Designing sustainable office environments for the next generation

Mike Park, Commercial Director of BRITA UK, discusses how the physical office space should be optimised to appeal to the needs of the next generation.

It isn’t hard to spot the difference between office environments today and those designed 25 years ago. There are stark comparisons to the overall office environment, layout and building materials used. Developments in design, coupled with an evolving workplace culture and changing employee’ attitudes on what’s expected from their office environment, is altering the way we work.

For example, attributes such as promoting flexible working, health and wellbeing initiatives and lessening the business’ carbon footprint, are hugely important to workers today. This simply wasn’t the case in offices a few decades ago.

What’s more, organisations are increasingly becoming more agile – from embracing flexible working and advancements in technology – offices are facilitating more collaborative ways of working. This has driven a much-needed simplification of the office build and layout, where it’s common to see open, sustainable and adaptable spaces that can be tailored to suit the needs of different workers.

To understand why and how the office environment needs to adapt and the driving force behind this evolution, BRITA Professional commissioned research to investigate the views of 1,000 Generation Z (those born between the mid-90s and mid 00s) and Millennials (born from the early 80s to mid-90s) around sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the workplace.

Sustain the workforce with a sustainable environment

The research highlighted that Generation Z and Millennials are a force for good – they are driven to be the change that they hope to see in the world. Their sustainability beliefs are strong, as is their belief in hard work.

It’s no surprise that this generation puts a lot of emphasis on their own and their employer’s impact on the environment, as they have grown up with and seen first-hand the impact of climate change and pollution and are deeply concerned about the future.

As such, modern office buildings should be built around the core principles of sustainability, focused on meeting the requirements of today whilst considering the needs of generations to come.

It’s all about sustainable foundations

BRITA’s latest research found that Generation Z and Millennials highly value the sustainability credentials of their employer. In fact, the top CSR objective that matters to the younger generation is an environmentally friendly workplace building (46%), followed closely by support for health and wellbeing, including mental health (45%) and charity partnerships that they can get involved in (36%).

But, when it comes to designing and developing the coveted sustainable workplace, where do you start? In this day and age, there is a variety of natural or minimally processed materials and finishes available, therefore reducing the concentration of harmful chemicals within the workplace.

Indeed, the more advanced workspaces are considering how the building’s materials and environment can positively affect the wellbeing of its inhabitants. A key trend to consider here is ‘biophilia’ which suggests humans are drawn to seek out connections with nature. Steps such as embracing plant life in the office environment or finding ways to bring the outside in through clever design, can create a calmer atmosphere and has been shown to help with mindfulness amongst employees.

Finally, the office space of the future should be set up physically to enable people to move around the workplace. It’s important for it to adapt to suit the changing needs of employees, depending on different tasks or moods, such as allocating private break out areas and dedicated spaces for quiet thinking or collaborative areas for group interaction.

Facilitating future needs

Though an environmentally friendly building is cited as the most important element for the workforce of the future, BRITA’s research showed that a few quick and easy steps can be made to optimise the physical office space. As well as incorporating areas that facilitate different types of work (32%), the younger generation think quiet zones (52%), hydration stations (31%), comfy seating areas (31%) and in-office gyms (31%) as important design elements.

Installing a health and nutrition station is also considered to be popular initiative for employers, while helping to create a more sustainable work environment. This is simple to achieve, by offering employees access to fresh fruit and providing cold still and sparkling water on demand, as well as hot water for coffees and teas.

The dream for employees of the future is to step into a building that has been designed to have a low impact on the environment and a high impact on their wellbeing. After all, a healthy workforce is a productive one, and a productive workforce is key to business success and of course, to the strength of the overall UK economy.

To read more about sustainability in the workplace and the younger generation, including expert advice and useful tips, read the full report ‘Life is Better Filtered: Corporate School of Expertise’ at