Part I: Making your home more sustainable; improving your energy efficiency.

Many people across the world this year may find themselves relieved as the summer begins to draw to a close. The global prevalence of extreme weather conditions which resulted in devastating flash flooding and forest fires could not go unnoticed, particularly in regions with historically very neutral climates. In early August the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which characterises these significant environmental shifts as the effect of climate change. Although deemed to be a ‘code red for humanity’1 by the UN Secretary-General, this report also provides the evidence which proves there is time to help regulate global temperatures. In other words, there is hope.

News on climate change is incredibly overwhelming, with the sheer scale of the problem leaving many of us thinking what can I do that would actually make a difference? The simplest answer to that question is to reduce your personal carbon footprint, and that starts at home. With the overproduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being the core concern of the climate crisis, your goal should be to use as little non-renewable energy in the functioning of your home as possible.

Therefore, if you are currently looking to design a new home or renovate your existing space, why not consider making energy efficiency a top priority? Having a home that consumes minimal non-renewable energy is not only a positive contribution to the climate crisis, but it is also financially beneficial. Additionally, as it appears working from home will become a regular occurrence for many of us, it might be worth considering how this will impact your utility expenses long-term. This article will outline a few technologies that have the potential to transform the energy efficiency of your home.

3 key features that will increase your home’s energy efficiency and reduce its overall carbon footprint.

1. Incorporating a renewable energy source: Solar Panels

A renewable energy source means there is no finite supply, that it will reproduce indefinitely such as in wind, tidal and hydro energy, just to name a few. The commercialisation of solar panels makes solar energy the most accessible renewable form. In the future it is likely all the power for our homes will come from renewable sources, but for now, solar panels allow us to personally make use of the sun’s available energy. In a dense city like Amsterdam, installing a solar panel on the roof of your building would be an ideal solution. This additional energy could contribute to the electrification of your home or the heating of your water for example.

As solar technology has become more cost effective, the financial returns and environmental benefits can better offset the investment in terms of the installation and the maintenance costs. Some governments even compensate you in return. In Amsterdam for example, if you use solar panels to generate electricity for your home, you can deduct your solar energy production from your electricity usage, therefore reducing your energy taxes (see the IamExpat website for more information on this). If you are considering solar panels, remember to consult a solar contractor who can identify important aspects such as the orientation of the panels, site conditions where your building is situated, and the daylight hours and patterns.

2. Temperature optimization: Double-glazed windows

Whether you are in the process of constructing a new home or simply looking for ways to make your home more thermally efficient, we recommend opting for double glazed windows. A double-glazed window has two panes of glass which have either dead air or an inert gas in the space between the two panes which reduces the transfer of energy from outside the house to inside, and vice-versa. Double-glazed windows thus passively help maintain an optimal temperature in your home all year around, keeping it cooler in the summer and conserving heat in the winter. They also provide highly effective sound insulation and can improve the look of your home.  

Although the upfront cost is higher than standard windows, double-glazed windows have been proven to lower the demand on the central heating and air-conditioning systems and increase your home’s value.

Gaasterlandstraat, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Designed by AKKA Architects

3. Main heating system: Heat pumps

The method you choose to be your primary heating source has a significant impact on the overall energy efficiency of your home. Heat pumps are designed to heat or cool a space by using a small amount of electricity to forcibly move heat from a higher to lower temperature, against its natural gradient. They control temperature by simply transferring heat instead of using energy from burning fuels. The small amount of energy they require makes heat pumps not only more sustainable but also cost effective. Again, governments often provide subsidies for the use of these more sustainable heat sources.

There are three overarching types of heat pumps: air, water and geothermal source. It can be difficult to decide which is most suitable, or even feasible for your specific project. Consulting with your architect and/or contractor is crucial to properly accounting for factors like your geographic location/climate, the age of your home, the size of your living area, access to a fuel source, and, of course, your budget. Whichever method you choose, make sure to have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems tested and cleaned once a year to improve their long-term efficiency.

Ensuring your home is as energy efficient as possible is an effective step to take towards making a positive contribution, or at least minimising your negative impact on our environment. Consider incorporating the features mentioned in this article if you have the opportunity to design/renovate your home, but these are just a few of the solutions available in the ever- innovating market.

Unaffordability is a common misconception when it comes to considering sustainable solutions. Although the cost of features like solar panels and double-glazed windows can seem high initially, they are specifically designed to lower your energy bills in the long term. In addition to this, a 2018 European Commission report found that in general, a 3-8% increase in the price of residential assets could be attributed to energy efficiency home improvements2. Not only do these findings exemplify that the cost effectiveness of these solutions is valued in the market, but they also prove financial return when the time comes to sell or rent your home. 

Designing and maintaining an energy efficient home may seem complicated and or/ time consuming initially. However the systems themselves are designed to be efficient to use, for example many can be controlled remotely, in turn allowing you to easily reduce your energy usage. And in terms of the design process, always remember to consult a good architect and/or an environmental specialist who will be able to tell you what exactly to opt for with regard to the specifics of your space.

