Greater green benefits

Potential energy savings just a slice of what better building can deliver

Guest column by Tiffany Wilmot

When I ask my clients why they decided to build a high-performance, energy-efficient building, the normal answer is, “We want to save money and energy.”So imagine my surprise when Scott Strzinek, the Advisory Board Company’s manager of real estate and facilities, said that since the company is leasing its new Nashville offices — and thus will not receive a dime from energy efficiency because the building’s owner pays the utility bills — the reason his team decided to build a green building was that they want their employees to be more happy and productive.

Health and performance gains affect ABC’s bottom line much more than energy savings ever could. “You need a thoughtful and high-quality building design in order to attract the high-quality people who can deliver a great product for your company,” Strzinek says. “This is simply what progressive, forward-thinking companies do.”

The points mechanisms used by green building rating systems such as Green Globes, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or BREEAM have more of an impact on the human element than most people realize. Owners and architects are beginning to recognize that certified buildings yield much more than cost savings on energy, water and waste. They yield a healthier workplace.

Studies have shown that the average employee in a healthy building is between 4 and 16 percent more productive with fewer sick days and loss of work due to asthma, headaches and hospitalization. It makes sense that when there are fewer toxins in the paint, carpet, adhesives and other finishes in accordance with LEED protocols, the air quality is better and they can avoid these ailments.

Pursuing LEED or another third-party verification system is the only practical way to ensure a high-performance building. Without third-party verification required by LEED, facilities like ABC’s new office might claim to be green without actually meeting the proper standards. Green building is growing in popularity and accounted for 44 percent of all commercial and institutional construction in the United States in 2012. That share is expected to grow to 55 percent by 2016, according to a 2013 USGBC report.

ABC’s architect, Smith Group JJR, has embraced this trend and designs spaces with an intense focus on natural light, non-toxic finishes and space planning for maximum employee satisfaction. Employees’ most common response, says Strzinek, is, “We absolutely love the daylight.”

“The intentional design, the deliberately-managed construction techniques and the improved working environment have all positively impacted our customers, our current employees, and prospective employees,” Strzinek says.

Calculating the payback on heating and air, low-flow water fixtures, solar panels and other green solutions is easy for any building. After an energy audit, we find that most clients get a similar figure. They can save about 20 percent of their water, waste and energy costs. That may sound like a lot, but building green can do so much more. Following ABC’s example, you could potentially save 100 times that amount.

According to studies conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, a typical office building in North America spends 100 to 200 times more on staff than on energy. So let’s say reducing your energy use by 1 percent would save you $1. Saving 1 percent on labor would save you $100. This is where the greater benefits of green building can be found.

Wilmot is president of Nashville-based sustainability consulting firm Wilmot Inc.