When it comes to banks, most of us imagine stultifying, cubicle-filled offices with pens chained down to desks.

And yet, many of Australia’s financial institutions are at the forefront of a workplace evolution.

Driven by a desire to control costs, improve staff productivity and engagement, boost customer service and meet corporate social responsibility obligations, banks are embracing spaces that foster creativity and collaboration, deliver savings through energy- and water-efficient design, and increase productivity through high levels of indoor environment quality.

While in the past, green buildings were seen as ethical and responsible, today sustainability is a smart business move.

ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, ME Bank and Macquarie Group all now operate from Green Star-rated buildings, and all have different motivations for doing so.

Green Star ratings can be a clear expression of a company’s commitment to minimising its environmental footprint – and can deliver substantial cost savings into the bargain. Green Star-rated buildings not only emit around half the greenhouse emissions of non-green buildings, but they consume half the electricity.

ANZ’s headquarters in Melbourne’s Docklands is an impressive example of a ‘world leadership’ sustainable building on a massive scale. At 82,000 square metres, this is the largest single-tenanted 6 Star Green Star-rated office fit-out in the country. Smart, sustainable interventions have helped ANZ save around $200,000 a year on energy costs alone.

A sustainable workplace can also be a powerful productivity tool. Commonwealth Bank Place – which was the first building in Australia to achieve four Green Star ratings for design, construction, interior fit-out and operational performance – is home to 6,500 staff and is considered one of the most successful examples of ‘activity-based working’ in the country.

According to the bank’s head of group property, Jennifer Saiz, the bank was committed to ensuring it had a “workplace that maximises our energy and water efficiency while creating a healthier working environment for our people.”

Commonwealth Bank Place

Inside Commonwealth Bank Place

The building generates 50 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than an average commercial office building and consumes 80 per cent less drinking water. This is equivalent to taking 680 cars off the road and saving 13 Olympic swimming pools of water each year.

“Commonwealth Bank Place is not only an environmentally-sustainable workplace. Our activity-based working design has also promoted collaboration and flexibility in how we work, which is delivering better outcomes for our customers,” Saiz said.

Macquarie Group was one of the first companies to seize the opportunities presented by a sustainable workplace, after moving to the 6 Star Green Star One Shelley Street in Sydney. Research by the University of Technology Sydney, which tracked 2,500 Macquarie Bank employees over 15 months as they moved into their new high-performance office, has found that the combination of activity-based working and world-class environmental attributes are escalating productivity to new heights.

In fact, one group of participants in the study showed an average of 15 per cent net increase in perceived productivity. As real estate represents around seven to eight per cent of general business costs, compared to wages which represent up to 90 per cent, a modest increase in productivity can make a large impact on a company’s bottom line. Macquarie Bank is now taking its commitment to its people to a new level, and is on track to achieve Australia’s first WELL rating for health and well-being.

Green Star is also a method of measurement to help organisations verify their environmental aspirations. NAB undertook Green Star ratings to guide the sustainable transformation of its property portfolio.

“We were seeking a holistic rating system that we could direct our project team to, so that there was no ambiguity around what we would be working together to achieve – leadership in environmental design. Green Star provided this for us,” says NAB’s senior manager environment & sustainability, Nicola Murphy.

NAB’s new office at 700 Bourke Street in Melbourne is a spectacular showcase for sustainability at work. More than 6,000 employees – including NAB’s CEO – work in an open plan environment that has been designed to encourage collaboration. Staff share 4,500 unallocated workspaces, as well as casual settings, dynamic meeting rooms and collaborative spaces called ‘huddles.’


NAB, 700 Bourke Street, Docklands

This denser working ratio has enabled NAB to reduce the size of its office – which in turn reduces operational costs, minimises construction materials, furniture and fittings, and lowers energy and water use. But NAB expects the savings on energy and water will be nothing compared to the productivity gains achieved in this new green landmark.

Up the road at 800 Bourke Street, NAB and building owner GPT Group recently achieved the first Green Star – Performance rating. Designed just before Green Star was launched, with construction completed when the rating system was in its infancy, 800-808 Bourke Street was unable to achieve a Green Star rating for design or construction. A 4 Star Green Star – Performance rating provides NAB with independent verification that the building ‘stacks up’ against newer offices built to Green Star benchmarks.

This new workplace revolution is as smart as it is sustainable. Cutting costs, securing long-term asset value, improving productivity, attracting the top talent and capitalising on the brand equity of a trusted rating system are why the bright banks are going green.