By Benedict Brenninkmeijer, student, University of St Andrews
How did I end up working for Summertown Interiors?
The process started when I decided to take time out from my studies at the University of St Andrews to attain first-hand experience within the sustainability industry. My course, Sustainable Development, is extremely broad and is going to take me five years to complete in total. After two and a half years, at my half way point in 2015, I started to worry about how I would be able to apply the theory I was learning into practise. Taking a leap of faith, I put my studies on hold from December so that I could embark on an internship to gain the industry experience I craved.
So why Dubai?
I had lived there as a young child in the 90’s and have always been fascinated by the way the city had progressed in such a short space of time. At University, I did a case study on Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, ‘the world’s most sustainable eco-city’, and this further sparked my interest on the region. While researching Masdar City, I came across Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and found that interestingly, Summertown Interiors had completed some of their offices – this is what led me to get in touch with the company as I thought what better way to learn more about Masdar City and other projects in the rest of the UAE than to work for Summertown Interiors.
What did you work on?
I applied and succeeded to get the opportunity to intern with Summertown Interiors for a six-week period. I was tasked to help the team with the integration of the recent processes defined for the company as part of their recent completion of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED EBOM), the certification for the ongoing operations and maintenance of existing commercial and institutional buildings.
Specifically, my focus was to assist with the Facility Management and Procurement areas. In order for the project to be a success, LEED EBOM would need to be viewed as a core component of business operations and not as a standalone extra task to be completed. To facilitate seamless integration of these sustainability practices I had to learn more of Summertown Interior’s ISO process driven operations.
After gaining a familiarity with LEED EBOM and the ISO system, I worked alongside key team members to propose changes to existing ISO processes that would address the demands of LEED EBOM.
The Summertown team gave me their full support – I was able to have access to all departments and through meetings with department heads, I gained an amazing insight into the inner workings of the business. With my background as a Sustainable Development student, Summertown Interiors was also eager for me have external meetings, to give me a better understanding of what is being done in Dubai and the rest of the UAE to achieve the country’s sustainability goals.
I was fortunate enough to meet on a number of occasions with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and learn more about their efforts to support the widespread adoption of sustainability and CSR practices throughout the GCC region. Additionally, it was fantastic to have been part of the Summertown Interiors team when it was awarded the Dubai Chamber’s CSR label for the fourth year running.
Another interesting meeting that took place was with the Sustainability Manager at Brookfield Multiplex – a global contracting and development company. It was brilliant to be given further insight into what large multinational organisations are doing to support green design and build in the region.
In my final week I was fortunate enough to take a tour of Masdar City with one of Summertown Interior’s team members to learn more about the initiatives and technologies the city already had in operation and their vision for the future. To take a ride on the automated PRT system around Masdar City was really exciting and felt like something from a sci-fi movie.
What have you learnt?
Looking back over my time at Summertown Interiors I am so grateful for all of the experience I was able to garner and take back to Scotland with me. I surpassed my initial goal of understanding more about how sustainability works within a business context and was fortunate enough to learn from one that is pioneering the way for the green movement in the UAE.
I have developed professionally with my written and oral communication skills, my networking capabilities and analysis capabilities. I have also developed personally, gaining an insight into what life is like as an expat, living by myself, driving to work in Jebel Ali everyday and making some amazing friendships along the way.
By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors
The UAE’s commercial fit-out market has experienced a greater demand for office workplaces that meet the expectations of the ‘Millennial Generation’ who are reshaping workplace design in the UAE. This ambitious, tech-savvy generation has notably different working styles and preferences than other generations and place much higher value on the office environment and workplace culture. Designers, architects and workspace experts have started to introduce these principles into their projects to increase user satisfaction and productivity.
Millennials look for collaborative working environments where they can share ideas and learn from their colleagues. As ‘digital natives’ they rely on 24/7 connectivity to technology so they feel less reason to be tied to a desk. Offices that are designed to encourage collaboration via cleverly integrated sharable ‘digital spaces’, such as a top-of-the-range conference rooms, help to foster collaboration and improve creativity and productivity within the workplace.
Transparency is one of the top qualities that Millennials look for in leaders – honest, open cultures where there are limited barriers between management teams. This is reflected in office fit-outs where the focus is shifting towards open and airy spaces. Glass partitions for office cubicles are increasingly favoured over gypsum partitions. However, these open spaces also need to be balanced with private areas. Millennials want to know their colleagues are always approachable, but also want to enjoy their own privacy when they need to concentrate.