There are so many benefits to creating the most energy efficient home possible. You can simultaneously help combat climate change whilst significantly lowering your energy costs, not to mention the increased personal comfort of having a thermally optimal home. We can all make a difference in ways both large and small by choosing to improve our energy efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint.

If you are considering making your existing space more energy efficient, or are constructing or renovating your space altogether and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.

Experts’ Interviews: Sam Fuller; Mundipharma International Limited about the workplace experience.

The world of Workplace is becoming increasingly more fascinating and complex. Through our years of practice designing and building workplaces for organizations, small, medium and large, in various industries and from around the world, we have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and insights, all thanks to our clients.

Whether we work closely with the head of Human Resources (HR), the head of Facilities Management (FM) or the head of Corporate Real Estate (CRE), one thing is clear, over the last several years these roles have become far more connected and are increasingly overlapping. A new role is even emerging that blurs the boundaries between HR, FM, CRE, and even IT and Corporate Communication, just to name a few. We call this role ‘Workplace Professional’.

Over the past few months, we have been interviewing leading Workplace Professionals in the best companies from around the world. In this series, we engage in conversations with those at the forefront of the world of workplace, to bring you their intriguing insights, best practices, and most successful case studies. Welcome to the Workplace Experts’ Interviews series!

This week, we share the greatly animated conversation our CEO Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes had with Sam Fuller, Workplace Services Manager at Mundipharma International Limited.

Mundipharma International is a global pharmaceutical network of independent associated companies that share a common purpose to identify and accelerate the development of meaningful medicines that add value for patients and healthcare providers around the globe. The network has a presence in over 120 countries. In Europe, the network employs more than 2,000 employees from R&D to manufacturing & supply and commercial. Mundipharma strives for a high performing and learning environment where individuals can make a real difference.

Covid-19 Note:

**While the following interview was conducted before the pandemic happened, Sam was kind enough to supplement the conversation with his most recent thoughts and insights related to Covid-19 and the future of work and the workplace. These can be found in the final few questions at the end of the interview.

Sam Fuller: LinkedIn

Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes: Sam Fuller, welcome! Thank you for joining this new series of the Workplace Experts’ Interviews.

Sam Fuller: My pleasure.

Stephanie: Let’s dive right in. Would you be able to describe your role in one or two sentences?

Sam: I am the workplace services manager for a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge. My team and I are responsible for over 250,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space, and all of the building support services within the buildings, and are responsible for designing and delivering the best workplace experience for our colleagues and visitors.

Stephanie: Wonderful. Would you be able to share with us, what is on your and your organization’s agenda when it comes to the workplace? Are there any specific goals you have?

Sam: Certainly for me, it’s about having the best workplace experience possible, where our colleagues can collaborate effectively and connect. Working in Cambridge with so many pharmaceutical firms around, some of which are the giants of the industry, attraction of talent becomes particularly important. We want to stand out as an organization that is a great place to work. The culture part of our organization is really important. It’s definitely an entrepreneurial kind of atmosphere we have and one we adopt in our approach to do business. That is something which is really key for us and definitely on the agenda, along with looking at smarter workplaces and using technology better to improve our everyday lives.

Stephanie: Fantastic. So you mentioned that part of your goal is to have the best workplace experience, which encompasses quite a lot, of course. If you were to break that down, what would you say is the greatest added value you, as an individual in your function, can bring to the organization and its people?

Sam: I’m a really positive person, the kind that encourages getting on with something and making the best of what we can and learning from the experience. So when we go through organisational change, I think that my kind of personality is very suited to that process.

I believe that is what I have been to my team, that kind of grounded stability, mixed with fun and passion. You know, when we spend eight hours a day at work, we’re here to have fun well as create value. It’s great to do a good job, and at the same time, have fun getting it done. That’s my mantra.

Stephanie: That’s really spot on! That is the sense I got from you when we first met too. Tell me, what is your biggest challenge?

Sam: The biggest challenge, is also our biggest opportunity and that is helping the organization to move to an agile way of working.  We have a 1:1 ratio and a very generous allowance of space per square meter per employee. The focus is on getting everyone on to that same journey.  Some love it, some need to better understand how it works and the benefits to a new way of working.  One of the other challenges we have is two different customer groups:  the corporate offices and the manufacturing spaces and those two different groups have very different needs.

Stephanie: It sounds like it is a very diverse company.  Not many companies have this type of differentiated internal customers, as you say, especially when you combine the office and the manufacturing elements. What is one project that you are very proud of having accomplished in the organization?

Sam: I’ve been in this organization for two years now, and I really don’t know where the time’s gone. I think the great thing about facility management is that there’s never a dull day. One of the things I’m really proud of – certainly in the past year – is reducing all of our single use plastics across the entire campus. That includes plastic bottles, plastic wrappings on sandwiches, desert pots and salad boxes, as well as all the plastic bags in all the individual desk bins. Now we’ve got a centralised recycling, and centralised general waste. All of our restaurants have food waste points, and all of that goes off to be turned into compost for local farms.

