Sustainable workplaces – raising the bar

Having incorporated Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) principles into the refurbishment of their own new premises, Adelaide architectural firm Thomson Rossi decided to take their commitment to creating a sustainable workplace to the next level. With the help of CitySwitch, Australia’s national green office program, the firm introduced a suite of measures aimed at maximising the energy efficiency of their operations. So remarkable were their efforts within a 12-month period, that in 2013 Thomson Rossi was awarded South Australia’s CitySwitch Signatory of the Year.

Here is their story…

A boutique architectural firm based in Adelaide, Thomson Rossi’s commitment to design excellence and ESD principles has been refined across a range of projects since the company was established in 1991 by Simon Thomson and Marino Rossi.

A sustainable conversion

Thomson Rossi office exterior After an extensive search for a new building, the firm opted for a site with an adaptive re-use potential, converting a 1950s factory into a contemporary office environment. The refurbishment provided a highly prized opportunity to ‘walk the walk’ and thoroughly embed ESD principles into their own workplace.

“In our old premises we had very little control over energy consumption because the systems were run centrally,” said Simon. “The move gave us the opportunity to tailor our work environment, including the ability to harness natural light and reduce our energy costs.”

The new premises provided a 795 sqm of office space over two floors. The main ground floor studio area has an open, flexible workstation layout that takes full advantage of the existing south facing skylights. The roof fabric was replaced with a highly insulated roof cladding/ceiling system and new skylights featuring high performance comfort-plus glazing were introduced, along with automated awning windows linked to air-conditioning controls with fresh air over-ride.

A source of inspiration

While the conversion delivered Thomson Rossi a high performance premises, the firm recognised that a truly sustainable workplace requires something more than clever design.

In June 2012, Thomson Rossi joined the CitySwitch Green Office program. The program encourages businesses to benchmark their energy use – by obtaining an independent NABERS rating – and take practical steps to improve their energy efficiency.

In August 2012, Thomson Rossi underwent a NABERS assessment, which resulted in the firm being awarded a 4 star NABERS Energy tenancy rating (a market average rating is 2.5 stars). Yet, instead of breeding complacency the experience served as a source of inspiration, spurring the firm on to look for new ways to improve their environmental performance.
Thomson Rossi office interior
“In our business lives we are so often distracted by other imperatives,” said Simon. “The CitySwitch framework provides a discipline within itself. Businesses are encouraged to report their projects and energy savings publically within the group, providing participants with an added incentive to meet their targets. For us, this created an environment where we were ready to go to the next level.”

With guidance and support from CitySwitch, Thomson Rossi embarked on three major office energy efficiency projects that aimed to further reduce the firm’s carbon footprint: an in-house energy audit, a photovoltaic energy system and a staff engagement program. The firm appointed a dedicated, in-house energy manager, Amanda Rossi, to oversee the projects and continuously embed sustainability into the office culture.

Reviewing energy use

As a starting point, Thomson Rossi began auditing all aspects of the firm’s operations to evaluate energy usage and highlight opportunities for energy savings.  

“We engaged the whole office, communicating the audit findings and involving staff in identifying opportunities for achieving energy efficiencies,” said Amanda. “The process helped staff understand—in a hands-on way—how their behaviour patterns directly affect energy consumption in the workplace.”

On the basis of the audit, Thomson Rossi introduced a raft of energy efficiency strategies that addressed everything from their use of office technology and kitchen appliances to lighting and green waste management.

“Many strategies centred around simple behavioural changes such as staff utilising iPads in meetings to reduce printing, turning off computers and monitors each night or closing doors to unused rooms to minimize heating and cooling requirements,” said Amanda. “These strategies might sound small, almost inconsequential, but when taken together they amounted to a significant difference in our energy use.”

Harnessing natural resources

Thomson Rossi office skylightsAlso in November 2012, Thomson Rossi began scoping the installation of a photovoltaic system that would serve as the key energy source for the firm.

“Given that our office is a retro-fitted warehouse with a sawtooth roof that faces north, it is an ideal set-up for solar panels,” said Simon.

