With the new Government Office Accommodation Building set to open its doors in the not-too-distant future, it’s fair to say the green office has arrived in Cayman.
But despite hearing talk of green this and green that, the fact is many of us don’t quite know what it means.
A few statistics from the US Green Building Council can put what green building advocates are doing in context.
The organisation is behind the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building certification programme: a rating system for buildings designed, constructed and operated for improved environmental and human health performance.
The USGBC presents some eye-opening facts.
In the United States alone, buildings account for:
• 72 per cent of electricity consumption,
• 39 per cent of energy use,
• 38 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions,
• 40 per cent of raw materials use,
• 30 per cent of waste output (136 million tons annually), and
• 14 per cent of potable water consumption.
Lots to consider
Designers of a green building, whether it’s an office or a home, or even a commercial property, think about a multitude of elements they can incorporate into the project that can reduce its impact on the planet.
Cindy O’Hara, managing director of Design Cayman and the lead architect on the new government building, lists just a few:
Situating the building to take advantage of natural recourses and indigenous landscape considerations;
Water efficiency and reuse;
The use of renewable energy or green power;
Minimizing the use of refrigerants that contain ozone depleting and direct global warming potential;
Considering materials and resources that include recycled content and rapidly renewable materials;
Improved indoor environmental quality, including maximizing day lighting, exterior views and thermal comfort while eliminating pollutants.
“These considerations among others are incorporated into the principles of LEED,” she says.
“Typical sustainable design could achieve a 30– 40 per cent in energy, and 20 per cent or more in water savings on most building projects. We believe that this can be accomplished within a traditional building budget.”
Building green in Cayman
O’Hara says many of the architectural considerations for a Class A office buildings in Cayman already include many of the better practices and green initiatives because of Cayman’s climate, geographic location and environmental considerations.
“As an island country we are never far from the ocean and sea breeze and thus Cayman has a very harsh environment for building materials to stand up to,” she says.
“In addition even though our local building codes do not require enhanced seismic, wind and impact resistance related to natural disasters including hurricanes and earthquakes, most high end office buildings are usually designed to sustain a significant event like a category 5 hurricane or are designed to structurally sustain our high seismic activity for our region.”
She says most new designs currently take into account energy efficiency in mechanical systems due to the high cost of energy in Cayman.
“But when we add ‘green’ considerations for optimizing energy consumption is one of the most important in Cayman,” she says.
GOAP a milestone
In comparison to other Class A commercial office buildings in Cayman, O’Hara terms the GOAB project a “high performance” building.
“The design is significantly enhanced to meet the requirements for the government, the building exceeds the Miami Dade hurricane standards and is designed to meet enhanced missile impact design,” she says.
It meets the requirements of a hurricane shelter, with the highest standards in hurricane and seismic resistance.
And while it’s strong like an old-fashioned fortress, it’s also very technologically advanced.
“The building is distinguished by unprecedented energy efficiency, durability and low maintenance strategies, setting the Cayman Islands as the Caribbean wide leader for technology and sustainability with the first LEED compliant building,” says O’Hara.
It features a computerized Building Management System that controls and monitors the building’s mechanical and electrical equipment such as ventilation, lighting power systems, fire systems and security systems.
“The building’s integrated day lighting controls which regulate lighting, combined with motion sensor task lighting and energy efficient indirect fixtures are primary examples of an integrated BMS design,” says O’Hara.
A central chiller system is supplied by geothermal wells for enhanced energy efficiency and conservation, and a dedicated outdoor air system ensures the building has enhanced fresh air distribution.
O’Hara says that an under floor air distribution system improves the level of comfort for those working inside, and allows for the greatest flexibility and control.
The GOAB’s water consumption will also be reduced with water efficient fixtures, and through collecting and reusing grey water – water that’s already been used but not sewage-dirty.
Another way to cut an office’s energy use is to use propane tank less water heaters, now available from Home Gas. Water is heated when it’s needed – rather than sitting in a tank that sucks energy to keep it hot.
The GOAB isn’t the only office building aiming for LEED status in Cayman. Dart Realty recently announced it soon plans to break ground on a 2-building project at Camana Bay. The project design architect, Lake Flato, has LEED professionals on the design team who will be advising and monitoring the project.
Green workspaces aim to be pleasant, healthy places for people to spend their days, so such things as maximizing the use of natural lighting – to cut energy use and for psychological reasons, fresh air, and using LEED compliant furniture and fixtures are all things to consider.
When choosing green products for an office fit-out, a lot of the decisions surround their sustainability – that is, if they are long-lasting (less waste), non-toxic to the users, and did not have a big environmental or social impact in their production. For example, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is one of the most common synthetic materials but the manufacture and disposal of PVC is potentially harmful to the environment and human health.
When fitting out offices therefore, look to well-known manufacturers like Interface and Knoll which now specialize in developing office furnishings that are easy on the planet.
When choosing products, Australia’s Green Building council proposes assessing its eco preferred content, durability, the product manufacturer’s environmental management system, commitment to product stewardship, and whether the product is modular and/or designed for disassembly.
Another major consideration in creating a green office is indoor air quality – which is often very poor as a result of the combined effects of emissions of volatile organic compounds from paints, carpets, adhesives and sealants and office fitout items, and flaws in design and constructions. (see box)
Not everyone can afford to build a new office building. Not every business can completely refit its existing premises. But by considering even a few simple changes, it is entirely possible for businesses in Cayman to set out personalized roadmaps to making their offices greener, healthier places to work. Employees, and the planet, will cheer.
Enhance and protect ecosystems and biodiversity
Improve air and water quality
Reduce solid waste
Conserve natural resources
Reduce operating costs
Enhance asset value and profits
Improve employee productivity and satisfaction
Optimize life-cycle economic performance
Improve air, thermal, and acoustic environments
Enhance occupant comfort and health
Minimize strain on local infrastructure
Contribute to overall quality of life
In the Cayman context, Cindy O’Hara, Managing Director of Design Cayman notes sustainable design principles include the ability to:
• Optimize site potential, best utilizing the site natural feature as a benefit.
• Optimize Hurricane Resistance
• Optimize the use of lush indigenous landscaping which are less susceptible to disease and drought
• Minimize non-renewable energy consumption; maximize solar and wind power
• Use environmentally preferable products; and recycled materials
• Protect, store and conserve water;
• Enhance indoor environmental quality; and encourage cross ventilation
• Create a schedule for operational and maintenance guidelines to prolong building lifecycles
• Utilize natural light as a building material. As an example skylights can reduce daytime artificial lighting consumption.