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May 2, 2002
Photo courtesy of LMN Architects
Bellevue Community College anecdotally reports significant improvements in student grades and attendance at its new LEED-certified R Building.
Astute members of the commercial building industry and sustainable design movement have recognized this powerful effect, and are forming teams to produce the next generation of “high-performance green buildings” — buildings which are green, sustainable and give occupants and owners a strong competitive advantage moving into the new century.
Many longtime proponents of green building have always felt sustainably designed buildings would result in productivity improvements, but this has been a tough sell due to the difficulty in objectively measuring productivity on a very limited number of projects.
Simpler to comprehend are easy-to-measure savings such as lower energy cost due to added insulation and double-glazed windows. New to the picture is a small but growing body of data proving productivity gains that were previously only theoretical.
As one might expect, among the first to embrace the idea of high-performance green buildings are high-value companies with steep knowledge worker costs. Examples include research-and-development operations, software companies and professional-services firms. Also taking note are schools and certain retail businesses.
Key to transforming the market place is case studies that prove high-performance green buildings improve occupant productivity significantly. Dozens of these studies are published by various organizations, including Seattle City Light, U.S. Green Building Council, Rocky Mountain Institute, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. Here a just a few examples:
From historical and case study data of green and high-performance buildings several rules of thumb have been developed to place the economics of high-performance green buildings in perspective.
So, what are higher-performance green buildings? As a minimum, most are U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)-certified, and possess some or all or following features: clean, fresh air; connection to nature; daylighting, views and vistas; interior design and artwork; human factors design to facilitate work process; personal control/customization of the workspace; wired for flexible low-cost, high-bandwidth digital services; comfort (thermal, olfactory, noise and vibration, and ergonomic); and creature comfort amenities (gyms, colorful break rooms, casual meeting nooks).
Business economics aside, green buildings are fundamentally easier on the environment and the occupants. Staff working in green buildings are healthier, happier, more productive and theoretically better off financially. This ultimate end-user driver alone is enough to transform the market over the midterm. In the long run, even greater returns are expected as businesses in green buildings enjoy increased employee longevity and health, and even greater customer loyalty.
Issues and trends
The single largest issue in the high-performance green building concept is demand development. Currently interest is largely from the high-end of the market and certain government sponsored programs, such as the city of Seattle’s groundbreaking Green Building program, which requires all city-funded projects over 5,000 square feet to be LEED silver-certified. It is hoped the market will accelerate as the body of knowledge grows based on the projects completed, under way or planned by industry leaders.
Over the last decade, green buildings have been pushed from the top down through various incentive, awareness and government demonstration programs. The projects emphasized reduction of building life-cycle cost, without any credit for positive impact on building occupants. Now that substantial improvements in staff productivity are being well documented, the interest in high-performance green buildings is expected to accelerate rapidly over the next five to 10 years.
Already progressive businesses are insisting on and paying premium rents for space in high-performance green buildings. In soft markets vacancy rates for these buildings run lower, and in strong markets they command significant lease rate premiums.
Cutting-edge organizations and companies are developing, designing and occupying high-performance green buildings. These developments are based in part on a growing base of knowledge demonstrating very high returns on investment due to staff productivity increases that far exceed savings in operation and management costs.