation about these goals is often helpful at the outset of a new project. For example, it is much easier to achieve BREEAM accreditation if it has been considered at the beginning of a project and every detail can help it to meet that goal.

Next, a decision needs to be made – do you focus on embodied carbon, or on integrating low emissions fixtures, such as photovoltaics? Both approaches have merits and what works will be dependent on the goals of the client. However, it can often be the case that one precludes the other, therefore a decision on this needs to be made early in the design process, often before fit-out is considered. There is also increasing demand for moving straight from shell and core to fit-out thus minimising the waste generated in the Cat A stage of the construction.

Smart controls can also be an effective way of creating a sustainable fit-out, as well as understanding how a building is being used, with the latter helping building management to make more sustainable decisions. This could be from optimising ventilation and air conditioning throughout the building to meet the varying demands of the day to turning lights off when no longer required. However, it can go even further than this, informing when bins are full and soap dispensers are empty.

Finally, as the circular economy continues to grow and develop, we must consider what happens to the waste produced from completing a fit-out. One consideration is the reduction by flexibility in the design for the future. Another is the reuse of materials which previously would have gone to landfill. Nowadays, most of the waste produced can be recycled, and as technology becomes more advanced, we would expect to see the amount sent to landfill from fit-outs continue to decrease.

We have come a long way as we strive to become a more sustainable sector and, while we can acknowledge that we still have a way to go, we can be proud of what we have achieved so far.