Style vs Sustainability: It’s Time to Get Your Priorities Straight
The concept of what an office looks like has changed dramatically over the last few decades. There used to be a clear distinction in style between a home study and a corporate office. The home was a calming, comfortable, personalised space, where one could spend time alone with one’s thoughts, reading or being inspired. A corporate office, whether it consisted of private rooms, cubicles or open plan desks, was usually plain, functional and economical, a glass-enveloped box of beige or grey.
But the way we work has evolved with the technology we use, and offices have adapted apace. Email and Whatsapp have replaced typewritten letters and phone calls; smartphones, laptops and WiFi no longer leave us tied to our desks; even our filing cabinets have been made obsolete as documents are stored in the cloud. Offices have become places where we go to interact and collaborate with colleagues and clients, requiring increasing numbers of meeting rooms and break-out spaces. The former chasm between working from home and from the office has narrowed dramatically, and the result has been a demand for offices with more inspiring aesthetics and greater comfort – think tech graduates with headphones working from a sofa with their feet up sipping a chai tea soy latte. The recent explosion of the coworking industry, synonymous with numerous break-out areas and cool collaborative spaces, has added fuel to this trend – as well as beer on tap!
But parallel to this, there is another big global trend developing that business owners are finding harder to incorporate, something that seems set to boom even more post-pandemic. Studies show environmental sustainability is commonly predicted to become one of the biggest disruptors to business in the next decade, as millennials become a larger, more influential part of the workforce. A 2019 survey of 1000+ employees in large US companies revealed that a massive 70% of them would choose to work at a company that operates within a sustainable framework, and many would even take a pay cut to do so. Clearly, companies that ignore sustainability for the sake of cutting costs do so at their peril.
Today’s companies face being caught in a balancing act between style and sustainability. Lavish office interiors filled with convenient appliances are by turns admired or abhorred, depending on one’s viewpoint. Yet their design is seen to be an intrinsic part of a brand, even of its success. Physically, the design of a workspace can have a real and lasting impact on the productivity, happiness and wellbeing of employees. One can assume that business owners are not spending vast amounts of money on luxury couches and barista-run coffee shops out of the goodness of their heart. Studies have shown repeatedly that such perks attract and, more importantly, keep their industry’s top talent.
But a company’s office design also needs to be reflective of their corporate culture and core values, of which sustainability should be front and centre in today’s world. Many people, especially the younger generation, are becoming increasingly aware of humanity’s impact on the planet, and are trying to live as sustainable a lifestyle as they can. As they enter the workforce, they demand a workspace that fulfills the same environmental and social responsibilities that they value at home. Post-pandemic, this issue may become even more important. The global pause on travel and industry in recent months has revealed a cleaner, more beautiful world, shocking old and young alike and inspiring a fresh determination to take better care of our planet.
Banyan Workspace: An Example of Sustainability Within Style
In creating Banyan Workspace in 2019, our team set out to prove that style and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. As a coworking space, it helped that we were already in an industry at the forefront of the revolution in both office design and sustainability (coworking is, almost by definition, a sustainable option, with shared space and flexible working arrangements reducing the amount of energy companies consume). But our aim was to make sustainability central to every aspect of design and function, while simultaneously ensuring an elevated, luxurious brand and a viable business model. A good sustainability policy encompasses all areas of the office design, from locally and regionally-sourced building and furniture materials to energy-efficient appliances and effective, easy-to-implement internal policies. Working with a dynamic young designer who shared our passion for these principles has helped us become recognized by Hong Kong media outlets as the number one sustainable coworking and private events venue in the city. Many of our clients are specifically drawn to the same values as we promote.
Recent studies have shown over 50% of global consumers prefer companies with strong environmental credentials, while 73% of millennials are happy to spend more money for a sustainably-produced product. Statistics such as these have encouraged many businesses to try and improve their eco-credentials to reap some public goodwill . But sustainability is something that needs to be built into a company’s work culture, from the ground up. People recognize authenticity, and can tell when environmental rules are being crowbarred into a regular set of policies to try and improve one’s image. A company can easily be tarnished by accusations of such “greenwashing”, ending up with a worse reputation than a company that has no pretenses of environmental kudos. To suddenly insert sustainability as one of your company’s key core values when previously it was ignored can be hard, although it’s not impossible. It must start with the people at the top of the company, however, the owners or CEOs, and trickle down from there. Tough decisions may need to be made and certain conveniences may have to be forfeited if sustainable alternatives cannot be found.
But in the long run, a sustainable workspace can be a huge boon for business profitability. Greater energy efficiency, a healthier working environment, an empowered and enthusiastic workforce and improved brand reputation means costs go down and productivity goes up. People can adjust to new ways of working, as long as their efficiency isn’t compromised. It is amazing to see how creative and enthusiastic employees can be when motivated and empowered. People who were never interested in sustainability can be encouraged to change their habits by simply following the rules and, as a result, their attitudes and beliefs also. Sustainability can become something that a team can rally around and be proud of, engendering loyalty to the company.
So while trends in style and design might fluctuate and technological advancements evolve over time, there is one thing that will always remain constant; our dependence on our planet. And that means that a company that invests in sustainability will never go out of style.
Small Sustainable Changes That Make a Big Difference
- Exchange your complimentary drinks and snacks for sustainable alternatives, eg. ethically-produced coffee, plastic-free teabags and locally-sourced organic snacks. Offer a dairy-free milk alternative, such as oat milk, as standard.
- Create an efficient recycling system, including proper receptacles for paper, metal, plastic, tetrapaks, compost and electronic waste (eg. batteries, ink cartridges). Make sure someone is responsible for ensuring that what is collected is properly disposed of.
- Implement company policies to cut out unnecessary printing of documents and use recycled paper and B&W printing as standard.
- Ditch the disposables by offering a clean supply of reusable kitchenware, lunchboxes and travel cups for employees use.
- Go plastic-free, choosing natural and eco-friendly building materials, furniture and products wherever possible.
- Invest in your air-quality by introducing purifying plants to your desk areas and meeting rooms
- Choose office appliances carefully to reduce your environmental impact, with energy-saving functions and minimal wastage (no capsule coffee!). Keep air-cons between 23-26°c.