Whether you call it a tenant fitout, tenant improvement, or commercial interiors project, every office renovation provides opportunities to incorporate sustainability, resilience, and wellness.

Tenants are demanding (and some local governments are incentivizing) that leased premises be built-out in alignment with green building standards, even if the building they are in is not certified as sustainable.

The same is true of commercial interiors investments that is true for new developments: the real estate strategy should reflect the values of the organization. Commercial tenants should take steps to establish the link between values and design strategies, such as:

  • Define business values and articulate how those values should be expressed in the space.
  • Establish goals for sustainability, wellness, and resilience at the beginning of the project – and hold to those goals as decisions are made, including during the value engineering process.
  • Leverage employee and HR feedback to ensure that sustainability values are used to evaluate new tenant spaces and in early negotiations with brokers and landlords.
  • Collaborate with designers, engineers, and green building consultants to understand the options available.

In addition to addressing an organization’s operational requirements, the project team should identify KPIs in energy efficiency, carbon, water, waste, materials, and wellness goals.

Establishing these goals will inform how success is measured and tracked and is key to negotiations with the landlord. For instance, if the employees and the organization value waste reduction, the landlord will need to provide composting and recycling options.

Get feedback from employees through town hall meetings, surveys, and focus groups about what they value and how to maximize engagement. Corporate sustainability strategies are also important to people outside the organization. Investors, customers, and stakeholders are increasingly interested in the environmental impact of businesses they support.

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We’ve provided a list of questions to ask landlords during the site selection and negotiation process:

  • Does the building track and report its energy use? If so, evaluate how the building’s energy use compares to similar buildings in the area.
  • What sustainability and efficiency programs are already underway in the building?
  • Is the building management motivated to work with tenants on the fitout and to make improvements to the building?
  • Does the space qualify for local utility incentive programs?
  • What waste management options are available?
  • How have other tenants in the building achieved sustainability goals?
  • Is the building certified through LEED or another third-party sustainability program?
  • What transit is nearby now, or in the near future? Are bike/shower facilities available?
  • Is there a building-wide green team or committee?
  • Is the landlord open to an energy-aligned lease where you are charged to an extent based on your space’s electrical usage versus a pro-rata share?

Next, engage your design team and sustainability consultants to ensure that the outcomes line up to the goals. Third-party rating systems provide guidance about sustainability best practices in tenant improvement and commercial interiors projects. Here are some top considerations informed by our experience with LEED, Living Building Challenge (LBC), and WELL.

Energy

  • Install ENERGY STAR labeled appliances in the kitchen areas.
  • Switch servers to the cloud. Server rooms and IT closets often require an uninterrupted power supply and dedicated cooling. We have the potential to cut 87 percent of IT energy usage if all US office IT infrastructure moved to the cloud.
  • Commission the space after construction to ensure that the systems operate as designed and intended. Commissioning agents will also provide guidance to simplify system maintenance.
  • Design to maximize natural daylight in the space.
  • Specify energy-efficient lightbulbs such as LEDs, T-8, and T-5 linear fluorescents.
  • Install occupancy sensors, which can reduce energy costs by $0.05 0 $0.20 per square foot.
  • Install daylight controls when possible.
  • Install interior light shelves to reflect sunlight toward the ceiling.
  • Design the project to comply with ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007 (including lighting and HVAC).
  • Provide lower ambient light and better task lighting, enabling the light to go where it is most needed.

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Carbon

  • Avoid the use of CFCs and HCFCs-based refrigerants in supplemental AC units. These refrigerants are major contributors to ozone depletion.
  • Limit carbon emissions used to transport materials by requiring your architect to source construction materials that are extracted and/or manufactured regionally.
  • Design the new workspace to be flexible, which extends the design’s useful life.
  • Purchase green power when possible through the local utility, a Green-e certified power marketer, or purchased RECs.
  • Encourage use of alternative transportation by installing bike racks and supplying lockers/showers.

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Water

  • Specify low-flow faucets and toilets. WaterSense-labeled fixtures can save 20 percent more water than typical plumbing fixtures. ENERGY STAR-labeled dishwashers use less than 1.6 gallons of water per rack and save 20 percent in water costs.
  • Consider reverse osmosis systems, carbon filters, and kinetic graduation fluxion filters as part of the water filtration system to remove dissolved metals, agricultural, and organic contaminants.

Materials

  • Require a construction waste management plan from your GC. If you are LEED certifying the project, the waste management requirements will be provided.
  • Salvage furniture and non-structural elements from your current office. Recycle or donate whatever you can that is not useful in the new office space.
  • Specify to your architect and designer to source sustainable materials that are recycled when possible. This requirement should be particularly enforced for concrete, metals, drywall, carpet, and tile.
  • Purchase wood products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Offset long-cycle renewable materials by selecting rapidly renewable materials.
  • Consider sourcing and/or contributing to Materials Exchange Networks.

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Waste

  • Discuss your day-to-day recycling and composting needs with your landlord. Establish a recycling and composting plan.

Wellness

  • Filter allergens, bacteria, and harmful chemicals from the air by installing carbon filters at return registers.
  • Require interior paints, coatings, sealants, and adhesives that are low COC.
  • Specify healthy flooring materials.
  • Eliminate the off-gassing of harmful VOCs by installing furniture, composite wood, and insulation that is urea-formaldehyde free.
  • Design the space so that all employees have access to quality views.
  • Design the space to designate loud and quiet zones.
  • Design HVAC systems for thermal comfort of occupants and provide individual comfort control.
  • Minimize pollutants that enter the building from the outside. Install walk-off grilles at the entrance and MERV 13 or better air filtration media.

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Every organization is different and must consider a variety of factors when developing a fitout or commercial interiors plan. Once you know what your values are, decisions are easy. If you would like to know more about Paladino’s work with clients on commercial interiors and tenant improvement projects, let me know!

Additional resources

Plus Whitepaper

Revolutionizing The Standard Green Lease

Seattle’s Tech Office Tenants – What Do They Really Want?

Five Strategies To Improve Energy Performance In Existing Buildings

From Bricks To Bits – How Tech Firms Use Their Real Estate For Competitive Advantage

About Seattle’s Building Tune-Up Accelerator Program

What Does The Seattle Building Tune-Up Requirement Mean For Building Owners?

Are Building Operators Ready For Seattle’s New Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance?

Seattle’s Cutting Edge Energy Code And Utility Structure

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