Summertown Interiors is on a drive to create sustainable projects, particularly workplaces that promote well-being and productivity
Summertown Interiors, the UAE’s leading fit-out contractor specialising in environment-friendly interiors, is living the “green” dream. Almost half of its business last year involved green projects, while this year all the projects it has carried out so far have met sustainability criteria.
Not only that, it puts its money where its mouth is: the very premises from which executes its business so effectively has been designed and fitted out as a workplace where employees feel healthy, motivated and engaged – thus claiming the recognition as the first fit-out contractor in the Middle East to occupy Leed (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified interiors.
“Sustainability is driving Summertown’s economic engine and has positively impacted its profits resulting in revenue growth of 25 per cent last year. Also, by being an example of sustainable business, our green turnover has been continuously growing since 2009,” says Marcos Bish, managing director at Summertown Interiors.
Among the recent projects completed by Summertown Interiors is the office of Japanese pharmaceutical firm Astellas, which was finished ahead of schedule.
Astellas has invested Dh2.9 million ($789,000) in the fit-out of its new regional headquarters in Dubai, UAE, for the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa region.
Located in Platinum Tower in the sought-after Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) area, the 500-sq-m office enjoys an open, transparent feel, thanks to seamless glass partitions and inspired layout. The space comprises a reception area, large conference room, an integrated breakout area that also includes the office pantry to promote collaboration in an informal environment, plus IT function areas to host server and printing facilities. Accent colours used throughout the office help to reflect the young, dynamic and energetic nature of the Japanese company.
For this particular project, Summertown Interiors was appointed by project management firm CBRE. “We worked directly with Perkins + Will, the designer on the project,” says Bish. “Our reputation for delivering projects on time with the highest level of quality and our partnership approach to working with designers and consultants were deciding factors in our appointment.”
Summertown Interiors started working on the project in March and completed it in just 12 weeks. “Our close attention to detail meant the project encountered minimal snags. This allowed for the smooth processing of client and municipality approvals and saw the project handed over ahead of schedule,” says Bish.
The main challenge faced while carrying out the work, according to Bish, was to meet the tight deadlines for the project execution while complying with the high-end finishing requirements.
“It was important that we were in constant communication with the other parties involved in this project, to ensure that the works would be undertaken at each stage on time, and approvals would run smoothly,” he adds.
Astellas’ office was executed last year and the focus was on quality, which generates synergic effects with sustainability, especially in the field of employee welfare.
Summertown’s green waste management standards applied onsite meant that the project’s environmental impact was minimised, with construction waste being recycled where possible and materials reused onsite. Rigorous international health and safety procedures were applied at all stages of the project.
“As a result of our professional approach and attention to detail, local authority approval was completed in a record time of two weeks. And thanks to our commitment to delivering the project in line with the international standards, municipality approvals were passed upon first inspection,” Bish comments.
Summertown Interiors offers superior quality interior solutions as a fit-out contractor and turnkey provider. As the first fit-out contractor in the Middle East to occupy Leed Gold-certified interiors, it has first-hand experience of executing green interior projects. The company is now applying for Leed Ebom (Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance) certification for its offices which are located in Jebel Ali Free Zone, Dubai.
These 900-sq-m offices, which double up as a showroom, feature a large reception area, meeting facilities, a mix of closed offices and open-plan work spaces, plus other features including staff break-out areas, and hot desking facilities for staff who work remotely.
The outdoor space has also been maximised to provide a recreational space for staff with a shaded seating area and courtyard to host company events.
Built at a cost of Dh6 million ($1.633 million), the offices took 14 weeks to complete.
Bish says green measures taken in the fit-out of its premises included partnerships with service providers that manufacture their products within a 500-mile radius. Products, from furniture to partitions, were selected based on recyclability of materials.
“Over 24 per cent of the building materials including glass, gypsum board, and marmoleum flooring, to name a few, contain recycled materials. Some 42 per cent of materials in the project were reused. All wood used in the project is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified wood,” says Bish.
The project features a mix of glass partitions for enclosed offices to allow penetration of natural light and low-level partitions in open-plan work areas to offer privacy and acoustic properties.
“The use of natural light was maximised to provide a better work environment for Summertown’s occupants and reduce consumption of lighting energy, thereby reducing operational costs,” says Bish.
Several measures were taken to reduce the overall building lighting energy by 55 per cent including LED (light-emitting diode) lamps with very low wattage and task lighting for all occupants. Similarly, lighting controls for all periphery lighting fixtures have been installed for energy conservation and to make best use of natural daylight as much as possible. In addition, selecting Energy Star-rated equipment has also reduced the overall energy consumption. Occupancy sensors have been installed in key areas so energy consumption within these areas can be reduced (only switched on when occupied).
