When one of South Africa’s premier green consultancies revamps its offices, you know from the outset the bar will be set high. Solid Green shifted boundaries to create the ultimate green space for employees.

Solid Green’s guidance has helped shape many comfortable, healthy buildings that are highly efficient in their energy, water and resource use. The consultancy boasts a client list including the biggest green precinct in South Africa – Menlyn Maine – and has assisted corporates like Standard Bank and BMW to create greener spaces.

One of the biggest challenges for Solid Green was to take the lessons learned over the years and apply these experiences to create its own office. Over the December holidays the consultancy renovated its 180m2 office, which is made up of a 120m2 entrance floor, and a 60m2 mezzanine area.

Setting the standard

Solid Green founder Marloes Reinink wanted to impose the standards the consultancy has become known for on their own refit and aims for a 6-Star Green Star SA Interiors rating as well as a LEED Commercial Interior Platinum rating.

Many innovation points were specifically targeted for Green Star. This included the radiant cooling and renewable energy features. The entire team that worked on the Solid Green office are Green Star SA Accredited Professionals. All material items used within the office space were either reused or adhered to sustainability requirements where possible.

Greater focus was placed on natural ventilation, radiant cooling and energy features such as lighting sensors, energy efficient equipment and lighting. Solid Green also ensured all its laptops and printers were Energystar rated.

The office was fitted with water saving fixtures, including rainwater harvesting for irrigation of the new exterior vegetable garden.

Sustainability aspects such as the quality of internal air, thermal comfort, lighting comfort and daylight, acoustic quality, reduced exposure to pollutants, ergonomics and indoor plants became focus areas.

Employee centred offices

Employee well-being was at the heart of the refit. Project manager Jessé Hamman says since the refit, employees make more time to take coffee breaks and eat lunch away from their desks. “Our new break area is now a space that invites everyone to relax for a bit,” she says.

The outside vegetable garden has encouraged employees to use the office’s own fresh produce in their food preparation.

“We have installed larger opening windows on the mezzanine level to create more air-flow,” Hamman says, adding that the consultancy is also installing a radiant ceiling in the boardroom and the office area on this level. “It can get hot in summer.”

Lighting and acoustics

The new refit created an abundance of natural light. Areas that are artificially lit every day include the office areas, lounge area and the board room.

All light fittings are energy-efficient LED bulbs with occupancy sensors. Hamman says the introduction of more secluded zones, including phone booths, has markedly improved the office’s acoustic quality.

Sustainable transport

A big feature of the refit was Solid Green’s transport plan. The consultancy is one of the initiators of the Decongest Sandton movement. Solid Green’s location in Rosebank, Johannesburg means there are many alternative transport modes available, including the Gautrain Rosebank Station, Rosebank taxi rank and bus station.

Around 25% of employees live within a 5km radius, and cycling to work is gaining popularity. Staff can also use electric bicycles for commuting, Hamman says. Cyclists have access to showers and lockers at the offices. There are also charging facilities for electric vehicles.

The office exceeds the parking requirements for its Green Star rating, with fewer parking bays – only two for Solid Green – available to employees to encourage alternative transport use. Solid Green has also purchased an electric company car, a Nissan Leaf, which can be used by staff to go to meetings.

Green construction

During demolitions and construction, the team was able to divert 90% of its waste through reusing material or recycling the resources used. But green construction is not without its challenges. Hamman says the South African construction market is fairly new to green building and there is a lack of knowledge when projects are implemented on-site.

Most furniture manufacturers are not familiar with the Green Star SA and LEED requirements, and have to be educated as to what information to provide to consultants to prove their level of environmental friendliness. Sourcing material proved challenging at times.

Contractor Berdene Weil says this was her first experience with a 6-Star Green Star SA project. “I had already been using some of the products in my business, but it took quite a bit of research to find alternatives for some other products that I had been using up to that point,” she says.

Drywalls and ceilings were purchased from Gyproc Saint-Gobain, which adhere to certain sustainability criterion. Exposed rescreened flooring, as well as the existing oriented stranded board flooring, was finished with the environmentally friendly Pronature floor sealer.

The kitchen was fitted with Forbo vinyl flooring, which has a high recycled content. The entrance hall is enhanced by InterfaceFlor modular carpet tiles, manufactured from recycled fishing nets.

As thermal comfort was a major sustainability focus, modular carpets from Desso and FloorworX were placed under the desks for comfort during winter months, which help with prevent cold feet. During summer months these modular carpets are removed and the exposed concrete flooring reduces heat gain. The office was painted with Dulux Ecosure paints.

Salvaging and reusing

All furniture items were reused and refurbished with exception of a few new office chairs. The boardroom tables were sourced from an auction and the boardroom chairs from antique and second-hand shops.

Feature seating was sourced from suppliers such as the Kanye-Kanye community project, whose “foops” are made from recycled 2L plastic bottles and recycled partitioning material. Ashanti-trading provided the office’s funky love seat bean bag, made from up-cycled t-shirt materials.

The kitchen island was clad with reused or reclaimed wood with matching lunch tables, and feature lights were constructed from the same wood.

“All unused furniture was donated, including the old office desks now used by Streetlight Schools in Jeppestown,” Hamman says.

A closer experience

It was an interesting experience to take the reins on its own green refit, Hamman says. “As a client it has been insightful to understand the cost implications of creating a more sustainable space. This is the first time we have occupied a space that we have consulted on, which is very rewarding,” she says. “We have definitely learned to keep a close eye on what is actually happening on-site and establish processes to minimise change and use of un-green products.”

By Yolandi Groenewald

The full article appears in the August-September 2015 earthworks magazine.