‘Rethinking’ the use of space has fast become a top priority for companies in order to encourage employee engagement. Many Millennials want to feel that their company really cares about their wellbeing and this has seen a rise in the demand for health amenities in the workplace. From yoga rooms, to pantries stocked with free and healthy foods and sleep corners, companies are increasingly understanding the role that the physical environment plays in promoting wellbeing at work.
‘Millennial offices’ are firmly shaping the future of the corporate real estate industry. By 2020 Millennials will form 50% of the global workforce and, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the UAE is the top emerging market destination for young professionals looking to further their careers. Interestingly, a survey carried out by HSBC’s private banking arm showed that the UAE has the youngest successful entrepreneurs in the world.
Investing in the workspace should not be considered an extra cost, but an investment that has a positive impact on employees’ happiness, productivity, and loyalty. This will, in turn, enhance the organisation’s overall success. As Millennials continue to dominate the workforce, companies must adapt to new ways of doing business in order to retain employees and encourage productivity.
By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors
Despite the progressive measures the UAE Government is taking to make the country a successful global model of sustainable development, UAE businesses are still considerably behind their Western counterparts when it comes to implementing sustainable practises.
Since Dubai pledged to make Expo 2020 the first sustainable expo, the UAE’s sustainable development agenda has been thrust into the global spotlight. The UAE Government has made very clear its intention to become a successful model of a sustainable economy and has put in place some ambitious targets to make this vision a reality.
In 2015, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050. This aims to make Dubai a global centre of clean energy and green economy by providing 7% of Dubai’s energy from clean energy sources by 2020, 25% by 2030 and 75% by 2050.
The UAE through its diverse strategies and investments in clean and renewable energy is leading global efforts in this area, despite having the second-largest oil reserves in the world. Since the recent unveiling of the new cabinet including the appointment of Thani Kharkhash as Minister of State for Climate Change and Environment, much effort is being put into diversifying the UAE’s economy away from oil by 2021 to create a business environment that ensures economic and social stability.
Although there has been an increased interest in building green in the past few years, the corporate and economic benefits of sustainability are still underestimated in the region. Being green is a lifestyle choice and a business strategy, which, if done well, positively impacts the company’s bottom line. People will be more engaged and work better together, costs will be managed more efficiently, and the company will gain credibility in the market.
As a company that walks the talk, our clients, partners and the business community in general look to us for advice and knowledge when it comes to integrating sustainability into their business operations. From our own experience, the most common mistake companies make when they want to embrace sustainability is having too narrow a vision: setting just a few goals and metrics for measurement, and then following those without looking at the big picture.
Sustainability has always been at the forefront of Summertown’s operations and we will continue to pioneer the ‘green’ movement here in the UAE. We look to inspire and help other companies to integrate ‘green’ practises into their business strategy to help sustainability become the standard modus operandi, both in the UAE and worldwide.
By Esra Kayhan, HR Manager, Summertown Interiors
Workplace wellness, sustainability and employee engagement are three emerging trends that are influencing workplace design in the UAE. Get all three right, and you will be well on your way to creating a more productive workplace, according to recent studies.
Wellbeing at work means much more than taking care of employees’ basic needs; it fosters an atmosphere of healthy competition and processes that make the workplace more conducive to performance and positive thinking. This, in turn, boosts productivity and reduces stress levels.
Investing in the workspace is no longer considered an extra cost, but a productivity investment that enhances an organisation’s overall success. From paying more attention to the quality of lighting, indoor air, sound level and visual design in the office, companies are now understanding the role that the physical environment plays in promoting wellbeing at work.
The fit-out industry has experienced increased pressure to implement environmentally-responsible practices. The UAE is a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement and by 2020, as part of Dubai’s Clean Energy Strategy 2050, the emirate intends to obtain 7% of its energy from clean sources.
As buildings are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, more attention will be given to the construction of green buildings and the maintenance of sustainable interiors. Regulation will likely be a driver of this, but so will end-user demand. As clients become more aware of the advantages of building green, and their responsibility to the planet, they will put more pressure on the fit-out industry to implement environmentally responsible practises.
‘Rethinking’ the use of space to accommodate employees will also be a key consideration. Until recently, open plan offices were considered the best environment for staff, encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity. Today, the focus is shifting towards building a space that offers the perfect balance between collaboration and privacy.
