Dingy offices in the midst of a concrete jungle.
Windows sealed shut against the pollution outside.
Anaemic looking staff hunched over their computers, images of their glowing screen indelibly printed on their yellow eyeballs.
Sound like somewhere you want to be? Sound like somewhere you want your children to be? These are the type of images that have me running outside trying to find some fresh air at lunchtime. The kind of thoughts I have that make me want to sniff the oxygen right out of the spider plant on my desk.
Trouble Inside and Trouble Outside
As I walk to work I worry what I’m breathing in and when I get there it doesn’t stop. Reading about sick building syndrome and the chemicals that are trying to attack me from inside the office has turned me into a hypochondriac. Every sneeze, cough or wheeze has me convinced the office is killing me.
As our cities and their suburbs and even small towns become paved over in concrete, our access to green spaces is becoming ever more limited. But further to this, with an increasing percentage of the population working in an office, as a community we need to be worried about what the office culture is doing to the environment and our health.
As more and more of our inner city space is taken up with office buildings, architects, designers and office managers have been looking to the future and the demand for eco-friendly solutions to our modern working environment.
The Answer Is Eco
Businesses have long been touting buzzphrases such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘environmentally concerned’, their power for improving brand perceptions known and exploited. But actually taking these practices into the office has been limited to quick wins and easy gains. A complete revolution for office buildings across the country is needed. Genuinely eco-friendly office buildings and environments on a wide scale will help to improve business, build value and promote staff wellbeing and productivity, while also reducing pollution, enhancing company image and bolstering community engagement.
So what will the green office of the future look like?
Clean But Harmless
Look at your desk, your chair, those drab office walls – they look harmless enough, right? Wrong.
They leach harmful chemicals and toxins into your air and the balance needs to be addressed. While we wait for nano-robots to clean the air, or for private air bubbles to be invented, removing these from our environment would be a good start.
Sustainable furniture and non-toxic cleaning products will need to be introduced in the modern office, with businesses taking responsibility for the companies and services they employ.
Work Hard, Play Outside
The modern office shouldn’t just take into account the well-being of employees when they are inside but the environment they are exposed to on breaks or at lunch-time. Having an oasis indoors is all good and well but not if staff have to step out into the heavy hazy air of the company car park if they want to munch their lunch al fresco. A sandwich with a side of exhaust fumes, madam? No thanks.
Providing a space where employees can get access to fresh air, green leaves and calm, quiet surroundings – away from the frenetic pace of downtown – will do wonders for staff morale and so productivity.
Disguised By Plants
Even when designed and built by the most talented hands, office buildings are always going to appear ugly to me. You see lots of offices planting a few extra trees in the entrance way, placing a few extra pot-plants in reception but what if everyone went one step further?
Rather than going backwards and letting nature reclaim our cities in an ‘I am Legend’ kind of way, modern technology allows us to move forward and get the best of both worlds. From roof-top gardens to living green walls, carefully selected plants that help to clean the air and reduce the urban heat island effect can be placed on the top and sides of buildings.
This has a multitude of benefits, both to the environment, but also to the business – protecting the building from the elements while enhancing both its value and the image of the company.
Plants placed inside the office will clean the air, reduce staff illness and increase productivity and wellbeing. Sounds like the future to me.
Accepting the status quo as fact isn’t going to get us anywhere. The evolution of the office needs to start now so that the future is brighter and greener.
How green is your office? Is your business thinking about its ecological footprint or stuck in the polluted past? Share your thoughts below.
Louise Blake is worried for the future. As she thinks about going back to the office she wonders if she can cope in the concrete jungle.