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Green Tenant Amenities: What Designers Need to Know

11/18/2019 By Janelle Penny

Tenant amenities are popular in office design projects because they’re a crucial piece in the tenant retention and recruitment puzzle, but the right amenities can also double as a step toward your clients’ green building certification efforts.

Employees intuitively respond to healthy workplace features like green space and natural materials. Applying this rule to building amenities makes financial sense for clients because it creates an environment that attracts people to the building.

Wellness Amenities
Photo: Wellness and connection go hand in hand when it comes to tenant amenities. This Bike to Work Week event was a hit with Brookfield Properties thanks to this stationary smoothie bike. Provide bike storage for real bikes.

Proposing the right amenities in your project can further clients’ progress toward their green goals while creating spaces their tenants want to experience.

“Integrating sustainable practices is good for business,” explains Tina Urquhart, president and CEO of Charm City Concierge, a concierge service and amenity provider for facilities and multifamily buildings. “Design needs to embody health and happiness.

If you can keep your employees happy and engaged, they’re more productive at work.”

Rooftop Beehives - photo credit: Charm City Concierge
Photo: Rooftop Beehives. Credit: Charm City Concierge

Why Tenant Amenities are Important

Employees are looking for convenience, Urquhart explains. The ability to meet personal needs without having to leave work is a compelling reason to work for certain employers or rent an apartment in a particular building.

Ruben Mejia, CTO of SportsArt, a fitness equipment manufacturer that offers cardio equipment that generates electricity, describes an installation at 123 Melrose St. in Brooklyn’s hip Bushwick neighborhood. The luxury apartment building puts its sustainability credibility front and center with a treehouse in the lobby.

“They’re doing everything to reinforce a sustainability message,” he explains. “[Energy-generating exercise equipment] is a way for them to engage with their tenants. They can bring them on a tour and say, ‘Hey, the other gyms you’re going to will just consume electricity, but our gym offsets the electricity of this building.’

The biggest thing is differentiation—what are you doing that everybody else is not, or that most people are not?”

In tenanted office buildings, providing on-site convenience services also benefits the employers renting space there.

Employees who can take care of their needs on site don’t have to spend their lunch break running errands or rush to reach important services before they close for the day. Amenities in common areas also let tenants dedicate more of their own square footage to offices and other work-related spaces.

Flowers Amenities
Photo: Not every amenity needs its own permanent, dedicated space. Blooms & Bubbly used a multipurpose space to nurture connection and community by combining a wreath-making workshop with a champagne happy hour.

“You want to have the bulk of whatever you’re putting into your office spaces being the workhorse of your platform,” explains Guy Painchaud, partner at iN STUDIO, a Toronto-based interior design firm.

“Obviously you want to have a great coffee space, but the majority of people’s time should be in your office. …. You can give them another space where they can go to unwind, take some time by themselves or have a chat with a colleague.”

The emphasis on amenities may be due to the growing presence of millennials (people born between 1981-1996) in the workplace. Millennials now make up about a third of the workforce, according to the Pew Research Center, and they prefer amenities that appeal to their desire for health, happiness and purpose, Urquhart says.

“Amenities that appeal to the millennial mindset are more holistic,” Urquhart explains.

“One client has an outdoor area they branded as the backyard. Wellness rooms are big. So are green spaces, rooftops and lounges where they can stock the space with locally sourced produce and that kind of thing. Bike storage is a big one because a lot of people bike to work.”

How to Get Started

Not every green amenity is a fit for every building. Select amenities based on the building type and tenant makeup. You can even survey existing tenants to find out what they’d like to see or what needs they’re not able to meet on-site yet and summarize their answers to help clients choose which amenities to create.

Painchaud starts projects with a visioning conversation between designers and clients to discover which amenities and design features are the best fit.

“We don’t necessarily have a kit of parts [to use for clients],” Painchaud says. “We always want to engage with the client to give them a unique solution. It’s a one-off story to tell that’s specific to their building or company.”

You don’t need a permanent dedicated space for every tenant amenity. Look at underutilized spaces you can upgrade or large common areas where the client can host occasional events, Urquhart recommends. Multipurpose spaces need flexible furniture, like tables and seating in a couple of sizes and heights, as well as plenty of storage.

Backyard Amenities
Photo: “Buildings competing for the best tenant companies are using nature, green space and outdoor amenities to show they care about their tenants' wellbeing, explains Tina Urquhart, president and CEO of Charm City Concierge.

The client can use these spaces to host amenity-oriented programming to highlight year-round services. For example, yoga classes are a fun and functional amenity that doesn’t require a fitness studio, but they also can’t just go anywhere in the building.

“One of the things that ties back to sustainability is wanting to do it in a place with light, good air quality and not a lot of noise,” Urquhart says. “You don’t want to put a yoga class where you’re trying to zen out next to a game room with ping pong tables and a lot of stuff going on. Those considerations are big.”

It may be time to reexamine building amenities if they haven’t been upgraded in the last five years, suggests Igor Kurochkin, vice president of marketing and product management for Winncom Technologies Corp., a distributor and provider of networking solutions.

