When it comes to the design and operation of your office space, going green can actually green your bottom line. Consider the current findings: According to a 2008 study by the General Services Administration, commercial green buildings on average consume 26 percent less energy, can reduce overall operating cost by more than 10 percent and have a 27 percent higher occupant-satisfaction rate.
However, even with the recent evidence supporting the value of green design, it is estimated that only one out of nine new construction projects are designed with green building attributes. Perhaps the misconception that green design costs substantially more, along with limited knowledge and resistance to change, are to blame for the missed opportunity to save money, increase workspace efficiency and occupant well-being, and conserve our limited natural resources.
One of the greatest benefits of green design, although sometimes difficult to measure, relates to the overall health, happiness and satisfaction that building occupants report in green office spaces. As indicated in the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate 2009, occupants working in a green office space are found to be 30 percent more productive than in a conventional working environment. These benefits come in the form of lower absenteeism, fewer headaches at work, greater retail sales and easier reconfiguration of space, resulting in less downtime and lower costs. In addition, the contribution of a green office space has been estimated by sources such as the Annual Review of Energy and the Environment to save companies $17 billion to $48 billion in total health gains, and $20 billion to $160 billion in worker performance.
Connecting ROI to the bottom line
Now is the time to make the business case to go green. If the performance issues related to employee productivity aren’t enough to convince you, consider that building sale prices for energy-efficient structures, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), are as much as 10 percent higher per square foot than typical, high-energy consumption buildings. In addition, average occupancy rates of green projects are 3.5 percent higher.
Regarding the investment to build green, a study titled, “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California’s Sustainable Building Task Force,” determined that an upfront investment of just 2 percent in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20 percent of the total construction costs — more than 10 times the initial investment. As more building owners and occupants strive for this transparent green business case, the backing of these recent financial findings and case studies has made it more viable to gain confidence that your minimal upfront investment will be more than worthwhile. Obviously, no one-size-fits-all solution exists in the design and construction of green buildings, but a knowledgeable, integrated sustainable design team can make well-informed, project-specific ROI estimates. Building and designing green is certainly a smart option for those who plan to own a building for several years, as value-impact results derive from not only rent, but also lower operating expenses and lower capital rates.
The benefit of third-party certification
Understanding these benefits of green design to your business is a foundation for change. If you are planning an upcoming major renovation to your space or relocation, start by pursuing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for your project. LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system providing third-party verification that a project is designed and built utilizing strategies for improving performance across these metrics: energy efficiency, water conservation, carbon emissions reduction, improved indoor air quality and limited use of our precious natural resources.
Developed by the USGBC, LEED provides building owners and operators a comprehensive approach to identifying and implementing green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. Clearly the cost of going green varies by market and location, but as a generalization, initial costs associated with a basic LEED certification for your project hover just 0.6 percent above the total construction cost. Contracting the services of an educated and experienced team (designer, engineer and contractor) will best guide you successfully on this path.
A greener way to work
If you currently occupy an office space and have no intention of planning a major renovation or moving to a new building, opt for a variety of options to retrofit your space into a healthy, holistic, low-impact environment:
Include your staff, improve morale and ask for volunteers to create a Green Team to generate creative ideas, such as reducing consumption and waste in the office.
Flexible work schedules, including telecommuting, can save you time, reduce company overhead expenses and increase staff satisfaction. This can be easily achieved due to current technological advances such as instant messaging, video conferencing and other innovative workflow tools.
Change out standard incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient CFLs (compact fluorescents), and install electronic motion light sensors in an effort to conserve energy.
Consider purchasing or leasing more energy-efficient printers and copiers. Opt for models with double-sided printing capabilities. Select eco-friendly office products, such as those made from recycled paper.
The greenest paper is no paper at all. Explore options for a paperless environment by promoting electronic filing procedures and defaulting computers to low-energy settings.
Consider adjusting your current office layout for optimizing views to nature and gaining access to natural light. Not only could this improve staff morale, productivity and overall satisfaction, it also may reduce your energy bill with more emphasis on utilizing daylight.
Considering the importance of healthy indoor air quality means choosing green cleaning products and supplies. Conventional cleaners often contain chlorine, phenol, ammonia or formaldehyde, which are toxic. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, inside air is typically two to five times more polluted than the air outside, and in extreme cases 100 times more contaminated, largely due to common products and cleaners. Inquire with your building management or cleaning company about options for less toxic, more environmentally friendly options.
The results of a green office can be astounding. Greening your office demonstrates environmental responsibility with the added benefit of a positive financial impact, and most of all, it can be a place where your building occupants and employees work happy and healthy.