Creating workplaces and spaces that encourage employee engagement via seamless technological integration continues to shape the commercial fit-out industry. Technology is a vital component which spearheads and enables creativity amongst the workforce when its implementation is thoughtfully considered. By cleverly integrating the latest technologies into an office fit-out, employees can feel more creative, productive and engaged.
These are increasingly important considerations to bear in mind when designing the ideal workplace environment. The workspace of the future will have to be efficient, sustainable and healthy, while providing the right environment for a creative, productive and engaged workforce.
This year’s edition of the Little Green Data Book by World Bank Group, the highly reputable reference on key environmental data for over 200 economies, welcomed the inclusion of two new indicators on ambient air pollution.
Worryingly, the findings highlighted that in many countries, exposure to air pollution is increasing at a fast rate and has in fact become the main environmental threat to health. In the UAE, the emphasis on air quality is treated as a serious matter which is led by the Ministry of Environment and Water.
Although the results of both new indicators for the UAE proved to be much higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended guidelines, the Ministry has been working hard to combat the issue and continue to improve the region’s air quality. For example, the introduction of a further eleven air quality monitoring stations are to be built as part of a new monitoring system called UAE Air Quality Network.
Although this is a commendable feat for the UAE, we believe that it is also just as important to raise awareness of indoor air pollution and put in place controls to reduce it. According to the Dubai Municipality’s Public Health and Safety Department, “people spend an average of 90 per cent of their time indoors”. Therefore, tackling indoor air pollution is a necessity, as the pollutants indoors can be just as high as outdoors and can cause harm to both the family home and working environment.
For example, indoor air quality invariably impacts the overall working atmosphere of any office space. If indoor air is polluted, employees are more likely to feel sick and uncomfortable, resulting in a negative impact on productivity levels. Indoor air can be polluted by a number of factors ranging from furniture materials used, a lack of proper housekeeping or even as a result of occupants’ activities.
What we have found is that it is also important to ensure the building or office occupancy quota does not exceed standards in workspace design as the extra bodies will impact air quality. Pollution caused by poor quality furniture and fixtures can be easily avoided by specifying or installing products and materials with low or no Volatile Organic Compound levels.
When it comes to maintenance and housekeeping works, be sure to use cleaning products that are environmentally friendly. Those that are not tend to cause micro levels of air contamination. Occupants’ activities such as smoking close to the building can be easily taken care of by ensuring designated smoking areas are away from the building.
Air pollution can also be caused by a general lack of fresh air supply. Having the right ventilation system design at the time of construction and, an operation and maintenance policy that is adhered to, will help to monitor supply of fresh air. At our LEED Gold certified showroom, sensors have been installed in closed meeting areas to ensure fresh air is pumped in when carbon dioxide levels are high. In this way, we have been able to provide 30% more fresh air in our offices than ASHRAE standards.
During the construction of our office we ensured we used low-emitting adhesives, paints and sealants, certified eco-friendly system furniture and seating, and implemented a two-week flush-out period before occupancy.
While we don’t have specific research to prove this, it is logical to say that indoor air quality can be harmed if the level of pollution outdoors is high. If your workspace is located in an industrial area or even within a busy city where the air is more polluted, it is likely to damage air quality indoors, especially if you are trying to pump in ‘fresh air’ from the outside.
Looking ahead, we are confident that decreasing air pollution will be a high priority for the Ministry of Environment and Water. However, it is important to note that it is not only the government’s responsibility, but all segments of society.
From small to large businesses, we all have a part to play — a part that can be beneficial for the business, the community in which it exists, and the planet as a whole.
Sharing market knowledge and expertise is always at the forefront of Summertown’s activities. On 26th November, Summertown’s Projects Director Paul Briers hosted a workshop on ‘cost-effective fit-out solutions’ at the 2015 edition of The Big Five. Renowned as the largest and most informative construction exhibition in the Middle East, Paul was invited to shed light on Summertown’s in-depth understanding of the topic.
Balancing clients’ quality expectations with cost-effectiveness is a matter that is raised on nearly every Summertown project. However, as Paul explained, it is impossible to summarise cost-effectiveness by a single parameter. Instead, it can be determined by a life-cycle perspective where all costs and benefits of a given project are evaluated and compared over its economic life.
