Future workplaces: Sustainability from the outset

As global communities are recognising the need for stronger action on climate change, particularly in light of the IPCC’s recent damning report on global warming efforts, businesses that don’t prioritise sustainable practices and workplaces will find themselves left behind by an increasingly climate conscious workforce.  By Mayurie Gunatilaka.

Current events, not least of which include the global pandemic and a multi-industry skills shortage, have prompted employers around the world to pause and think about the state of the modern workplace.

What kinds of environments will attract and retain talent? As global communities are recognising the need for stronger action on climate change, businesses that don’t prioritise sustainable practices and workplaces will find themselves left behind by an increasingly climate conscious workforce.

Globally, the built environment directly accounts for around 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and while most in the industry recognise the need to take steps towards reducing climate change, there’s plenty more work to be done to improve sustainable practices.

The hard truth to face is that we have not pulled down the global emissions curve as quickly as we need to, so it’s important we take stronger action to ensure a better future for the next generations.

As a global collective of designers, consultants and experts dedicated to sustainable development, Arup’s work revolves around putting sustainability at the heart of every project.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
Infrastructure projects of note around the world include the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest sea crossing which connects three cities across a 55km crossing, reducing travel time from a one-hour ferry trip to a 40-minute car journey.

Resilience and sustainability were high on the agenda, arising from a need to address concerns such as the threat of frequent typhoons and protecting dolphin habitats.

Arup’s services ranged from the preliminary design for the main bridge in the mainland waters to environmentally friendly reclamation solutions for the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities (BCF) artificial island, and the tender and construction of the Hong Kong Link Road.

We also undertook the feasibility study and detailed design for the Tuen Mun – Chek Lap Kok Link Northern Tunnel and Southern Connection Viaducts, preliminary and detailed design for the Macau Link Road, and the infrastructure works of the Macau BCF.

Across the ditch, our recently completed Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney, Australia is a striking aesthetic addition to the city skyline while exemplifying sustainable design. Designed in partnership with AMP Capital, the tower features hidden engineering gems that allowed 98 percent of the building’s core structure to be retained, saving approximately 12,000 tonnes of embodied carbon.

These projects share a common target to integrate sustainability beyond the bare minimum. That’s why it makes sense that Arup’s new offices in Auckland’s historic Britomart illustrate our commitment to shaping a better world.

With this in mind, our Auckland team chose to target the Living Building Challenge, one of the most rigorous sustainability credentials, when designing and building our custom-designed 620 square metre office space in the Hayman Kronfeld building.
The challenge asks the building industry to go beyond harm minimisation to have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of people and planet. For us in New Zealand, this aligns with Auckland Council’s ‘Zero Waste by 2040’ goal as well as the te ao Māori (the Māori world view) concept of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) to sustain and restore our collective resources.

In taking on this challenge, Arup and its building partners were able to divert more than 99 percent of construction waste away from landfill whilst offsetting the fit-out’s carbon footprint. In line with the project’s commitment to sustainable outcomes, the new office will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Our project team worked hand in glove with workplace designers Unispace, and cultural advisors Te Manu Taupua to design and co-create a workplace that celebrates our values and strong connection to Māori culture.  

They went above and beyond to minimise impacts, communicating regularly with suppliers who took back and recycled offcuts, and even recycling plaster dust generated in construction for use in compostable toilets.

One of the most attractive components of the Living Building Challenge is its rigour. For us to qualify for certification, everything must be monitored, from air quality to energy use to recycling, to ensure that our claims stack up.

The independent Living Futures Institute will assess our performance after 12 months before allowing us to say that we are genuinely having a positive impact on the environment, as well as the people who use the space.

The certification is globally recognised as the leading international standard for sustainable buildings that protect and restore the natural environment. On the world stage, other notable offices that hold the certification include Google’s Sunnyvale campus and Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters.

Arup’s Auckland workspace embodies biophilic design, from the multi-sensory focal point of the Te Whatu stone with continuously flowing water surrounded by planted punga logs, to the retreat space with large plants, and the strandboard wall finishes; all celebrate connection to place, natural materials and New Zealand cultural significance.

The response from our people has been overwhelmingly positive. Our teams have been effusive in their support of acknowledging the cultural importance and connection to the land on which we work, while saying that the space has improved their ability to collaborate, improves their sense of social connection to colleagues, and improved feelings of productivity.

Another bespoke feature of the space is the kitchen island bench made of completely recycled plastic bags. This central feature visually tells a story about how all of us must put sustainability at the heart of everything we do.

At a local level, Arup is committed to putting sustainability front and centre in our work across New Zealand. This is evidenced in our work on projects including planning for the Te Papa Museum, and design work on the Central Interceptor, the country’s largest wastewater project which will safeguard the environment and the people of Auckland.

When it comes to realising the vision of a sustainable future, I’m particularly excited about our work on the Auckland Light Rail project. As our cities grow, it’s imperative that we centre sustainable design in our urban environments.

To address not only current congestion, but also population growth forecasts which will see an additional one million people living in Auckland by 2046, Auckland is investing in light rail to alleviate some of the pressure on transport networks into and out of the city.

The project will encourage quality growth, give people more travel choices, make the transport network for Auckland and beyond more resilient, and tackle congestion and harmful pollution.

I’m excited by the opportunities we have working with our partners at Aurecon to support Auckland’s sustainable development and deliver transformational change. Our involvement will bring global and local multidisciplinary expertise to this legacy project which will provide significant benefit to the people of Tāmaki Makaurau.

As our cities grow, development of transport links and urban amenities must also grow at pace. The investments we make now will ensure the city remains an important economic hub on the global stage, enabling strong economic growth for the people who call this place home.  

Mayurie Gunatilaka is the  New Zealand Lead, Arup. Dedicated to sustainable development, Arup is a collective of designers, consultants and experts working globally. As an independent firm, with a trust structure, Arup has no external investors. The Australasia region encompasses Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, with a 3000-strong team providing consultancy services to government, corporate and community-based clients.

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