UNDP: A Climate Neutral Office Space

Thanks to a renovation programme carried out to the highest environmental standards in the summer of 2008, the 10th floor of an office block occupied by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) became the first UN office in New York to win the US Green Building Council's coveted Gold standard under the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification scheme. The transformation has given the  UNDP's Bureau for Development Policy (BDP) a cleaner, healthier, more responsible and climate neutral home.  What's more, the new open, non-hierarchical layout has made it an altogether nicer place to work.

It took strong commitment from the top to implement this switch to a green and open office space, which  represents a fundamental shift in the organization's culture and working environment. An effective communication plan was very important to the success of the project, with the head of the Bureau issuing regular project updates. The process also  needed the active participation of staff to help overcome resistance to change. To  maximise involvement, BDP held several presentations and training events on green office design,  organized tours of other green buildings and office spaces in New York City, and highlighted how open offices had proven to be a positive experience for colleagues in other UN agencies or UNDP units. Change agents were recruited among various groups, the necessary environment was provided for staff to discuss their concerns,  and a Green Team was set up to review 'Green Mainstreaming' in all BDP operations, procedures and business practices.

An office renovation can be very disruptive, so BDP gave a lot of thought to the timing of the project, programming the three-month construction phase for the summer months when its clients and staff tend to take most of their vacations. Alternative work arrangements were made to enable staff to telecommute or  use ‘swing space’.  Strict late delivery penalty fee clauses helped keep the contractors on schedule, and in fact the renovated space was ready for occupancy within 2.5 months.

The whole floor is now a green, bright and inviting workplace with a lot more natural light and fresh air. No longer parcelled up into separate rooms in the traditional way, it actually provides  30 more staff workplaces than before, along with plenty of alternative areas for small group meetings and confidential discussions. New soundproofed common areas include a library, lounge, kitchenette, dining area and eight small meeting rooms, fitted with soy-based chairs. (For a selection of photos, see  http://picasaweb.google.com/bdp.psu/Ff10floor?authkey=Gv1sRgCN2F3puQ3K7dcQ&feat=directlink#.)

Climate neutral status was achieved by doing everything possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, backed up by buying carbon credits to offset any emissions that are unavoidable.  The actual renovation process was also designed to have the minimum environmental impact. Less than 20% of the waste it generated went to landfill. Over 40% of the existing furniture was reused in the new office, the old partitions were donated to another agency, and all the new materials were selected from sustainable sources. All the construction, demolition, and packaging waste was taken to a facility where it could be sorted and separated into recyclable components, including metals, glass, wood pallets, gypsum board, cardboard and paper. The recyclable materials were then taken to materials recovery and recycling centres,

BDP also took steps to reduce ongoing office waste. Paper consumption is expected to fall by 60% thanks to the introduction of e-documentation, e-filing, and double sided printing and copying. Water consumption is expected to be reduced by 40% thanks to new water efficiency measures such as low flow water closets and ultra low flow lavatories in the restrooms. A new fully stocked pantry means there is much less waste in the form of single-use 'disposable' cups, plates and so on. The BDP green team is also monitoring the daily volume of wet waste, generated from items such as leftover food and coffee grounds, in order to determine the best method of composting method to use on the 10th floor. The compost will be used for BDP plants.

Since electricity for the 10th floor is sub-metered, it was not feasible to switch to a power provider whose electricity comes directly from renewables. So instead BDP purchased enough Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to cover its conventional electricity usage.  The office's other remaining emissions are offset through Gold Standard Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), supporting initiatives which contribute verifiably and significantly to sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals.

Costs and benefits

The renovation cost a total of USD 1,669,013. Its payback period is calculated as 3.8 years. The improvements will yield long term monetary savings, improve energy efficiency, and cut water and paper consumption. Gaining more staff workspaces saves money on rent in the long term. Last but not least, the office carbon footprint of each staff member will be reduced significantly, potentially cutting the BRD team’s climate footprint per person by a third.

The benefits include:

•    Climate neutral status for the BDP office space

•    Reduced emissions, waste, energy, paper and water consumption

•    More face-to-face interaction in the new open and non-hierarchical office layout

•    Vastly improved indoor air quality and more natural light

•    A cleaner, brighter, healthier, more inviting and generally nicer place to work

•    New attractive, bright and sociable common spaces and eight meeting rooms