Building green delivers more than resource efficiency. It’s an unstoppable force that’s changing the way we do business. For the better.
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Winston Churchill’s words are a powerful reminder that our buildings have an extraordinary economic, social and environmental impact on the way we live. The first wave of the green-building movement arose as a response to demand for energy and resource efficiency. Green buildings routinely consume one third of the energy and water of non-green buildings and tread far more lightly on the environment.
As the green building movement has matured, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of the value of green buildings, and the emphasis has shifted from “planet” to “people and profit”. Consequently, the conversation is now geared around how green buildings deliver on social priorities, such as employment, productivity and health, and on economic priorities, such as return on investment and risk mitigation. Today, green building is increasingly seen as a business opportunity, with client and market demand and brand recognition being the dominant forces.
Around the world, green building has become an unstoppable force. The latest World Green Building Trends report, published in 2013 by the World Green Building Council, in conjunction with McGraw-Hill Construction, found that green building is accelerating around the world as it is recognised as a long-term business opportunity. Of the professional-services firms surveyed in more than 60 countries, just over half anticipate that more than 60 percent of their work will be of the green variety by 2015. This is up from one quarter of work in 2012. Even more astounding, green building’s global market share was just two percent in 2005.
When energy expenses account for just three percent of a company’s budget, a 50-percent savings doesn’t make those sitting at the boardroom table take notice. However, when salary costs amount to around 80 percent of operating costs, finding ways to improve staff productivity, health and wellbeing, as well as reduce sick leave and turnover, gets the board’s attention. The WorldGBC’s Business Case Report (2013) found offices that incorporate green building features—such as fresh air, natural light, views of the outdoors and materials low in toxins—are healthier and more productive places to work. A productivity increase of up to 11 percent, for instance, can be achieved simply through improved ventilation. An 18-percent increase is possible through access to daylight and operable windows, and a massive 23-percent improvement in productivity can be realised through good lighting.
In school environments, green-building design has been found to enhance student performance, decrease student and teacher sick days, as well as reduce teacher turnover. One study of green schools in the United States found students progressed 26 percent faster in reading and 20 percent faster in math when compared with their counterparts in non-green schools. Research indicates that green schools also lead to healthier, happier teachers who take fewer sick days. Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits (2006) estimated that teacher retention in green schools translates into a financial savings of about US$4 per square foot over a 20-year period.
And in healthcare settings, sunlight and views of nature can reduce the average length of stay by 8.5 percent, hasten recovery speeds by 15 percent and reduce the need for pain medication by up to 22 percent. The story is similar for our homes. A range of studies have underscored the connection between homes and health. Asthma sufferers have reported enjoying 63 percent more symptom-free days after green retrofits improved indoor environment quality. In developing nations, low-cost green retrofits have reduced the frequency of respiratory illnesses by 76 percent. When we consider 235 million people around the world currently suffer from asthma, green buildings have the potential to improve the health and well-being of millions of people. Green-building analyst Greg Kats has estimated that up to 70 percent of a building’s whole-of-life value comes from improved productivity and health benefits. Our challenge is to shift the green-building conversation away from the technical towards why investing in better indoor environments can lead to better returns on our greatest asset—our people.
The first step is to establish a common way of measuring the previously unmeasurable. The WorldGBC has embarked on an ambitious new project to do just that, aiming to provide best-practice guidance on the type of green-building features that will enhance productivity and performance. This report, which we hope to release later in 2014, will help industry, organisations and governments make better investment decisions about their buildings. As sustainability becomes a “mission critical” issue for businesses, nations and indeed the planet, we must begin to operate with a new set of values. We need to recognise that, as the world shrinks, we are increasingly interconnected. Businesses cannot operate in isolation but must think about the long-term impacts of their decisions, which will affect people, communities and the environment. Leading organisations such as Shaw Contract Group are thinking about the legacies they’ll leave future generations—and it is these leading companies that will lay the foundation for a new set of values to transform our buildings, communities and cities.
Recognising measurable actions
We are proud to partner with Shaw Contract Group to present the inaugural Asia Pacific Regional Network Leadership Awards in Green Building. The awards will honor outstanding organisations for their commitment to sustainability and will celebrate innovative green-building projects that are reducing carbon emissions and other environmental impacts, cutting costs and driving higher levels of health and productivity for building occupants.
The announcement of the awards in September will coincide with the anniversary of Shaw’s grand opening of the first manufacturing facility in the Asia Pacific to produce globally-consistent, cradle-to-cradle certified carpet tile. We look forward to collaborating with Shaw in applauding the leaders, innovators and champions of sustainability and green building—and in building a greener future for us all.
~ By Jane Henley, Chief Executive Officer, World Green Building Council