Businesses have been “going green,” for quite some time now and most offices make efforts to recycle, turn off equipment, and do less printing. But for companies looking to make a greater commitment to the environment, and help everyone, including their employees, reduce their carbon footprint, choosing a sustainable building or development is a great option. Corporate CEOs and leadership can make a tremendous impact on the environment by simply making more informed choices about where to locate. There are lots of “green” options out there – but with a basic understanding, executives should be able to make a good start in their selection.
To start, it is useful to have some understanding of how buildings are rated in regards to environmental impact. In the U.S. LEEDs, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the primary 3rd-party certification system in the U.S., that rates buildings based on their environmental impact. LEED-certified buildings are resource efficient. They use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in major cities, the number of LEEDS certified buildings is growing exponentially. These buildings boast 34 percent lower CO2 emissions, consume 25 percent less energy and 11 percent less water, and have diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills. There are similar ranking systems around the world, for example the Green Building Council of Australia provides “green star” environmental ratings for buildings.
Other systems, including the Living Building Challenge have expanded the definition of what green spaces mean. For example, the Bullitt Center in Seattle is said to be the greenest commercial building in the world. Among its features are a solar array, creating 100% of the building’s energy, use of natural light to illuminate the interiors 90 % of the time, and a water harvesting system that supplies all non-drinking water needs, and reuses gray water for onsite gardens.
In addition to looking for the right building, with high environmental ratings and green design features, companies can include a number of other concepts in their office search.
1. Look for an Eco District: A rapidly growing trend among municipalities is to provide tax credits and other benefits to eco districts, which are urban developments that are designed to reduce negative and create positive environmental impacts. Eco-districts were developed in order to scale green initiatives beyond single buildings and can be mixed use developments.
2. Public transportation: Locating an office on public transit hubs, including bus routes, is key. By giving employees the option of utilizing public transportation, companies can help save their employees money while helping them go green. Some states even have designations, such as New Jersey’s Transit Village Initiative designed to bring businesses closer to transit lines, help municipalities reduce car dependence and improve air quality by increasing transit ridership and utilizing better design.
3. Alternative transportation – such as ferries or bikes: In addition to regular public transportation, alternatives including ferries and bikes create another option. For example, New York’s River Taxi was a great commuter alternative reducing the strain on trains and buses. Locating near bike routes and providing bike parking can also incentivize employees to bike instead of drive to work. For example, The Edge, a green building in Amsterdam includes generous bike and electric car parking as part of its design.
4. Certifications: Companies can check for certifications for offices and buildings under consideration. There are a number of organizations that provide framework for developers that want to commit to building sustainable. In the U.K., Bioregional Foundation’s One Planet Living Program helps to plan and manage sustainable developments around the globe including in the U.K., Australia and U.S. In the U.S. Organizations such as EcoDistricts certify communities that put the planet and people at the center of development. The EcoDistricts Protocol allows for performance targets that allow communities to measure their success.
5. Water use: Green buildings themselves can reduce water use, but much more can be done in the development phase. For example, using recycled water for gardens and landscaping, and collecting rain water in underground tanks can be part of the planned features.
6. Living Infrastructure: One idea to improve space for employees is the use of living infrastructure, such as the “green wall,” composed of 5000 plants in the interior of an office building in Australia. The green wall will serve to supply cleaner air to employees, thus increasing productivity, as well as contributing to cooling and reducing the use of electricity.
7. Public Spaces: Public spaces not only create attractive options for employees to step outside, but also include useful design elements. For example, the mixed-use Domino Sugar Refinery redevelopment in Williamsburg New York is being noted for slimmer buildings which allow light in the public spaces, including the waterfront promenade which also serves to protect the development from flooding.
Companies that want their workplaces to be consistent with their social responsibility ethos are finding that locating in a green building or development is one clear way to advance those ideas. Employees, customers, vendors and shareholders are all sure to be excited by an office building or business location that is going green in some of the innovative ways outlined above. Providing the option of a “green space” to work in, can be a recruiting and retention tool for companies, help them save money (on utilities, and car vouchers), and make employees healthier, and more productive. As demonstrated by the intense interest in showcase buildings such as The Bullitt, The Edge, and other similar developments, it is clear that if companies want to further their reputations in the environmental sphere, green locations are a great way to start.
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Written by: Angus Reed is Managing Director Acquisitions and Business Development – Lotus Equity Group.