In particular, Paul highlighted five key areas that should be taken into consideration when undertaking a cost-effective fit-out design:
The first, site selection and the concept of being thoroughly aware of a company’s forecasted growth before investing in a space. Business assessment is a necessary step to ensure long-term planning of any site. For example, if the workforce is likely to increase and outgrow the office, then creating a cleverly designed, accommodating area is a necessity. If a full assessment is not carried out from the start, as companies grow in size, it becomes challenging to provide a working environment that meets the needs of its occupants. Currently, an interesting trend is ‘hot-desking’, a workspace sharing model in which employees outnumber desks. Proven to reduce cost through space savings, ‘hot-desking’ can be integrated into site selection from phase one of the fit-out.
The next subject matter, workspace design, focused on ‘rethinking’ the use of space. Until recently, open plan offices were considered the best environment for employees, encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity. The focus is shifting towards building a space that offers the perfect balance between collaboration and privacy. Today, designers, architects and workspace experts are introducing these principles into their projects to increase user satisfaction. Investing in the workspace is no longer considered an extra cost, but as a productivity investment that enhances an organisation’s overall success.
The third topic, local versus international sourcing of materials, brought to light a predicament which many contractors face in the UAE. The limited product offering in the local market has resulted in much product being sourced from overseas. However, since sustainability in buildings has moved higher on the agenda in the UAE, the fit-out industry has experienced increased pressure to implement environmentally-responsible practices. The emerging demand for reusable and local materials is having a positive effect on their availability and prices in the market. As green practices are adopted on a larger scale, economies of scale are achieved and the unit cost of green products in the local market are lowered.
This led onto the subject of sustainability and the long-term ecological footprint of material and the number of questions that must be raised and answered when considering a fit-out. Where did the material come from? How was it processed or fabricated? How did it arrive on-site? How long will it last? How will it eventually be disposed of? The cost-effectiveness of sustainable fit-outs in the region has been a hot topic, and recently, we have witnessed a greater awareness from businesses regarding both the economic and corporate benefits of building green. Thankfully, today there is a larger offering and the price of green products has reduced, which has encouraged the development of green projects.
Overall, mitigating project risk as best as possible when undertaking a fit-out is key. A responsible contractor will be aware of any potential risks to the project, and will be prepared to mitigate them in the most cost-effective way possible. It is unrealistic to think that delivery of a fit-out project will come without risk, which is why transparency and open communication with the client is essential and allows for the team to maintain tight control on costs versus ‘allowable’. Contractors should not be afraid to ‘go above and beyond’ with their fit-out projects. However, cost-effective solutions that bring operational benefits for cleverly designed spaces should be front of mind at all times.
By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors
At Summertown Interiors, we are huge supporters of the green building revolution which is happening in the UAE. With 800 registered LEED-accredited building projects of the 1,250 listed, the UAE is definitely spearheading change in the Middle East.
In both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the government has paved the way for the green movement by enforcing energy-efficient requirements for developers, namely Estidama and the Green Building Codes. Both are part of a long-term campaign in which the leadership is aiming to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020, including the identification of sustainability as a key criterion in the event specification for Dubai Expo 2020.
Promisingly, we have witnessed a greater awareness from business regarding both the economic and corporate benefits of building green. A great example of this is how just a few years ago there was a shortage of eco products in the regional market which meant green investment was slightly halted. Thankfully, today there is a larger offering and the price of green products has reduced which has encouraged the development of green building projects.
In addition, attitudes in society towards sustainability have progressed and people are more aware and keener to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Lots of companies are now advocates in promoting well-being at work, paying more attention to the quality of lighting, indoor air, sound level and visual design in the office, as well as providing their staff with breakout and gyms areas.
This being said, the UAE is still considerably behind its Western counterparts when it comes to the sustainability conversation. For example, there is little or no legislation that enforces companies to consider the environment – even Estidama’s mandatory status is a rare thing and most companies that take measures to ‘go green’ do so voluntarily.
This leads into the UAE’s sustainability reporting and the lack of procedures when it comes to companies reporting their environmental footprint. This has to be improved and taken seriously like in other developed markets – it will be a while before companies in the UAE are on par with them.
Although there has been an increased interest in building green in the past few years, the corporate and economic benefits of sustainability are still underestimated in the region and deserve to be promoted through a considered educational program for both the construction sector and decision makers.
At Summertown Interiors, we are happy to see the UAE’s green revolution gain momentum and are confident that further change is coming as companies continue to embrace more and more green policies.
From the availability of green products, to the lack of clear regulations in green building and recycling, we do still face challenges. While efforts are made to design and construct buildings that perform better, a key area missed is how buildings are operated and maintained from a sustainable viewpoint. Additionally, more importance needs to be given to the interiors of buildings as at the moment are regulated mainly by LEED certification, not mandatory in the UAE.
