Launching a new era for interior architecture

by Tania Wannenburg
Launching a new era

New Green Star SA Interiors rating tool encourages green fit-outs and is set to inspire green product ratings.

The Green Star SA Interiors rating tool, launched by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) in February, encourages tenants to rate interior fit-outs with the overall aim to reduce the environmental impact of interior projects. At the same time, it is set to change the way in which professional teams approach projects, and could increase the demand for sustainable products that are certified by approved third-party certification systems.

The Green Star SA Interiors rating tool considers interior fit-outs from an all-round perspective and rewards high-performance tenant spaces that are healthy, productive places to work and incentivise best practice for sustainable and efficient interior design that is also less costly to maintain and operate.  

Interior designers and architects have welcomed the tool, which they expect would provide them with a benchmark for green interior design as well as a means of measuring so-called green products.

“Finally there is a tool which can be used to rate refurbishments and interior fit-outs,” says Salomien Pieterse, interior architect at Boogertman + Partners Architects. “I think this is going to challenge especially the product suppliers and we look forward to the change which is going to come about as a result.”

Specification a hit and a miss
Geoffrey Bennett, design director at Collaboration, who was part of the technical working group developing the rating tool, believes the tool will do away with “greenwashing” by suppliers and manufacturers, compelling them to get their products certified in order to back up any green statements.

“At the moment it is kind of a hit and a miss, because it is very difficult to determine whether a product actually is green or not. For example, bamboo might be a sustainable source, but it has to be transported halfway around the world to get here. Or you might be buying a locally produced chair, but 80% of the components are imported,” he explains.

“Because product information in terms of make-up and production has been very poor up to now, we have mainly specified according to durability and our own investigations of products,” says Bennett.

“Coming in very handy,” adds Colin Myers, Collaboration accredited Green Star professional, “are local bodies rating and certifying products and materials, taking the burden off the specifiers, architects and designers. This is still very new in South Africa, but will make it a lot easier to certify projects in the future.”

Janice Kode, national projects architect at Virgin Active, agrees. “We have worked with a number of suppliers for many years who know that this is one of our requirements to specify green rated products. Important considerations are the source of the product – its make-up being from sustainable resources and not containing formaldehydes and VOCs, as well as the longevity of the product. Manufacturers that don’t have eco labels could eventually be squeezed out of the market.”

How much extra will it cost?
Kode points out that during the pilot phase there has been a great deal of resistance to any major additional costs attributed to greening the interior over and above the four star requirement. For example items such as additional metering; additional fresh air intake and additional commissioning processes can all become very costly.

 “This doesn’t necessarily impact floor and wall finishes, since there is such a large variety of choices available, but definitely in terms of HVAC and electrical, it can add up to hundreds of thousands if we aim to achieve all the credits.” “Some sustainable materials that require proof of chain of custody, for example, are not only difficult to acquire, but would also come with a cost premium,” she says.

“This is such a debatable point,” says Pieterse. “Green products are not necessarily more expensive, but as with any new product on the market, they usually enter the market at a slightly higher cost, which eventually decreases.”

The chief technical officer at the GBCSA, Manfred Braune, agrees. “From an interiors perspective, some green products which are not locally available might cost more in the beginning, but as demand increases, the prices will drop – similar to what happened with low VOC paints through the application of Green Star SA in the market.

“It is a common misconception that building green is more expensive, but it typically becomes so when it isn’t planned from the concept stage. Green fit-out budgets may need to be given more attention now that product content must be analysed better before selection, to allow the project to add green building as a key integrated outcome rather than being seen as an add-on,” he explains.

“A green interior will also save the tenant money through lower energy and water usage, but the biggest financial win, although difficult to measure, is good indoor environment quality as it will positively impact the occupants’ health and productivity,” he says.

“Another dynamic that can influence the cost of green buildings is lease terms,” highlights Bennett. For the model to make financial sense, the payback time has to be shorter than the lease.

“In the corporate industry, companies are signing longer leases than before, so although the initial investment might be higher, in the long run, the company will reap the benefit. Companies which set up shop for short terms, probably won’t go the certification route, but medium to large organisations see the benefit of signing longer leases and investing upfront in sustainable fit-outs,” he explains.

“What is interesting though is that in the retail industry, longer leases mean less movement, so these companies might have very different criteria as to how they would manage green compared to other corporate industries.

“Sustainable design goes together with best practice, so it shouldn’t cost more than normally,” adds Bennett. “Really the only additions are for the accredited professional that has to certify the project, the GBCSA fee for registering and assessing the project and things such as heat modelling, which is optional. The rest should run as a normal project.”

Team dynamics in the balance
Since the tool is still new, Pieterse expects that convincing clients to pursue an interiors rating will be the biggest challenge. Therefore, when starting off towards attaining an interiors rating, it is imperative that everyone in the professional team, including the client, agrees on what the aim is and follows an interactive approach that is constantly measured.

“In a new role, an accredited professional (Interiors AP) would play a key part in leading the project team through the process from a concept stage and make sure that they stay on track,” notes Braune.

Other team members are also vital, Bennett points out, such as the electrical engineer, who will work with the designer to manage W/m² usage, and the mechanical engineer, who can help to determine where heat loads are higher and lower for ideal air-conditioning placements.

Site selection is key
“While the tool strongly influences tenant design and construction considerations in their fit-out, it also has an upstream impact on landlords, who will be questioned about the building’s inherent green credentials, and will influence the tenant’s decision whether to sign a lease in that building or move to another greener building,” says Braune.

As part of the technical working group developing the tool, Collaboration experienced first-hand how site selection is an important consideration for tenants who want to have their interiors rated. Key factors include natural light, an ideal orientation, access to transport and local amenities, and a landlord who will agree to make the necessary adjustments.

“The existing building performance tool marries very well with the interior tool. Black River Park is a good example, having achieved an existing building rating. The fact that they have put in work to make the base building efficient puts them, or the next generation of tenants, in a great position to pursue the interiors rating as well,” remarks Meyers.

Kode, however, points out that currently the Green Star rating system, in contrast with LEED, no credits are carried over from the base building rating to the interiors one, so the interior consultant has to start from scratch every time.

“We have also found, during the pilot phase, that working within a Green Star precinct where separate consultants were appointed for the base building rating and the interior fit-outs, there are both some conflicts and overlaps and there can be a hesitancy to share information, which makes the whole process a little more difficult,” she states.

Starting today
In pursuing a greener interior, building managers can engage proactively with tenants to assist them in operating their space more efficiently, starting by assessing their consumption of water and electricity and waste production.

“They can also implement some green measures for the tenant, where the tenant could agree to share a part of the saving that results from the installation,” says Braune.

Pieterse’s advice is to start with simple actions such as switching off lights and using water wisely, as well as to ensure that all building users are educated, whether they are occupying a Green Star rated building or not. “If we all start small, eventually together it will make an impact.”

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to the GBCSA for the information given to write this article.

Interiors rating tool – what you need to know
Certification for:
–    Retail and commercial office space.
–    Single tenancy certification in a multi-tenanted building.
–    Indoor spaces even where the overall building is not certified.

–    Existing and new buildings.
–    Product certifications.

Eight holistic impact categories assessed:
1.    Management.
2.    Indoor environment quality.
3.    Energy.
4.    Transport.
5.    Water.
6.    Materials.
7.    Land use and ecology.
8.    Emissions.
Bonus: Sustainable innovation.

Differentiating factors
–    Save money.
–    Increase productivity.
–    Enhance marketability.
–    Future-proof tenancy.
–    Competitive advantage.
–    Attract and retain top talent.

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