What do the world’s coolest offices have in common? Here is a hint: it has nothing to do with dog-friendliness or crazy cubicle designs. Office design trend-makers are moving beyond hip fabrics and ergonomic desks and beginning to thinking globally-globally as in saving the planet. As in sustainability.
Forget ping pong tables in the office lounge: now you have to be Green to be hip
Sure enough , the fanciest digs of the hippest companies are now designed with sustainability at the forefront of the architectural decision-making process. There are more Green Certified office spaces than ever, as environmental awareness in the commercial construction industry grows each year.
Plans for the world’s largest green roof were rolled out just today in Silicon Valley. A 50-acre site will get $3 billion pumped into it to make it a green mixed-use town center. The crowning glory: the world’s largest green roof. There will be 30 acres of vineyards, gardens, orchards, and a jogging trail. Much of that will be on rooftops!
This amazing project is part of a decade-long trend. Just 10 years ago, only 5.6% of commercial buildings were Green certified. By the end of 2014, that number was up to almost 39%. There are now buildings which can even be built “energy positive”, meaning they produce more energy than they consume.
While all this is possible for Silicon Valley magnates and super startup billionaires, it’s probably not going to happen for your office. Chances are, it was built a long time ago, when Green certification was unheard of.
Sorry, but they’re probably not planning a vineyard on the roof where you work.
Nice for them, but what about your old-school office space?
So how can an office space help save the planet once it’s already built? Stuck with the non-green construction that forever locks your office into its wasteful, polluting ways, you may think there’s no hope for raising the cool factor of where you work.
But you are wrong: enter solar windows.
What are solar windows and what do they have to do with my workplace?
You know what solar panels look like, don’t you? Large opaque plates that cover rooftops everywhere around the world. They’re dark, must be tilted at an angle to catch the sun, and all around not too pretty.
Three solar companies are about to change all that, however. They are each working on separate solar technology which can be incorporated into a window panel. That is: they’re transparent. Not only that, but they can work their solar magic positioned vertically, the way a window sits.
Solar panel maker Solaria makes PV cells that look like ribbons, not slabs. Sandwiched between two pieces of glass like a specimen in a microscope slide, these PV cells are almost unnoticeable. They allow transparency for office workers inside, plus glare control for those on the outside. There is a slight “tinted” effect, but as the company points out on their website, this has the added benefit of reducing the solar heat gain…that’s when sun streaming through a window heats up the interior. That means lower AC bills.
They’re even bird safe!
But the one thing Solaria’s windows don’t have is the ability to be placed in existing windows. That’s where Solar Window Technologies, Inc. comes into the picture. Their solar windows can be installed on existing windows because they use a completely different type of solar technology.
Solar panels you can see through
Solar Window Technologies, Inc’s technology is called organic photovoltaics and can be applied like a giant sticker to existing windows. That’s great news for office building managers. What’s even more exciting is that this company estimates their solar windows will pay for themselves in a year. They haven’t yet made it to market but an announcement is expected this month.
They are even taking design aesthetics into consideration: their PV film comes in an array of “architecturally neutral colors”.
A third company, called Ubiquitous Energy has made a totally clear solar panel that might someday be used on windows, too. Their film is less than 1/1000th of a millimeter thick and can be applied to anything. Imagine one on your laptop, your smartphone, or your car and you’re never out of juice again.
Their little ClearView cells, as they’re called, are fantastically designed to let through only the light that’s visible to the human eye (hence their transparency). At the same time, they’re absorbing UV and infrared light and converting it to electricity. The result is 90% transparency and 100% genius.
Theirs is still in the prototype phase, but hopefully coming to an office window near you very soon. In fact, keep your eyes peeled for all three companies to begin making inroads in the Greening of office space all over the world. There just might be hope for your windows very soon.