Green office. Now it’s official

Environmental performance standards are a relatively new thing for the Russian real estate market. Companies today are thinking harder about their staff working conditions and asking themselves whether the quality of their office matches up to the sustainable development values, which they declare. Before now companies wanted their office to impress customers and other outsiders. Today they also want theuir office to transmit corporate values to their own staff, to instill corporate standards, and motivate high-quality work. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, because staff now want guarantees that the place where they work is not only stylish and comfortable, but also safe. Environmental technologies and best office management practices can meet all of these needs. Hence the growing demand from tenants of office buildings for “green” certification. As of today 12 of the 15 buildings in the O1 Standard portfolio have received such certification. Evgenia Soldatova, a qualified specialist in evaluation of buildings and offices to BREEAM and Fitwel standards, explains what environmental certification involves and why it is important.

Why does a “green certificate” matter?

The environmental performance of buildings has been on developers’ radar for several decades. Any building lives in the context of the city around it: it consumes resources, attracts vehicle and pedestrian flows, produces waste, etc. A building can be skilfully integrated into its surroundings, easy to use and complement the infrastructure of local communities, or it can be an eyesore that gets in the way of the life going on around it.

Environmental performance standards evaluate how efficiently buildings use resources, how well they are laid out, their use of natural light, air quality, land use, provision for alternative modes of transport, waste sorting, consumables used by the management company, supply logistics, access to building amenities for local communities, etc. This gives an idea of the building’s “environmental footprint” and (no less important) of how comfortable and convenient the building is for its users and visitors. If we remember that many of us spend at least a third of our day in the office and up to 90% of our time in buildings, the importance of such comfort and convenience is evident, even to people who are unfamiliar with the environmental agenda.

Research shows that growing interest in green certification is driven mainly by tenant demand. In Western markets, it is hard to find a class-A or class-B office building that is not certified to one or other environmental standard.

Green certification is also catching on in Russia, where it is already the norm for new class-A projects. But the situation with existing buildings is less clear. Not every owner understands why it is worth investing more money when a green certificate does not immediately increase the lease rate that the owner can obtain. O1 Standard has set an example in this respect: nearly all of the buildings under our management (newly built and existing) have been certified “green”, including several redevelopments of pre-1917 and Soviet-era buildings. We are obtaining green certification for all our buildings as a commitment to a sustainable future and in order to provide our tenants with quality space where their people can work comfortably and productively. Green certification increases the level of tenant satisfaction and tenant satisfaction is our key performance indicator.

What is BREEAM?

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), developed in the UK in 1990, is the world’s first universally applicable system for assessing the environmental performance of buildings. BREEAM certification looks at the technical parameters of buildings and the quality of work by the management company. More than 594,000 buildings worldwide have obtained BREEAM certification, of which 198 in Russia (12 are these managed by O1 Standard). With a large data base of certified properties, BREEAM enables owners to compare the features of their building with others in a single system, so that they can determine strengths and weaknesses and make necessary changes. BREEAM takes detailed account of efficiency in the use of resources and materials, from landscaping and waste disposal right down to the printing of paper passes for building visitors.

Who needs Fitwel?

Fitwel green certification is an American standard designed by the US Government Health Agency and the Center for Active Design, which specializes in preventive medicine. Fitwel differs from BREEAM by paying more attention to how a building functions “from the inside”. The emphasis is on personal well-being and measures in place to ensure the comfort of building users. Aspects evaluated by Fitwel include dedicated quiet rooms, quality vending machines, gyms and exercise equipment. Technical aspects also play an important role in Fitwel certification, but they are viewed exclusively through the lens of human health: laboratory measurements of air and water quality are used, and office lighting is regulated to European standards.

What is the difference between certification of a whole building and of an individual office?

The building as a whole is the responsibility of its management company; an office inside the building is the responsibility of the tenant that leases it. A tenant making an office lease agreement cannot change the building’s engineering systems, but it can equip its premises in a way that favours the well-being of its staff: install living plants, use natural materials for decoration, fit motion sensors for meeting rooms and utility rooms, use water-efficient plumbing, etc.

The decisive factors when certifying an entire building are its engineering systems, treatment of the building’s grounds and the work of the management company. Individual offices do not come into account for building certification: some tenants prefer a flexible format with recreation areas, while others stay with a classic seating arrangement and a cooler in the corridor.

It is clear, though, that if a tenant company wants to create a green office, it would do best to choose a building where green technologies are already in place. It is difficult, for example,  to organize separate waste collection for one office, while its neighbours continue to use one bin for all refuse. The quality and efficiency of maintenance of the building’s overall engineering systems remain the responsibility of the management company.

What does O1 Standard offer?

Responding to the growing interest in green standards from building owners and tenants, O1 Standard not only manages real estate in an eco-efficient way, but also offers tenants and owners certification to the BREEAM and Fitwel standards. Other management companies that offer such a service have to call in an expert contractor, which makes the process more expensive. O1 Standard has its own qualified in-house expert, which reduces the cost of certification. We can certify both whole buildings and individual offices. .