Four steps to a sustainable office fit out

Re-design or refurbish your office to achieve wellbeing and net-zero goals

November 22, 2023

For companies conscious about their carbon footprint, creating office spaces that reflect their values and commitments is a core part of their sustainability plans.  

These low carbon spaces are far more than a tick-box exercise. By incorporating ways to cut energy use, reduce embodied carbon and repurpose existing materials, redesigning or refurbishing your office space offers opportunities to get closer to your net-zero ambitions, with the bonus benefit of reducing your operational or fit out costs.

“There’s a lot for organisations to contend with, including different types of product and material ratings, the decision whether to pursue a certification or operational performance rating, who to engage to guide you through the process, and there are also perceptions around cost,” says Connor McCauley, head of sustainability – Australia, JLL.

Having clear objectives from the outset will ensure a successful outcome, he adds.

This includes defining your sustainability goals. Is it a certification, or just a workplace built on sustainable principles? And how do these relate to business goals? “They are often related,” says McCauley. “For example, energy efficiency can lead to savings in operational expenditure and vice versa.”

Has a mandate been set by head office? What are the organisation’s goals? Being clear on this early on will help organisations find the right consulting team as well as set the appropriate scope for an architect or engineer.

Once those considerations have been established, follow the practical tips below for a successful project.

1. Reuse or recycle

Everything from technology to office furniture, floor and ceiling tiles, and light fittings, can be reused or recycled to save it from landfill and reduce the carbon footprint of your fit out. 

There are organisations you can work with independently to reuse and recycle, or a project and construction manager like JLL can facilitate this as part of your fit out.  

Technology from meeting rooms, cabling, monitors, and many other items in an office de-fit can be upcycled or recycled (after sensitive information is stripped) and used, for example, by schools and not-for-profit organisations. Conversely, you should look to use recycled and upcycled materials in your new office. 

“Planning renovations carefully to remove or repurpose existing material – like wood, tiles and carpet – and infrastructure can save you money as well as reduce the amount of embodied carbon in your fit out,” McCauley says.

2. Engage with your landlord

Your landlord will have their own sustainability targets which your fit out will contribute to. They will therefore welcome a conversation about how they can help you achieve your desired fit out, especially if you are tenanting an older building. If possible, have this conversation before signing a new lease or renewal as it will likely pave the way for a favourable outcome.

If you are trying to achieve a 6-star Green Star (Australian rating) certification, the performance of the base building is critical and so your landlord must be consulted. Agree on what the base building will deliver, what your fit out will deliver and establish how the gaps will be addressed.

As part of a lease negotiation conducted by JLL on behalf of a tenant organisation, one office landlord agreed to replace an outdated HVAC system on the tenant’s floor at the request of the tenant after it was identified as a base building deficiency.

In another example, for an industrial tenant, JLL was able to negotiate with the landlord to pay half the cost (approximately $400,000) of the warehouse upgrades required to achieve a 6-star Green Star rating. Typically, the onus is completely on the tenant to achieve sustainability outcomes in industrial real estate. 

“Once the lease is signed, your leverage is gone, so engaging with your landlord early on in the lease negotiations is the best move,” says Anthony Meola, JLL’s NSW state manger, project and development services.

“Only a few years ago, optimal, sustainable, building performance was a nice-to-have for tenants. Now it’s a deal-breaker, with carbon net-zero high up on organisations’ priorities.”

3. Establish green partnerships

Supply chains can impact whether you achieve your net-zero ambitions, so it is important to consider suppliers that have a track record of delivering sustainable products and services. 

That’s not to say you should rule out other suppliers. Engaging suppliers early will give them time to develop a net-zero strategy. This could include procuring sustainable and certified furniture. 

For example, at JLL’s Sydney office at 180 George Street, all furniture has been sourced from suppliers that provide a stewardship program, meaning they will take back the items for reuse or recycle at the end of life, or end of lease. 

Reusing furniture also helped JLL’s Manchester, UK, office achieve a 38% upfront embodied carbon saving compared to a standard office fit out.

“It’s important to choose builders, suppliers, and contractors that have a net-zero plan in place otherwise their carbon footprint will have a detrimental impact on your fit out,” says Meola.

A construction manager like JLL will manage the various suppliers needed and can engage with them around reducing their waste and using recycled products, all of which could be critical to your business achieving a 6-star Green Star certification.  

“Partnering with experts in sustainability, like JLL, means you can get advice on the lifecycle, maintenance and recyclability on all the fittings, fixtures, materials and products used in your fit out. Having this information will help to make good decisions about your long-term net zero targets,” says Meola.  

4. Assessing the fit out’s operational performance

At the design stage of your project, plan how you are eventually going to assess the operational performance of your fit out in order to inform key stakeholders and staff of the benefits achieved.

An energy audit of your existing fit out and assessment of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) will establish baseline performance and inform the new fit out. 

“The audit can identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency, and an FF&E assessment can identify materials to reuse either for the new fit out or for external parties,” says JLL’s McCauley.

Meola adds that companies should use the design stage to establish how building systems and automation can help reach net-zero targets as well as reduce overall running costs.

“Smart building controls, plus equipment and machinery monitoring help your facilities management team ensure day-to-day energy use is efficient and kept to a minimum, as well as allows energy performance to be tracked and reported in real time.

“This is not only essential for achieving a 5.5-star NABERS (Australian rating) energy performance rating, but also for demonstrating emissions reductions, operational savings, and ultimately the value of sustainability,” Meola says.