Advances in technology since then might make it easier or less expensive to keep amenity offerings fresh.

Solar Power Amenities
Photo: These benches harvest solar power to charge devices and also feature wireless hot spots for users, making it easier to take work outside.

4 Important Considerations for Tenant Amenity Upgrades

Implementing building amenities of any kind requires a long look at how to launch the new amenities. Take these four points into consideration as you suggest green amenities to your clients.

1. A way to measure success.

Technology is key, Urquhart says. Your client needs a reliable way to gather data and understand which services and amenities are being used or ignored. That will help you find areas they can rework or replace.

Tenant surveys are also useful in understanding what people want and need from your building. “Also bring fresh new ideas to them, because sometimes they don’t know what they want,” Urquhart says of tenant surveys. “Be proactive.”

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2. Balance between space types.

The game rooms and on-site gyms are valuable amenities, but people need quiet spaces, too.

These could take the form of walking paths, sheltered outdoor areas or meditation spaces away from the louder parts of the building. Some of Painchaud’s projects have even included prayer spaces.

3. Spaces that are suited to the amenity.

Make sure you’re selecting areas that have the right infrastructure in place for the amenity you plan to put there. The vendors of any new equipment you’re ordering can help select spaces.

For example, Mejia cautions customers to put exercise equipment in rooms that have rigid flooring, an adequate number of circuits and a high enough ceiling to accommodate a tall person on an elliptical. Fitness spaces also need extra attention paid to the HVAC to make sure the room is adequately ventilated and doesn’t feel hot when people are working up a sweat.

4. Low maintenance needs.

Indoor greenery is consistently popular because it provides a much-needed connection to the natural world, but Painchaud has strayed away from living walls for many clients because of the potential for mold and live dirt to cause problems if the client doesn’t have a strict maintenance schedule for the plants.

Instead, some clients are exploring extra low-maintenance plants like moss, which provides some filtration and humidity control but requires little to no maintenance, Painchaud says. Plant systems with charcoal filters are another alternative to plants with live dirt.

Implemented correctly, green amenities will refresh the building and highlight your client’s commitment to their tenants and the environment.

“Everybody needs to have a conversation about what can be done for their environment on multiple levels,” says Kurochkin. “Look at what you have and understand what needs to be done. If you don’t do that now, you’re going to fall behind.”

Solar Bench Amenities
Photo: Solar Bench. Credit: Winncom

Green Amenity Spotlight: 5 Top Tenant Amenity Ideas

1. Energy-Producing Exercise Equipment

This line of cardio equipment generates its own electricity as your tenants sweat. The exercise bike, treadmill and three-in-one cross-trainer produce 75-100 watt-hours during a 30-minute workout of average intensity, with the ability to produce up to 250 watts per hour if the user runs the machine to its maximum.

That not only offsets the few watts that each machine consumes, but also produces enough extra energy to run the breakroom fridge during that time.

“It’s kind of like the same concept of the standing desk or the treadmill desk. We’re used to the norm, which is just the motorized treadmill or elliptical. It does nothing—you just exercise on it,” says Ruben Mejia, CTO of SportsArt, which produces the energy-generating exercise equipment. “This gives the employer something different.”

Yoga Amenities
Photo: Different types of fitness activities need different spaces. Yoga requires concentration and focus, so it's best not to put a yoga class next to a loud game room or breakroom.

2. Pedal a Smoothie

This stationary bike makes blended drinks powered by riders, says Tina Urquhart, president and CEO of Charm City Concierge, a concierge service and amenity provider that periodically brings the Fender Blende to clients’ facilities. Optional add-ons adapt the bike to create spin art, churn ice cream, generate electricity or play a competitive pedaling game.

3. Solar-Powered Seating

SEEDiA’s smart bench draws power from the sun and stores it in an internal battery. Building occupants can charge their devices while they relax. Optional features include wireless internet hotspots and digital displays.

“We’re all connected to our phones,” says Igor Kurochkin, vice president of marketing and product management for Winncom Technologies Corp., which distributes the bench in the U.S. “We all understand the need to be connected.

If you want to draw people outside and make sure they spend time there, you can create an environment where they can do what they need to do while they’re outside.”

4. Rooftop Beehives

This green amenity turns green roofs or building courtyards into homes for docile Italian honeybees. Alvéole, a turnkey urban beekeeping service, maintains the hives for building owners and harvests the honey in the fall, so clients won’t have to find room for beekeeping suits in their budget.

They can use the honey in their breakroom or cafeteria or gift jars to tenants.

5. Programming

You don’t always need a special space to provide great amenities, says Urquhart. Tenant amenities are all about experiences at their heart, and you can create multipurpose spaces that can be reconfigured to host events tenants will love.

Urquhart’s clients enjoy competitions, team-building events, yoga classes and walking clubs that building owners could host inside or outside without a permanent space for any of them.

Read next: Why Every Office Building Needs an Amenity Center