To green or not to green: A sustainable office on a budget

Companies are embracing cost-effective solutions to introduce sustainability elements in their offices

February 01, 2024

Companies on the quest for sustainable office design often face a cost conundrum that throws a wrench in their green office plans.

More than half of market leaders surveyed by JLL in Asia Pacific (APAC) are actively pursuing sustainability design criteria in their offices, though one-third of them say that the decision to embrace sustainable design ultimately hinges on the overall project costs.

Despite budgetary limitations, companies are reluctant to settle for the status quo in today's fiercely competitive talent market. There is a prevailing sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), given the high stakes in the war for talent.

Particularly in markets where the return to office hasn’t yet fully materialised, the lack of investment in the office may inadvertently send the wrong message about the company's commitment to sustainability and raise questions about their dedication to employee wellbeing.

So, how should companies strike the optimal balance between budget and the implementation of sustainable office design?

Low cost, high impact

Going green doesn't always have to break the bank. Contrary to popular belief, incorporating sustainable elements into your office design can be surprisingly affordable with simple, cost-effective solutions.

For instance, as an alternative to the standardised green building certifications, companies can focus on making eco-conscious changes — think sustainable materials and responsible sourcing.

An emerging trend has been the repurposing of furniture during office relocation. One company leading the charge is sustainable development firm Arup. In its new, expanded office in Manchester, England, the firm reused 70% of its existing furniture, including reupholstered sofas, lounge chairs, and even 1,800 square metres of carpet.

Some of JLL’s clients have also pioneered internal reused furniture marketplaces to easily replace or acquire unwanted furniture across their global portfolio.

Ditching the "buy new" mentality and embracing upcycling saves costs for companies while reducing their environmental impact.

Meanwhile other firms are considering budget-friendly fit-outs. Up to 84% of corporate leaders surveyed by JLL are expecting to invest more in low-energy appliances that lower maintenance costs and align with sustainability goals. Ultimately, it’s a double win for planet and profit, reducing energy consumption and bills simultaneously.

Also garnering interest is the sourcing and using of renewable energy, though occupiers may have limited opportunities to influence a building’s infrastructure. In Asia Pacific, there’s also little room to manoeuvre as even the top cities face an undersupply of net-zero carbon office buildings.

The sustainability trap

In deciding the right green solutions to invest in, companies may fall prey to sustainability gimmicks.

Beyond budget, the true key should lie in impact. Before investing, it’s critical to weigh the environmental benefit and impact that a new solution brings, especially when it calls for the physical office space to be modified or adapted.

For instance, replacing furniture with accredited sustainable alternatives from overseas might sound good on paper, but the embodied carbon of production and transportation could negate any gains. Think local when it comes to the big items in a fit-out!

People first

To navigate the balancing act between a green office and a tight budget, companies should first prioritise its most valuable resource: its people.

Focusing on solutions that matter most to them — tapping into their daily experiences and preferences for workspaces, for instance — will offer clues on where to start.

One way to gather feedback is through occupancy surveys. 

Insights into the intangible elements of the workplace experience, such as well-being initiatives, healthy food options, and learning and development opportunities, can inform design decisions that activate spaces for multiple purposes.

Whether it’s a place for community building or a venue for a broader spectrum of events, a well-located, well-designed space attracts the right mix of talent and events that foster positive brand equity and enhances the company’s intangible value.

To be sure, there will unlikely ever be a one-size-fits-all solution. But armed with this data, companies can focus on how to design the fit-outs and activate these spaces to achieve its sustainability goals, all without flashy upgrades and within the confines of the budget.

Planning ahead

A truly green office has to be a long-term commitment with employee involvement at its core.

Ideally, employees should be roped in from the initial design and construction phase and be actively involved in the planning for the entire life cycle of the office space. It is, after all, the place where they’ll spend most time in, second only to their homes.

While navigating budget constraints can be a tricky endeavour, achieving sustainability in corporate office design is part of the corporate mandate and the co-responsibility with other social agents and institutions.

This relatively new role of corporates as drivers or ambassadors of new behaviours and practices should not be anecdotical, but rather foundational. Designing spaces that enable people and businesses to operate and thrive under these new behaviours is the critical next step.

By striking the right balance, your green office can become a dynamic reflection of your evolving employee needs and a powerful magnet for attracting and retaining top talent while amplifying your organisation’s corporate values.

Unsure about the costs of building a greener office? Explore our Asia Pacific Fit-Out Cost Guide 2023/2024 for more insights, or reach out to a JLL design expert today.

Asia Pacific Fit-Out Cost Guide 2023/2024

Get a clearer idea of what you would expect to pay for a typical office fit-out.