Our industry has a crucial role to play in pressing for specific legislation and convincing high-end users of the benefits of green practices. We need to reinforce the collaboration between all key stakeholders for further improvement – authorities, contractors, manufacturers, engineers, architects, designers, developers, facility managers and tenants. Stakeholder involvement at every level is absolutely necessary if green building is to earn its rightful place as the industry standard.
By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors
Today, design is about more than aesthetics and functionality. It is, more than ever, about helping businesses create value. Dark, dull, monotone offices are fast becoming a thing of the past. With today’s employees spending more than 30 percent of their lives at work, building a flexible and creative environment that nurtures individual wellbeing, has a clear positive impact on a business’ bottom line. Not only are companies using office design to attract and engage the best talent in the market, they recognise the workspace is an expression of a company’s visual identity and should reflect their brand image and reputation. There are several movements driving change in the workspace and these will have an impact on the way offices will be designed and fitted-out over the next few years.
The overarching principle impacting all levels of the construction industry globally is sustainable development. We expect that in the next 15 years, with the recent adoption of the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, to see a total shift in the construction and fit-out industries towards sustainability models. New regulations will be adopted, higher standards and consumer demand will increase pressure on the industry to implement environmentally responsible practices, and awareness and understanding of green practices at all levels of the construction chain will increase. In the near future, sustainable projects will be the norm, not the exception. The green building movement has picked up in the UAE too, with sustainability being at the core of UAE’s strategic plan ‘Vision 2021’. Local contractors will have to step up their game when it comes to integrating sustainability into their processes, there will be more eco products available in the market and legislation will also tighten up.
Another important change we see happening in workplace design is the rethinking the use of space. The focus is shifting towards building facilities that will support cross-team collaboration and which allow teams to reshape the workspace to meet their evolving needs. For example, until recently open plan offices were considered the best environment for employees – encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity so designers will start to create spaces that provide a perfect balance between collaboration and privacy. Many companies have yet to implement these changes, but designers, architects and workspace experts are introducing these principles into their projects. We will see more recreational areas, more spaces for individual retreat, more attention given to design elements that can have an impact on employees’ creativity, engagement and loyalty.
Technology has had a huge impact on workplace design and fit-out over the past decade, and we expect the smart building movement will pick up considerably in the next few years. Technology is shaping the way we communicate and interact with each other. Employees are increasingly more connected and mobile, switching between laptops, smartphones and tablets. Smart buildings mean that a higher degree of automation is now included in all projects. That’s why space and furniture can no longer be built the same way it was years ago. Modern, sustainable office buildings will be cost-efficient, integrating the latest technologies and mobility strategies. The space will be designed to consolidate a higher workplace density and will offer, at the same time, greater transparency and interaction. The workspace of the future will have to be efficient, sustainable and healthy, the right environment for a creative, productive and engaged workforce.
In terms of aesthetics, we see a growing demand for contemporary, minimalistic design solutions. Furniture design is encompassing the use of materials such as glass and steel, with ready-made furniture being designed to offer a much greater degree of flexibility. This means less demand for bespoke offerings, which is not bad a bad thing in our opinion. Prefabricated furniture, that allows for flexibility of configuration, ensures more consistent product quality and minimizes production time since there is no need for shop drawings, approvals, sourcing of materials or managing different lead times. This not only reduces the risk of project delays, but responds to businesses’ needs to build more with less, and at a reduced cost.
Looking ahead, we expect to see the most substantial area of “green building” growth to occur in new commercial construction, followed by institutional construction (education, healthcare, government). The role of design and fit-out industries will be to incorporate wellbeing into the workplace. We will create space, furniture and tools that will nurture employee wellbeing and will help organisations to align social, economic and environmental impact of their business with the company’s culture, creating value for all stakeholders.
By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors
Our green credentials take us back well before it became ‘fashionable’ to call yourself sustainable. We were the first contractor in the UAE with an office to receive LEED Gold rating (in 2009), and have successfully executed more sustainable interior projects with 100% success rate in the UAE than any other contractor. In 2014 we received our third Dubai Chamber of Commerce CSR label; we were named Sustainable Business of the Year at the Gulf Capital Awards; and Daman Corporate Health Awards rewarded us for ‘Employee Engagement of the Year Initiative’ for our health and wellness program.