After considerable in-house research and professional advice, a photovoltaic system was installed in November 2013. The system consists of 120 panels across six north facing sawtooth roofs with a 20 degree pitch. On average, the 29.9 kW system is estimated to produce 131 kWh per day or 47,815 kWh per year, well in excess of the firm’s annual energy requirements.

The high south facing windows of the premises provide Thomson Rossi with a unique opportunity to showcase their use of photovoltaic energy.

“These windows deliver direct views of the solar panels and we intend to use this as an educative tool for our clients and visitors who can witness the emphasis we place on our ESD credentials,” said Simon.

Engaging staff

In October 2012, Thomson Rossi kicked off a multifaceted program that sought to build a sustainable focus within the firm through staff engagement, education and monitoring.

“We’ve always believed that the pursuit of sustainability needs to be innovative, fun and progressive,” said Amanda. “CitySwitch has been invaluable in providing us with ideas and resources.”

In close collaboration with staff, the firm developed an environmental policy and energy management plan which includes key performance indicators to help track their progress.

A ‘switch off’ campaign was launched, prominently displaying energy efficient messages – Switch Off, Shut Down, Turn Off and Recycle It – throughout the office. Notice boards, stickers, posters and other resources were utilised to raise awareness among staff and positively influence their behaviours. In addition, staff members were encouraged to attend sustainability related educational events.

“To inspire innovation and reward creativity we introduced our own 'Green Superstar' award,” said Amanda. “The annual prize is presented to the staff member who makes the best contribution to thinking ‘green’ in terms of the office environment or a client project. We also produce award trophies in-house from recycled materials.”

In another novel approach, Thomson Rossi encouraged staff to use active transport. Following a successful trial with the Adelaide City Free Bike Hire Scheme, the firm used a community grant to purchase an office bicycle in May 2014. Cycling safety and practical sessions were held to support staff to use the bicycle when attending meetings and other events in the city.

Great outcomes

Thomson Rossi office interiorAs part of its CitySwitch reporting process, Thomson Rossi measured their environmental performance for the 12-month period ending September 2013, revealing some impressive results.

The combined impact of the firm’s energy efficient projects had resulted in annual energy usage savings of 19 per cent, when compared to the previous year. The firm’s annual CO2 emissions were reduced by 5.7 tonnes.

During the same period, the office consumed 30,111 fewer pieces of paper than the previous year, providing cost savings of $765 and environmental savings of 1,023.8kg CO2 emissions, equivalent to planting more than three trees.

“We are thrilled with these results, as they clearly demonstrate the connection between our efforts, our changed behaviours and the firm’s improved environmental outcomes,” said Marino.

When the new photovoltaic system enters the equation for the next reporting period, savings are expected to be even greater still. Based on current usage, Thomson Rossi are on track to achieve massive annual energy usage savings of a further 60 per cent for the 12-month period ending September 2014.

It is estimated that the new solar system will deliver an annual benefit in the vicinity of $10,300 (ex GST), with a payback period of about three years. The system is also estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 29.27 tonnes annually, delivering the same environmental benefits as planting 146 trees or taking six cars off the road.

Just rewards

In recognition of their commitment to making their workplace more energy efficient, Thomson Rossi was awarded the
2013 CitySwitch Signatory of the Year (South Australia - for a tenancy under 2000sqm).

In announcing the award, the judging panel commended the architectural firm for demonstrating “an outstanding effort well above and beyond their core business.”

CitySwitch South Australia Program Manager, Alison Cusack, said she was particularly impressed by the firm’s approach to behaviour change.

“Thomson Rossi has been incredibly successful in this respect - they didn’t just do one thing, rather they identified a whole range of potential energy efficiency initiatives, were realistic about which ones were achievable and would deliver the best outcomes and had a passionate ‘energy champion’ leading on their implementation,” said Alison. “They also view the pursuit of sustainability as a continuous, ongoing process.”

For Thomson Rossi, perhaps the greatest reward came when they underwent a follow up NABERS assessment in April 2013 – their extensive, multifaceted program of energy efficient initiatives had lifted their environmental performance to a 5.5 star NABERS whole building rating.

Simon said it was a gratifying result, which was only made possible by the collective efforts of staff.

