Here's what can business learn from sustainable housing

A sustainable house in Mundaring, WA. Photo: Alternative Technology Association.

We live in a world of finite resources and the fragility of the planet is never more apparent than in Australia.

Over the last few years, homeowners across the country have upgraded and rebuilt their homes, to be environmentally more friendly, but also to provide large savings in their energy expenditure.

Last Sunday, homes across Australia opened their doors as part of Sustainable House Day, an initiative from the Alternative Technology Association. But what can these incredible homes teach us about the opportunity in our workplaces?

The thought of overhauling your office in the name of sustainability sounds daunting and time consuming. Yet this doesn’t necessarily need to be the case.

In Hampton, Victoria, the owners of an Edwardian timber cottage didn’t want to lose the visual appeal of their heritage building. There was a great deal of heritage that they refused to lose. Instead, they focused on renovations that were simple, and cost effective, whilst maintaining the house’s historical value. Solar energy was utilised for heating and electricity, powering the house effectively, whilst proving that you can have a fully sustainable home whilst retaining the look and feel of your building.

Over the last decade we’ve seen huge advancements in smart technology. From automated heating systems to lighting that senses movement, the integration of this technology into our homes and workplaces has important implications for sustainability. One home in Queensland has taken this concept of automation outside, with an automated trickle irrigation system attached to rain water tanks, so that the garden is only watered when needed. In the context of a workplace, smart technology offers energy efficiency savings at scale. Many businesses see up to 30% knocked off their energy bills just through automating their everyday building functions.

Employers and employees are constantly searching for ways to increase mental and physical health in demanding work environments. Outdoor space is valued and treasured. Eating fresh food is a key factor in maintaining the highest levels of productivity.

A family in Denistone, New South Wales have created a fully sustainable garden designed to feed the whole family. Utilising rain water, and using non-edible items from the garden as compost, it provides the focal point of the house. A communal garden for vegetables within walking distance of the office, not only provides a team specific activity, it provides a sustainable and cost effective way of healthy eating to sustain the office.

In the middle of a busy working day, it can be difficult to think about the building’s appointment on the road. However, reflecting on where it has been built and the climate of your area, can save large amounts of money by utilising its natural attributes.

In Western Australia, in Mundaring a couple examined the weather patterns and the situation of their house. They realised that they received a great deal of sunshine through the winter months enhancing solar polar, and were placed perfectly to use natural ventilation in the summer. By consulting with experts, the couple were able to save money on their energy bills, by simply examining how best to use their building’s appointed site.

Sustainable building is attractive for homeowners for a number of reasons – it provides long-term savings, doesn’t diminish a building’s beauty and provides and promotes environmentally sound living. But in the workplace, we’re seeing appetite for sustainability coupled with hesitation.

In a recent report published by Schneider Electric, over 80% of commercial real estate leaders recognised the value of smart building technology, yet only half were willing to invest in it.

It’s clear that the lessons from these homes across Australia do not need to be limited to the living room – they can easily be extended to workplaces across the country. By mobilising and inspiring colleagues to think of creating a more sustainable working space, you are putting in the most secure foundation possible for the future.

* Preeti Bajaj is vice president of strategy and transformation at Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management and automation.

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