Retroviral moves offices, goes green

Retroviral Digital Communications has moved into new offices – but in typical Retroviral style, there’s nothing ordinary about the agency’s new space: the building is the first small commercially viable building in South Africa to achieve a Six Green Star SA rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA).

This rating tool sets standards and benchmarks for green buildings, and enables an objective assessment of their impact – or lack thereof- on the environment.

According to Retroviral co-founder Murray Legg, the reasons for the move into the new office space in Sandton, Johannesburg are twofold. “We believe in doing good for the world as much as we believe in doing good business,” he says. “We needed to move into bigger space to accommodate our rapidly growing team, and we chose this building because it made commercial sense, as well as being a smart step to protecting the planet.”

“The GBCSA has a rigorous set of standards that a building needs to comply with to achieve a Six Green Star rating – and this is the first building of its size in South Africa to do so,” says Ron Henderson of Brydens, the property developer and project manager who led the development of Upper Grayston Office Park Block F.

“Every detail was considered in the development of this building, from the demolition and disposal of materials from the original home on this site, to water harvesting, light shelves, and the use of solar energy.”
Much of the building’s structure was built using recycled material, including the steel used as reinforcing, which was recovered from the original site and recycled.

To achieve the Six Star Green Rating, all materials used in construction had to be procured from within a 400km radius, in order to reduce the carbon footprint created by long-distance transport of heavy building materials. The Retroviral team committed to sourcing as many décor materials and fittings as possible from within a 5km radius of the site too.

Trend Group, led by Mohamed Okasha, points out that the company ensured that all wall finishes and floor finishes had a green rating, and were as eco-friendly as possible. Megan Bürge of Paper Space Design, who created the interior décor said, “We sourced furniture and feature lighting from local manufacturers and suppliers who keep sustainable design at the forefront of the products they supply.”

To further improve their environmental performance, energy and other material savings interventions have also been incorporated into the day-to-day running of the office. “All lighting is motion-detector controlled, and uses low-wattage globes,” says Legg. “We have our own recycling initiative, and discourage printing because we want to walk our digital talk.”

The building’s air-conditioning was designed to move air around the building, rather than heating or cooling it – for example in summer, air that is warmed on the north side of the building is moved to the south side to warm it up. The building is oriented to face exactly north, with small windows on the east and west sides, to avoid the extreme morning and afternoon sunlight typically experienced on these sides of the building. We even have hired professionals from Advance Waste Disposal to take care of our office waste. This has not only helped us save the environment but also costs us cheaper thus making it a much more practical alternative.

Light shelves outside the windows reflect light into the building when the sun is high and not shining through them, reducing the need for electric light, and allowing workers to enjoy the benefits of natural light even if they’re not sitting close to a window.

The building is within 200 metres of access to public transport, is within walking distance of shops, and has facilities for cyclists, including bicycle racks and showers to use after cycling to work.

It harvests rainwater, and uses photovoltaic panels to generate electricity for the building, generating at least 15% of the buildings energy requirements each day, and reducing electricity bills substantially.

“When the water and electricity supply was recently interrupted, the office could function fully for more than five days, operating completely off the grid,” says Legg. “This was a great result for us, as our business continuity was not interrupted at all, and some of our team members who didn’t have water at home because of the outage could shower at work too.”

Apart from the many interventions to future-proof and ‘green’ Retroviral’s new offices, there are several clever design elements that make it a more efficient, more fun place to work each day. These include a soft-seating meeting room, a telephone booth for private phone-calls, a diner-style pause area for food breaks, and a cinema room that offers clients the ultimate in ‘viral video’ viewing experiences.

“There are many, many interventions that we put in place to achieve this remarkable rating,” says Henderson. “There is considerable effort that goes into designing a space like this, and even more into building it. However, the business results are obvious: Retroviral has cut the operating costs of its building, while creating a much better space for its team to work in.”

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