The focus on Sustainability in the built environment, particularly when discussing real estate, is trending as the most effective way to achieve sustainable business models. These green spaces help save money, increase productivity, and most often times improve the working environment.
By Al Woods
As a commercial real estate professional, I have watched the term “sustainability” evolve from a buzzword to a way of life for builders, developers and real estate professionals. It’s a sign that our thinking in all of these industries is focusing less on the here and now and more on the long-term. Workspaces must be suitable to the needs of the people who fill them, but they also must be environmentally friendly, ready for the future generations of professionals who will someday occupy the same desks and cubicles. Adopting this long-term vision for green building and development is not always easy, especially when many people are so consumed by their day-to-day responsibilities that they forget to think about the long-term health of their organizations, and, more generally, our planet’s environmental health.
That’s why I thought it would be helpful to outline the components of green buildings and how they are changing. These components can be used by builders, developers, real estate professionals and office professionals alike to help us create more sustainable office spaces, suitable for our needs and the needs of those who come after us. If we all are constantly thinking about how to make our spaces greener, we will reap the collective benefits of a healthier lifestyle and a healthier planet.
What are the components of green office buildings?
Many buildings already employ green construction strategies without knowing it by maximizing daylight, using low-emitting materials, incorporating EnergyStar office equipment, utilizing low-flow water fixtures, encouraging recycling and more. Additionally, solar power can be a useful way to generate electricity and reduce energy costs. Installing solar is often a long-term investment, but the costs continue to moderate, particularly for industrial buildings with large roof spaces. The more companies are educated about the options available to them and the paybacks they can receive, the more they are able to effectively utilize these techniques to influence more sustainable building.
There has also been a growing interest in net-zero and energy-positive buildings. In fact, the state of California has included net-zero energy as a 2030 goal for commercial buildings in its energy efficiency strategic plan, a trend that many other states are likely to emulate. The benefits that come with building efficiently are magnified in building net-zero buildings. They do not contribute to carbon emissions and more importantly, their energy costs are eliminated, which can translate to huge savings over the life of the building.
What are the benefits of green office buildings?
As the benefits of green building are better understood, there is a noticeable shift towards “going green” both inside and outside of the workplace. People are realizing that sustainability is more than just reducing energy usage. Profound changes are shaking up the way we do business, as well as how the workplace itself is organized. Studies by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability have shown that a ‘green’ workplace has a measurable effect on employee productivity. Cutting-edge technology firms are leading the effort, taking advantage of green building strategies such as increased daytime lighting, natural ventilation and occupant control to maximize employee satisfaction and output. These healthy workspaces also lead to improved recruiting and retention. Evidence from a Gallup study suggests that these high-density, collaborative work environments also increase creativity and employee engagement, leading to innovative ideas and contributing to the bottom line.
Green building is also advantageous in the event of disasters like Superstorm Sandy, which had a devastating impact on building structure. The design and operation of our buildings is vital to preemptively minimizing damage caused by extreme weather events. By distributing energy systems and utilizing smart building controls, including installing solar panels with a secure grid disconnect mechanism to use as an emergency back-up system, buildings are better prepared to withstand a catastrophe like Sandy and suffer only minimal damage while also continuing to be sustainable.
What’s next for green office buildings?
Green building rating systems are continuing to improve. LEED v4 includes a number of new credits and prerequisites that support new industry trends and capabilities. LEED v4’s materials and resources credits are likely to accelerate four current sustainable business trends by creating a global incentive for firms to meet these new requirements. The combination of improving technology and rating systems will allow green building practices to be increasingly influential, drawing less of our planet’s dwindling resources while inspiring people to do their best work and help to sustain life for future generations.
No matter the scale of a company’s resources, momentum in green building is strong. Companies around the world are beginning to realize that sustainability and green building are beneficial both economically and for the well-being of their employees. Whether a company prioritizes workplace organization and a ‘green’ workplace or prefers working in a net-zero building, this enlightenment is contributing to the green building revolution that we can certainly expect to continue in the years to come.
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