In order to become the sustainable business that we are today, we have had to learn to adapt in order to grow as we embark on our sustainable journey. In 2011, when we set up our Eco Leaders committee – a team of employees volunteering to drive the ‘green’ movement at Summertown, we thought we had the right plan in place. And our plan seemed good, but in time we realized that it didn’t deliver everything we had hoped for. It became clear we needed to expand our vision if we wanted to achieve those tangible business benefits for taking the ‘green’ path.
As a company that walks the talk, our clients, partners and the business community in general look to us for advice and knowledge when it comes to integrating sustainability. From our own experience, the most common mistake companies make when they want to embrace sustainability is having too narrow a vision: setting just a few goals and metrics for measurement, and then following those without looking at the big picture.
In our case, we realised the only way to go about being a truly sustainable business was to integrate sustainability principles into everything we do. We needed, in the same way a person does, to make a major lifestyle change that would impact everyone and everything in our business, at all levels: our people, our partners and clients, our community and our planet.
Today, sustainability is at the core of everything we do and this not only makes our employees and clients happier, but is driving our economic engine. In the last year alone we have achieved 25% revenue growth. Taking the sustainability path and integrating it into every aspect of our business has paid off: now 54% of our total business comes from sustainable fit out projects, which is one of our measures for success. Not only we are taking the sustainable path, but we inspire and convince others to do it and we have the expertise and experience to help them.
We believe it’s important to share our experience with others: our learning curve will help and encourage them to make the right choices. We hope more companies will understand that ‘going green’ is not about being ‘fashionable’. Being green is a lifestyle choice and a business strategy, one that, if done well, impacts the company’s bottom line; people will be more engaged and work better together, costs will be managed more efficiently, the company will gain credibility in the market.
Since we embarked on our CSR journey, we have reaped the benefits. We make tangible savings every day, our employees come to work with a real sense of purpose, are healthier and happier, and the results are reflected in our productivity levels, our carbon footprint and ultimately the success of our business.
And because this is that time of the year when we make resolutions, our ‘green’ journey in 2015 will have two main objectives: to take our first steps to attain LEED EBOM (Existing Buildings and Maintenance) certification, and to inspire and help other companies in the UAE to integrate sustainability into their business strategy.
By Paul Briers, Projects Director, Summertown Interiors
A healthy employee is a happy employee. Many companies now recognise employees as their most important asset. They have also realised that by focusing on employee wellness they not only improve their market reputation, but also levels of employee engagement and productivity, which positively impacts their bottom lines.
There are various workplace initiatives taking place across the UAE to promote and support a healthier lifestyle, from offering guidance on healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise to free health check-ups. As a fit-out contractor specialised in green interiors, Summertown Interiors is encouraged to see more companies rethink the way they fit-out their offices in order to promote and support a healthier lifestyle for their employees.
There is, however, an issue which is often overlooked: indoor air quality. Although a survey by the Environment Agency Abu-Dhabi shows that people are significantly more aware of the importance of air quality, with awareness rising from seven per cent in 2013 to 90 per cent in 2014, the issue of indoor air quality goes largely unnoticed. This is most likely due to a misconception that while the air is polluted outside, we are safe once inside our homes or offices. The truth is indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, some alarming news considering we spend 90 per cent of our time indoors.
What exactly makes the indoor air so bad? Among the pollutants in an office are chemical emissions coming from conventional building materials, furnishings, cleaning products, paints or even office products such as printers, mould and poor ventilation. The latter is particularly relevant to the UAE, where access to fresh outdoor air is not possible most of the year, making us dependent on air conditioning systems.
Having the right ventilation system design at the time of construction and, an operation and maintenance policy that is adhered to, will help to monitor supply of fresh air. At Summertown’s LEED Gold certified showroom, sensors have been installed in closed meeting areas to ensure fresh air is pumped in when carbon dioxide levels are high. In this way, we have been able to provide 30% more fresh air in our offices than ASHRAE standards.
To improve air quality, the countless toxins found in our indoor environment—such as formaldehyde, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), trichloroethylene, carbon monoxide and benzene, to name just a few—must be reduced as much as possible. Besides having a proper ventilation system, this can be done by using green certified fit-out products and materials with low or no VOC levels, proper housekeeping, and by making sure the office occupancy quote does not exceed standards in workspace design.
Adding office plants has long been a solution for improving indoor air quality and recently we have seen an increase interest in adding green walls, which are panels of plants grown vertically using hydroponics on structures that can be either free-standing or attached to walls. Not only does this improve air quality, it also provides a visual break, which studies suggest stimulates mental alertness for its occupants.