The Benefits of Sustainable Buildings
Over the last few decades, citizens and public and private entities have teamed up to drastically mold the future of sustainable construction. By updating design and material requirements, green buildings, like those that are LEED certified, provide a global model for cities, communities, and neighborhoods to become more sustainable. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) maintains that a rapid and far-reaching sustainable transition in land, energy, buildings, transport, and cities is needed to meet global carbon reduction goals. Through sustainable design, construction, and operations, green buildings are reducing harmful effects on the communities and environments in which they are located.
Buildings account for almost 40 percent of US energy use and will play a major role in a sustainable transformation. The US Green Building Council states that the main motivators for green building in the US are client demands and healthier buildings, but the economic benefits can’t be overlooked, either. Operating cost savings, shorter payback periods and increased asset value in new green buildings and green retrofits have been consistently reported.
Detractors of sustainability claim that sustainable business practices eat into corporate profit. Yet, development of sustainable business practices lends itself to streamlined operations and resource consumption, which enhances employee productivity and reduces cost. The basic idea of sustainability inherently saves money, which improve profits. Below are a few other benefits of green buildings:
- LEED buildings have reported almost 20 percent lower maintenance costs than typical commercial buildings, and green building retrofits typically decrease operation costs by almost 10 percent in just one year. Making these energy efficiency and green energy upgrades may have a high upfront cost, but the long-term savings and incentive programs like rebates for energy efficiency significantly improve project paybacks.
- Depending on your location and line of business, your company may qualify for tax breaks if you lease space in a LEED-certified building. In some cases, LEED buildings are located in special economic growth zones that can mean paying little to nothing in state or local taxes.
- LEED buildings typically have recycling and composting programs that put waste to good use. This can dramatically reduce the costs of having waste removed and, if available, you may even receive rebates from recycled materials that are sold.
Health and Wellness
Not only are green buildings profitable, they also positively affect public health. We spend about 90% of our time indoors; therefore, it is important to have clean and healthy indoor environments. Improving indoor air quality can reduce absenteeism and work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression and stress, and resulted in self-reported improvements in productivity. USGBC’s own research reinforces that employees in LEED green buildings feel happier, healthier and more productive.
With their bright natural lighting, office spaces in LEED-certified buildings provide pleasant well-lit workspaces that can boost employee performance. One study found that workers performed 25 percent better on mental performance in recall tasks when located in a LEED-certified space. Additionally, the availability of natural lighting decreases the need for supplemental lighting from light fixtures, in turn decreasing the amount of electricity used in the building.
The top five highest energy-consuming commercial building categories are mercantile and service (such as shopping malls and car dealerships) using 15% of total energy consumption by commercial buildings, followed by offices with 14% of total consumption, then by schools (10%), healthcare (8%), and lodging (6%). All of these categories could benefit from having a green certified building and improving operational efficiency. It would significantly decrease the amount of energy used and the consequent greenhouse gases that would result from producing that energy.
- Green buildings help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, water, energy, and waste. The Department of Energy reviewed 22 LEED-certified buildings and saw CO2 emissions were 34 percent lower, they consumed 25 percent less energy and 11 percent less water, and diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills.
- Buildings account for 12 percent of total water consumed in the U.S. while the average person uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day. Water efficiency strategies in green buildings help reduce water use and promote rainwater capture, as well as the use of non-potable sources. Reducing the demand for water – especially in dry climates – helps the surrounding environment maintain the balance of the ecosystem and still meet the needs of human activity.
Communities welcome and promote LEED-certified buildings. They often have aesthetically pleasing interior and exterior designs, attract positive attention, and demand less of city infrastructure, which encourages cities to locate them in well known and high-profile areas. As a result, having your business housed in one can benefit your brand image and reach a new segment of customers. Plus, occupying environmentally friendly office space shows that your company prioritizes sustainability and a healthy environment for your employees, which can be a differentiator between your organization and the competition.
Studies have found that LEED-certified buildings can help companies attract talented employees and have higher worker satisfaction, decreasing employee turnover. This is especially true among Millennials who have been shown to place a high value on working for employers that are green minded. Happy employees in a good location can promote your business through positive word of mouth and garner interest from others in what your business has to offer.
The old truism that anything easy isn’t worthwhile applies to sustainability as well. It takes dedication, commitment, and follow-through from the C-suite to rank-and-file employees to implement successful sustainability strategies. The good news is that operating out of a green building is a great way to achieve those sustainability goals. Your costs decrease, employee morale and productivity improve, and your sales increase – it’s the ultimate win-win for the shareholders, the consumers, and the employees. People like to be associated with organizations that make a positive impact, especially younger generations coming into the workforce. A company respectful of the environment and of its employees will attract the caliber of people whom you want to employ and the funds your business needs to expand, ensuring sustainable success for the long run.