Every effort has been taken to minimise water use by installing water-efficient fixtures such as low flow taps, dual flush water closets (WCs), and sensor-based urinals reducing water consumption by 32 per cent compared to a conventional workplace interior.
In order to support enhanced IAQ (indoor air quality) and long-term well-being of all occupants, the offices provide increased ventilation – over 30 per cent more fresh air than the minimum specified in Ashrae standards in populated areas. Low-emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, carpets and composite wood products have been used to enhance the indoor environment.
Summertown Interiors had implemented green construction practices, which included implementation of an IAQ management plan to benefit site workers during construction as well as building occupants post construction.
Measures have been taken to protect the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) system to keep it free from dust and particles during the construction phase. This involved strict practices to keep the site as clean as possible to prevent dust and particle build-up.
Also, site waste was segregated to allow recycling of construction materials like wood, metal and concrete as much as possible.
Bish says: “As a working showroom, Summertown invites third parties to visit and to learn more about sustainable interiors. Summertown also offers free-to-attend ‘green in action’ workshops to highlight the benefits of organisations integrating sustainability into their business strategy. A green housekeeping policy is in place and all cleaning products used are eco-friendly.”
Having achieved the Leed Gold certification in September 2009, Summertown embarked on its next sustainable project: to achieve Leed Ebom and is using this framework in its bid to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. This addresses several key areas, including reduction of energy and water consumption and site and office waste; introduction of sustainable purchasing policies; employee well-being; and adoption of sustainable transportation measures.
“Through continual monitoring of its energy and water consumption, Summertown is able to identify further ways to improve in these areas,” Bish explains. “For example, water meters have been installed so Summertown can track water consumption by zone and identify areas that consume larger amounts of water. As a result, the company has renovated its outdoor space, reducing water consumption by a further 50 per cent.
“Summertown has installed recycling facilities in its offices and removed waste bins, encouraging employees to recycle their waste. A sustainable purchasing policy has been introduced in a bid to switch to more sustainable offerings. For example, all stationery is made from FSC-certified paper and printer toners are all recycled.”
Once the automated measuring systems are fully in place, Summertown’s building and operational performance data will be collected over a minimum 18-month period and assessed for Leed Ebom certification by the US Green Building Council, Bish indicates.
Commenting on trends in the office design area, he says the workspace of the future will create the right environment for creativity, engagement and collaboration while positively impacting the businesses’ bottom lines. There are several movements driving change in the workspace that will have an impact on the way offices will be designed and fitted out over the next few years.
Bish continues: “The wellness movement – indoor air quality, noise levels, non-toxic fabrics and furniture, access to natural light, recreational spaces – they will all need to be considered when designing and fitting out an office. The workspace has become a value proposition for companies who want to attract and retain the best talents. Healthy and happy employees are more productive, take less sick leave, are more engaged and this is directly reflected in the success of the organisation.
“Space matters – another change in the workplace is rethinking the use of space. Until recently, open-plan offices were considered the best environment for employees – encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity. The focus is shifting towards building a space that offers the perfect balance between collaboration and privacy.
“Technology integration – employees are now more connected and mobile, switching between laptops, smartphones and tablets. Space and furniture need to integrate technology to support a more mobile workforce.”
And what are the prospects in the fit-out market? Bish comments: “Though there is a healthy supply of new projects in the market, these aren’t typically coming from new market entrants. Rather, the work is coming from established companies that are either relocating, opening new branches, or consolidating their offices.”
With fewer newcomers to the market compared to a few years ago, repeat customers have become an increasingly important part of a contractor’s business. It is a highly competitive market with many contractors vying for the same business, according to Bish.
“In addition to operating on very tight margins, it is increasingly important that projects are executed effectively and efficiently with little room for error or delay in order to successfully complete a project, both from a delivery and cost point of view. This is good news for clients as healthy competition results in increased quality at reduced prices. You are only as good as your last project and consistent good delivery ensures repeat business which is the key for tomorrow’s success,” he observes.
Established in 1997, Summertown Interiors is among the UAE’s leading fit-out contractors with specialist experience in delivering commercial office, education and retail projects for global Fortune 500 companies, government authorities and local businesses.
The company is committed to delivering projects that meet clients’ needs, on time and within budget, and all projects are executed in accordance with the internationally recognised ISO 9001:2008 quality management system. As a result, Summertown is often selected as the preferred fit-out partner for many of the world’s largest project management firms and interior architects.
Due to its sustainability credentials and success rate in the delivery of green projects, Summertown Interiors has been involved in a number of projects in Masdar City in recent months.