5 June 2024 UNU-FLORES' Journey to Sustainable Offices: Building Green, Working Bright!

Amidst global calls for environmental consciousness and efficient resource management, the United Nations University Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES) embarked on a transformative journey to overhaul its office spaces, within the World Trade Center Dresden.

This initiative, known as the Flexible Offices (FLORES) initiative, or also affectionately known as the “floating office” initiative was sparked by a directive by the institute's leadership in 2018 to revamp office dynamics in alignment with sustainability principles. Recognizing the diverse needs of its workforce, including field workers, interns, and researchers with varying work contracts such as short-term or field-based assignments (e.g. many researchers spending months away from their desks on their field studies), UNU-FLORES adopted a policy change towards flexible working hours and telecommuting. Concurrently, the introduction of hotdesking and coworking spaces aimed to accommodate different work styles and preferences.

Central to the proposed office design were six key factors:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Socializing and well-being
  3. Resilience
  4. Greenery
  5. Color effect
  6. Sustainability

Empowering Changes through Participatory Design

FLORES stands out as more than just a hybrid work model—it represents a new narrative for the traditional "office" by restructuring it with dynamic features like Quiet Space and Pods, Call Corners, Phone Booth, Recharge Room, Team Labs, Community Space and Team Labs for collaborative work, and Lounges for social interactions. Each is designed with a unique concept and color scheme to support its specific function.

Crucially, the success of this implementation hinges on the participatory design process. The new office layout is not merely imposed but rather emerges from the collective input of UNU-FLORES team members, representing diverse roles and units within the institute. From the outset, a task force comprising approximately five colleagues from different teams and committees was formed to spearhead the initiative.

"Our collaborative efforts involved gathering and mapping insights through surveys and interviews into individual work preferences and requirements, to ensure the final office structure effectively caters to the diverse needs of the workforce Ultimately, everyone wants to work in a healthy and happy environment."

Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Project Manager of the flexible office initiative at UNU-FLORES

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Task Force members: Juliane Dziumla, Associate Sustainability and Impact Officer (left) / Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Project Manager of the flexible office initiative (right)

Maximizing Resources, Minimizing Footprint

Through the implementation of greening practices, UNU-FLORES has witnessed significant benefits. By mobilizing the team to value space as a resource and rethink its optimal usage, the FLORES initiative highlights the institute’s dedication to the Resource Nexus, a concept central to UNU-FLORES's research and advocacy that emphasizes resource interconnectedness and promotes sustainable management practices.

Optimizing workstation allocation has expanded office capacity without requiring additional rentals. The reduction in commuting time has also played a pivotal role in curbing carbon footprints linked to transportation emissions. While precise data on greenhouse gas emission reductions is still pending, this initiative marks a significant stride towards minimizing the institute's carbon footprint. Wherever possible, existing furniture is upcycled to meet new needs, and sustainable procurement practices are prioritized, ensuring the use of materials that are beneficial to both planetary and human health.

Indeed, the benefits of the FLORES concept extend far beyond resource optimization. Alongside improved environmental performance, there has been a notable increase in employee productivity, with heightened levels of creativity and collaboration. The new office concept fosters a superior work-life balance and greater autonomy, especially amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, enhanced interactions among staff members have been observed.

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Quite Space (Left top), Team Labs (Left bottom & Right)

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Despite the successes, UNU-FLORES has encountered challenges throughout its journey. From navigating local regulations to addressing ergonomic concerns and acoustic considerations, the implementation process required careful planning and adjustments. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a review and update of the concept to ensure its resilience in changing circumstances as well. However, these challenges have presented opportunities for growth and refinement, highlighting the importance of ongoing communication and feedback loops with staff members.

The task force team at UNU-FLORES emphasizes several key takeaways that they believe are essential for other organizations to consider. Below are the key recommendations for other UN entities considering similar shifts in office design:

  • Focus on people, and the participatory design process is the key. At the heart of sustainability lies the recognition that people are its core. Their needs, perspectives, and actions ultimately determine the sustainability. Invest in dedicated spaces for social interaction and collaboration at design phase.
  • To achieve this, build trust among colleagues through open communication to engage all members and foster their participation in the initiative. Ownership is fundamental to community building, especially when staff members may no longer have their own desks. Reflecting on the team’s experience in overcoming initial skepticism among many employees, the team learned the critical value of raising awareness and establishing transparent channels for communication and feedback. Media platforms like lounge message cards/online platforms were useful in fostering ongoing dialogue and gathering inputs.
  • Allocate adequate resources to implementation efforts. Sustainable solutions might be more expensive and time-consuming than settling on what is conventionally there. Do not be tempted to settle for less – think long-term! Conceptualizing may generate excitement among stakeholders, but successful implementation requires substantial resources and commitment. Establishing clear timelines, roles, and responsibilities helps streamline the implementation process and mitigate potential challenges. 


Ongoing Pursuit of Sustainability

Moving forward, UNU-FLORES is steadfast in its commitment to further refine and assess the long-term impacts of the FLORES concept on sustainability. With the completion of the concept design, the focus now shifts to the implementation phase, slated for completion by the end of 2024. This journey toward flexible offices exemplifies the institute's unwavering dedication to office greening, sustainability, innovation, and employee-centricity.

“We hope that UNU-FLORES will serve as an inspiring model for organizations striving to create green environments that benefit not only the planet but also the people's well-being.”

Juliane Dziumla, Associate Sustainability and Impact Officer at UNU-FLORES

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Workshop room

👉 UNU and UNU-FLORES at a Glance

👉 UNU-FLORES Flexible Office Concept for Resource Optimisation Awarded eku Future Prize for Environment


Article written by Nayoung Lee from UNEP based on the interviews with Atiqah Fairuz Salleh from UNU-FLORES.

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