Stephanie: That is a great achievement.

Sam: I think when we’re looking at the environment, we’re looking at the planet and how we use those resources responsibly. It’s really important as a professional and as an industry. And we take pride in that.

Stephanie: It’s absolutely fantastic. What is a dream or a goal that has not been accomplished yet?

Sam: That would be a better agile working experience. I believe a prerequisite for that is to enhance the way we work with HR, IT and finance. We all need to collaborate a lot more to deliver a better working experience across our property portfolio. So that’s certainly one thing which we’re focused on achieving.

Stephanie: You know, with so many definitions out there, I have to ask: what do you refer to exactly when you say agile working. What is kind of your definition?

Sam: So my definition of agile working is being able to choose how and where and when you want to work. And consequently, what tools do you need, what kind of furniture, technology, and what kind of space.

Stephanie: Right. Have you been in any situation where the workplace has been problematic for the well-being or the productivity of employees?

Sam: I do not think that we have many problems in terms of the workplace being problematic. I think we have lots of challenges in terms of storage and people wanting to put in more desks because they’ve got another new team member. And the challenge really lies in trying to re-educate people that you don’t necessarily need to put in new desks just because you have newcomers.

Stephanie: Exactly! A bigger picture kind of question is also: what do you think are the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities that you see for the future of work?

Sam: Like many businesses I think it’s about how we best use the office environment to get the most out of our time coming together.  I think that’s a great opportunity to embrace. Certainly in looking at the environment, the challenge of our industry is that we are a consumer of power and resources. So we need to think a lot more carefully about how we buy and how we refurbish our buildings and the types of workspaces which we have. I don’t want to throw out anything, not because I’m a hoarder, but because I don’t particularly want to throw stuff into landfill. So there are challenges there. I want to aim at protecting and reusing everything which we can and get as much use out of it as possible. As an industry, we have to be mindful of this. There are certainly some big challenges coming up about how we use all of our resources and energy in order to protect the future.

Stephanie: I’m very pleased you’re mentioning that because, you know, we as architects face the same challenge and therefore have a huge opportunity to help with that, based on how we choose to design, source and build.

Sam: Absolutely, it is a big challenge. I think it is something which we should all kind of really push for in the industry. It is something which is really important to me. I hope other people feel so too.

Stephanie: I hope so too.

Covid-19 Note: While the interview above was conducted before the pandemic happened, Sam was kind enough to supplement the conversation with his most recent thoughts and insights related to Covid-19 and the future of work and the workplace. So we asked him three additional questions:

**Stephanie: How do you think Covid-19 has and might continue to affect our ways of working and our workplace?

Sam: Historically across the UK, employers have been incredibly resistant to employees working from home (some have been great, but we still had a long way to go before Covid-19).  Now that pretty much most of the population has been working from home for some time, I think this presents a great opportunity to show that we can work in a more agile way, and I hope that despite the difficult circumstances, we embrace a positive change to how we work in the future.  With our workplace, there is still a need for an office. It’s the human connections, the social interactions, and the collaboration which take place face-to-face (rather than over the internet) which I personally miss. But, do I need to be in the office five days a week from 9-5pm in the future?  Absolutely not. We are currently exploring new ways of working to find that right balance, but as an organisation we’re still big advocates for those human connections and providing a great environment for people to come together. 

Stephanie: What would you say is the most important thing to focus on right now, to ensure a successful recovery for our workplaces, employees, and organisations?

Sam: In the short term, ensuring that our workplaces are safe is absolutely paramount. When an eventual return happens, for a lot of people, this should be phased, not only for social distancing measures, but for making sure that employees can adjust.  For our organisations, they need to be able to adapt to our employees changed working practices.

Stephanie: Since we last spoke, have you been able to achieve your dream of agile working?

Sam: Yes!  While the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, it has given us an open door with the organization to look at how we work in the future and accelerated the adoption of agile working.  We’ve just finished off a refurbishment of our global headquarters in Cambridge, with some really cool, innovative features.  Some of the challenges we faced last year, such as everyone having to ‘hot-desk’ was completely unthinkable.  Now, everyone is asking ‘when can I book my hot-desk’. We’ve started to let people back in small numbers, ensuring that our offices remain safe, but I’m really excited to welcome our colleagues and visitors back in the not-so-distant future.

Stephanie: Well, Sam, this has been extremely insightful.

Sam Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

To find out how optimising your workplace can help you retain your employees by fostering better social interactions, download here AKKA’s Innovative Workplace Expert guide, which contains the full version of one of our case studies and more practical examples of other projects that show you how AKKA has increased team engagement and boost productivity over and over again for small, medium and large organizations, in a variety of industries and countries from around the world.

Use your workplace as a strategic tool to attract and retain the best talent.

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