“At Thomson Rossi, we believe as architects, we have a responsibility to influence sustainable outcomes,” said Simon. “Sustainability is really about everyone taking individual responsibility for their actions. That’s why it is so exciting to see how the efforts of each and every one of us have made a real difference and achieved a much more sustainable workplace in such a short time frame.”

Find out how your organisation can get involved in CitySwitch >

Typically 80% of a city’s emissions come from its buildings. Half are generated by the use of base building services, the other half by tenant activity.

Esther Bailey, CitySwitch National Coordinator

The good news is that so many businesses are seeking the challenge and opportunity to become front runners in the shift to a low carbon economy.

Ross Gittins AM, SMH Economics Editor

Improving building energy efficiency by committing to targets and networking with other CitySwitch tenants and peers is the most effective and immediate way to achieve meaningful progress.

Norton Rose Australia, CitySwitch Signatory of the Year (NSW) 2011

The connections that we have made through our involvement in CitySwitch and the resources we have been able to utilise have made it possible to achieve what we have in sustainability.

Laim Henderson, Baptcare - CitySwitch Award winner in Victoria 2013

It has been an interesting, educational and commercial experience to be part of CitySwitch and we thank them for their dedication and constant support.

Baenziger Coles, CitySwitch Signatory, Victoria

CitySwitch Green Office is a tremendous sustainable energy initiative.

Peter Wyton, Managing Director AECOM NSW + ACT

Having a central contact point helps me keep up-to-date with the various local initiatives taking place around the country, so that I can follow up with our local people or attend events.

Dale O'Toole , National Sustainability Manager, Savills Australia

We are now building business opportunities using CitySwitch as a catalyst.

Amanda Steele, National Sustainability Manager CBRE

With the tools given to us by CitySwitch we were able to calculate the cost saving to our company by powering down and utilised this in our messages.

Priya Pathmanathan, Manager, Environmental, Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd

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CitySwitch Signatory of the Year and New Signatory Awards - category judging criteria

  • Delivering outcomes as demonstrated by an improved or maintained current NABERS Energy rating and achieved energy savings* (up to 28 points)
  • Implementing one or more energy saving initiatives (up to 10 points)
  • Demonstrating leadership by undertaking innovative, creative or progressive office energy efficiency activities (up to 10 points)
  • Engagement of staff/ customers/suppliers and/or stakeholders to educate and create market transformation (up to 10 points)
  • Participation in CitySwitch local program activities (up to 10 points).
Note, new Signatories submitting for New Signatory of the Year Award need only complete an indicative rating – all other submissions must be accredited.

CitySwitch Partnership of the Year Award - category judging criteria

Eligibility Criteria

Submitted projects should:

  • Involve more than one registered company 
  • Demonstrate that they are  innovative and over and above “business as usual”
  • Demonstrate that they catalyse “market transformation” and or “address a market barrier”
  • Deliver a reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions within the built environment 

Judging Criteria

  • Delivering outcomes as demonstrated by an improved or maintained current NABERS Energy rating and achieved energy savings* (up to 14 points)
  • Implementing one or more energy saving initiatives (up to 10 points)
  • Demonstrating leadership by undertaking innovative, creative or progressive office energy efficiency activities (up to 17 points)
  • Engagement of staff/ customers/suppliers and/or stakeholders to educate and create market transformation (up to 17 points)
  • Participation in CitySwitch local program activities (up to 10 points)
  • The submitting entity MUST be a CitySwitch Signatory
Note, Signatories submitting for the Partnership of the Year Award may submit an accredited NABERS tenancy, whole building or base building rating.

It’s easy and free to join the program. Your good-will commitment to the program is an acknowledgement of the business sector’s role in
contributing to environmental sustainability and your intention to reduce your own energy consumption and associated carbon emissions.

As part of this, Signatories to the program commit to achieve an accredited NABERS Energy tenancy rating (between 4 and 6 stars) and
work with CitySwitch to improve their tenancy’s environmental performance.

Find out more about how obtaining a NABERS Energy rating ensures you can benchmark your performance, better manage your progress
over time and promote your star rating achievement.