When it comes to protecting the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to live up to its name. The agency has embarked on a quest to reduce the carbon footprint left by all of its operations.

This is being achieved gradually through a combination of new energy efficient worksites and refurbishments of existing buildings. With staff based at a total of 140 locations across Queensland, there is the potential for the changes to make a real difference.

Executive Director of Corporate Sustainability for the EPA, Terry Harper, says the works form part of the agency’s ultimate objective to have all of its buildings Green Star accredited.

“We’re keen to be seen as a model organisation and become leaders in the area of sustainability,” says Harper .

An EPA regional office, located in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba, is the latest facility to undergo a sustainable transformation. The refurbishment was managed by Project Services, the Queensland Government’s in-house project management and building design agency.
EPA Regional Manager for the Western Region, Chris Hill, who is based at the Toowoomba office, worked with Project Services to identify the necessary changes to be made.

“As well as reducing our carbon footprint we were looking to create a healthy and sustainable work environment for our employees,” says Hill .

“Previously, staff were split between two levels of the building, there was no disabled access and there was a slightly gloomy atmosphere due to poor lighting.”

The lighting conditions were further compounded by the lack of windows in the office. Situated on the top floor of a two level building, restrictions imposed by fire boundaries meant that installing additional windows was not possible. In any case, the space, measuring just under 1000m2, is, for the most part, a cubicle office layout that extends deep into the room, making it difficult for windows alone to effectively transmit daylight to all workstations.

By enlisting Solatube , the team were able to source an effective solution. Using the new energy star rated Solatube Daylighting System allowed natural lighting conditions to be improved and reliance on artificial lighting decreased.

“There were a number of reasons we determined that this was the best product to meet EPA Toowoomba’s needs,” says Solatube General Manager, Mark Peall. “The Solatube Daylighting System offers the best coverage for the cubicle layout of the office, and the dimming capability provided by the Daylight Dimmer gives workers greater control over lighting levels.”

According to Peall, using sophisticated daylighting simulation software Solatube Australia is able to accurately predict what type of daylighting system is needed, how many are needed and what the resulting lighting performance will be.

“The client will brief us on the floor plan and tell us where partitions and furniture, such as desks, will be located. From that we are able to ensure the lighting will suit the occupant’s needs and that the performance will meet Australian lighting standards,” says Peall .

“We then determine the appropriate lux level – lux being a measure of the intensity of light. In this instance, and for most office applications, 400 lux is a suitable level. Lighting levels beyond this can cause discomfort once you take into account glare from other sources such as computer monitors.”

In total, 32 Solatube Daylighting Systems, with Optiview Diffusers and Daylight Dimmers were used in office spaces and the boardroom, while three vented Solatube Infinity 400 were installed in bathrooms.

“Reliance on artificial lighting has been reduced by forty percent and the ability of the system to diffuse light means that you have a much more effective outcome than if you were to use a skylight. Seventy-two percent of workstations achieved the correct daylight factor. This is huge when you consider most buildings with their only source of daylight coming from windows around the perimeter average around twenty percent,” explains  Peall.

The lighting improvements resulting from the installation of the Solatube Daylighting System were clear even during the construction phase. 

“Throughout the process of retrofitting the office, builders FK Gardner & Sons in stages, had no need to use any form of artificial lighting,” says Peall . “Instead they relied on the Solamaster Daylighting Systems as the sole light source.”  

Hill says he has noticed a dramatic improvement in lighting. “I no longer need to have the light on in my office at all and having natural light compared to artificial light makes a big difference. The indoor plants that have been brought in as part of developing a greener working environment also seem to enjoy the natural light.”  

Harper says the benefits of undertaking a works program to bring all EPA facilities up to a Green Star accredited standard extend beyond reduced carbon emissions and energy costs.

“As more people become more conscious of the impact of their everyday decisions on the environment, we are noticing increased interest from people seeking to work for an environmentally aware employer. It’s generally a tight labour market out there, so if being proactive in this area can help us be seen as an employer of choice, it will enhance our prospects of attracting and retaining suitably qualified employees that share our values.”

The benefits of replacing the need for artificial light with natural daylight extend beyond decreased power bills and improved energy efficiency. Introducing daylight into any indoor environment, particularly workplaces, can result in decreased absence rates, stress minimisation and increased worker productivity.

Research undertaken by Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the US state’s development agency for renewable energy, found that by improving indoor air quality, increasing daylight and controlling temperatures productivity can be boosted by over seven percent annually.