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Walking the talk

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Achieving environmental sustainability is this organisation's reason for being.Its new premises therefore needed to show how good a green office can be

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For a government agency intent on teaching the public to use resources efficiently and reduce environmental impact, it's important to practice what you preach. Sustainability Victoria is doing just that. Its new office is targeted for a 6-Star Green Star rating and a 5-Star Australian Building Greenhouse Rating (ABGR).

Sustainability Victoria's in-house project manager for the fit-out, Paul Pitrone, says that since buildings consume 32% of the world's resources, it is vital to build green and reduce this environmental cost.

As a government agency, the project had to meet government office accommodation guidelines, which are designed to help project teams achieve environmentally, socially and economically sustainable workplaces. This leads to ongoing operational cost savings, workplace satisfaction and productivity gains.

Working within this framework, Sustainability Victoria set an environmental management plan in place prior to construction. This, combined with extensive staff consultation, set the direction the project would take.

"Previously, we were spread over three tenancies, where spaces were closed in and managers had their own offices," says Pitrone. "Our research told us that the staff wanted a flexible work space with a youthful feel, that would encourage good team interaction."

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The result not only encourages a new, more open style of management, but allows the organisation to showcase environmentally sustainable design.

"We've shown that it's possible to get the best environmental outcome on a commercial budget," says Pitrone. "We want to strengthen government leadership in this area by showing the way and demonstrating best practice."

"From a design perspective, we found that people respond to a vibrant workplace that encourages flexibility. So we have created an organic, flowing space that reflects our culture," he says.

The reception area sets the tone, with funky, contemporary furniture. Vines grow up metal trellises in the corridor, while bands of bright green around the space give a visual reminder of what this organisation is all about. A sliding wall at one end of the reception area can be pulled right back, turning the reception area and staff room into one large function room.

In the main office, workstations are near the windows, so there is plenty of natural light to work by. Laptops with wireless connectivity have replaced desktop computers.

While none of the staff have their own offices, there are eight quiet rooms that can be booked when staff need a place to work without distraction. A boardroom provides space for larger meetings.

Perhaps the most novel aspect of the fit-out is the think tank. With curved walls constructed of recycled cardboard, it is a flexible space that can be used for a number of purposes.

"It takes you outside of your normal square," says Pitrone. "It's a place where people can get away from their desks, play music, chat, throw ideas around or have a coffee break."

Staff wellbeing is further promoted by the provision of showers, locker rooms and bicycle parking spaces, making it much easier for employees to cycle to work or exercise during the day.

All the materials specified for the fit-out were as environmentally friendly as possible – right down to the paints, carpets and adhesives used. All of these are designed to release fewer pollutants into the air.

"The difference is noticeable. This is a new fit-out, yet there is no smell of paint or toxins," says Pitrone.

Naturally, the minimisation of the amount of waste that goes to landfills – both from its own office and the state – is one of the organisation's key objectives. During the construction process, 80% of the materials that would otherwise have been sent to landfill were reused or recycled.

First published date: 05 December 2008

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Credit List

Location Sustainability Victoria, Melbourne
Architect Hassell
Interior designer Madeleine Joyce, Hassell
ESD consultant Sinclair Knight Merz
Services engineers Umow Lai
Quantity surveyor WT Partnership
Builder Walton Constructions
Furniture Schiavello Group
Lighting Energy Conservation Systems
Armchairs Bloomy small armchair designed by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso of Italy, supplied by Hub Furniture
Reception side tables Yo Yo table designed by Jackob Wagner for Moroso of Italy, supplied by Hub Furniture Reception floor lamps Bolla from Anibou
Bench seat Nelson bench by George Nelson
Rug Custom-designed NZ wool based on artwork supplied by Hassell
Paint Oikos
Think tank coffee tables Phoenix tables designed by Patricia Uquiola for Moroso of Italy, supplied by Hub Furniture