While recycling, a rejection of plastic bags and other eco-friendly initiatives are now a way of life in many European countries, Russia – the biggest country in the world – lags woefully behind in this area. This year was declared the Year of Ecology in Russia, and though progress is slow, ecologists who gathered at the Skolkovo innovation city for the Green Office. Green City international conference on Thursday are focusing on new technologies and green offices as a starting point to eventually reach a green economy.

Visitors to the Green Office. Green City conference at the Skolkovo Technopark could recycle used batteries. Photo: Sk.ru.

The concept of a green office covers everything from its design, using ecologically friendly materials, to its exploitation. Once up and running, a green office should produce minimum waste, use minimum energy and water, recycle its waste and use ecologically friendly cleaning products, as well as producing eco-friendly corporate gifts and other products such as corporate pens and notebooks. The overall aims are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve employees’ wellbeing and productivity, and – probably most tempting for employers – save resources and money.

Green offices may incur additional expense to create, but when operating, can result in savings of 30-50 percent in expenses, said Yulia Pronina, an expert from the Green Office Club, one of the conference’s organisers. A crucial element of improved business efficiency is the effect a green office can have on employees, she said: currently, 80 percent of offices in Russia have a negative effect on staff, via factors such as poor lighting and air quality, chemical or microbiological irritants, or noise and vibrations. Green offices create a high-quality microclimate that increases staff productivity, motivation and company loyalty, as well as boosting the company’s image, said Pronina.

Dmitry Kapko, director of Russia’s National Centre for Green Construction, agreed. “Any extra costs are more than paid for by healthier, more productive staff,” he said. 

But despite the benefits, Russian companies are generally far more reluctant than their foreign counterparts to spend a little more money initially on building green offices, Kapko told the conference. Currently, virtually all the demand for eco-friendly office space comes from foreign companies whose brand concept requires it, while Russian demand is almost non- existent.

Yury Khakhanov, project manager for utilities and construction within Skolkovo's energy cluster. Photo: Sk.ru.

And while making offices greener is an important goal in its own right – offices use 40 percent of the world’s primary energy, 67 percent of electricity and 40 percent of raw materials, according to Pronina – it’s not the end goal, but a key step on the way to creating a stable green economy.

“The green office is the tip of the iceberg,” said Pronina: first the office, then the building, then the city, then a robust green economy.

This was the thinking behind the Skolkovo innovation centre, which hosted the conference, said Yury Khakhanov, project manager for utilities and construction within Skolkovo’s energy cluster.

“The topic of green construction is one that’s very close to our hearts, as we're a large building site ourselves, and as soon as the idea of Skolkovo was conceived, green standards were set for its development,” he told the conference.

Corporate products such as pens don't have to be plastic. Photo: Sk.ru.

The innovation city’s very first building, the Hypercube, was built according to the most up-to-date green construction standards, as was the Matrex, the city’s latest building to open its doors, said Khakhanov.

“We are guided by these principles … and all our buildings will be built according to them. But Guy [Eames, co-founder of the Green Building Council Russia, another of the conference’s organisers] said we should not be limited to buildings and he's right: we should look at the whole city and management system.”

Skolkovo, where rubbish is sorted for recycling and alternative energy sources are already in use, is due to ban vehicles using internal combustion engines once construction work is complete, and is already home to electric vehicle charging points. Electric buses are among those carrying passengers to the innovation city from Moscow.

Skolkovo Foundation vice president and city manager Maxim Shefel was due to talk in more detail about Skolkovo’s use of green construction in a panel discussion later in the day, alongside Nick Bridge, the U.K. government’s Special Representative for Climate Change.

Many of the solutions developed by Skolkovo resident startups working in the field of green energy are implemented in practice in the fledgling city.

“We pay a great deal of attention to the introduction of our startups’ inventions to Skolkovo,” said Khakhanov.

“We try to use as many innovative solutions as possible: not just green, but smart tech too. A few years ago it was decided that all the residential buildings on the territory of Skolkovo should use smart home systems. We’ve done that, and what’s more we’ve done it using our residents’ systems from start to finish.”

Several Skolkovo startups took part in the Green Office. Green City conference: Fotoplast, which gave a talk on glass as a future technology and eco-trend of 2018; Tion, which presented its air purifying microclimate system; Legov, which presented its revolutionary approach to building low-rise accommodation; and Insolar, which presented its energy-efficient engineering systems via a concrete example.

In total, 90 percent of about 100 innovative projects working in the fields of construction and ultilities in Skolkovo’s energy cluster are devoted to green technologies, said Khakhanov.