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Make Us Greener: A Sustainable Relocation Collaboration

Within just thirty minutes of putting out a call to our members to support our move to a larger, greener office, we had already received offers of sustainable paints, efficient lighting and other donated materials. Since that time in 2012, 18 members of Panama Green Building Council have supported our Make Us Greener project with technology, products and labor, worth $35,000 USD in total.

The Make Us Greener Project aimed to relocate Panama GBC’s operations into a green office in line with our mission, vision and philosophy. A ‘green building’ achieves high standards of sustainability by minimizing resource consumption and life cycle costs, while promoting health and wellbeing for occupants, and WorldGBC’s 2016 report Building the Business Case: Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Green Offices showcases some world-leading examples of how this can be achieved.

Our Make Us Greener Project had specific objectives:

  • To create a case study to promote the benefits of sustainable design and construction, especially for regional and local office projects
  • To develop an operative showroom to promote (through ‘green tours’) sustainable principles to professionals, members and student audiences
  • To apply for the LEED Commercial Interiors certification

Luckily, we were starting from a strong position. Our new office is located in Clayton, a district in Panama City built by the U.S. military as part of the infrastructure to run and protect the Panama Canal, and most of the buildings here were actually designed around bioclimatic principles.  Features of these principles include buildings flooded by natural daylight with views of surrouding greenery, as well as natural ventilation (if desired) and good access to public transportation. Hence, we had an excellent foundation for achieving our objectives.

Already mindful that natural lighting reduces anxiety and stress, increases productivity and creates a healthier working environment, we wanted to take this one step further: We installed occupancy and movement sensors for the LED lighting, allowing us to maintain an optimum level of illumination for our employees.

When choosing paint for the building, we also took occupant health into account.  We used products with zero Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) on the walls and ceilings and low VOC on the doors, meeting rigorous interior standards related to the emission of toxic substances.

Furthermore, to support our aim to become a regional case study, we implemented a smart web-based service platform called EQUS to regulate, monitor and record real-time data such as energy use, inside temperature, CO2 concentrations and relative humidity.

EQUS has shown us that our Make Us Greener Project has already delivered tangible results in reducing energy consumption and creating a healthier working environment. Annual energy consumption has fallen by 7800 kWh annually, resulting in a financial saving of around $1482 USD per annum, when compared to an office with very similar orientation, design, occupancy, location and so on.

Furthermore, the solar panel plant installed at the site in October 2013 has contributed significantly to reducing our office’s energy bills. It produces on average around 21% of the energy consumed in a year (up to 31% in summer).

As the energy consumption reports for 2016 and 2017 reveal, we achieved further significant savings by installing a new air conditioning system in April 2017.  The new unit reduced monthly consumption by nearly 50%, a total saving of 2200kWh over the first 5-month period.

Outside temperatures in Clayton can be extreme, sometimes exceeding 32°C, but the new AC unit has also been successful in maintaining a more stable inside temperature level, of around 24°C.

The unit includes an automated fresh air intake gate and a MERV-10 filter that drastically reduces the passage of pollen particles, mold spores and any other contaminants that may affect health. The fresh air gate is connected to the CO2 measurement system – if the CO2 level inside the office increases considerably (close to the upper ASHRAE range), the gate opens allowing fresh air to pass into the unit.

The operating data is showing that lower CO2 levels are being achieved –   in 2017, the maximum concentration always met international standards like ASHRAE’s 1000ppm.  This was exceeded several times in 2016 with the previous AC unit, but the new one has achieved below 900 ppm almost every day.

Only the results concerning relative humidity measurements have needed further attention. International standards state a maximum level of 65% in office buildings. Thanks to the automated monitoring system, we have been able to identify when this has been exceeded and allow technicians to make the required adjustments.

So how have the users responded to the new office? The knowledge and participation of occupants are essential in this type of initiative. Consequently, Panama GBC undertook a satisfaction survey among employees and the results shows the building scoring Excellent or Very Good compared to standard offices in the market.

Overall, the operating data and survey results all confirm that we have been successful in meeting the initial objectives of our Make Us Greener project. Green buildings not only have a positive impact on the environment and their occupants, but also reduce the costs of the building‘s operating life cycle, as the preliminary results clearly show.

We are optimistic that this process of continuous observation and adaptation at the new Panama GBC green office will guarantee ongoing improvements in efficiency, comfort, productivity and the welfare of our employees.

Roberto Forte is the CEO of Panama Green Building Council. To find out more about Panama GBC’s Make Us Greener project, click here.

To find out more about WorldGBC’s Better Places For People project, click here.