You don’t have to incur building ‘certification’ costs to make a positive environmental impact. Sustainable construction practices, along with business policy procedures, can keep more ‘green’ in your pocketbook, improve employee retention, attract customers, and ultimately enhance the reputation of your organization. Here are some ways to get the biggest bang for your sustainable buck.
Utility Cost Reduction
You can lower your water bills with drought-tolerant plants and drip irrigation. With a 90% efficiency rate, drip irrigation waters plants directly at the soil and roots, thus eliminating water-wasting hoses and sprinklers. If available, municipally reclaimed graywater can provide even further contributions toward water conservation.
Installing products with the EPA’s WaterSense label can help improve efficiency and reduce water costs. These products include drip-irrigation systems, irrigation controllers, and low-flow plumbing fixtures.
Additional online resources include the EPA WaterSense Water Budget Tool, and the EPA Portfolio Manager reporting tool to measure your company’s monthly water expenditure and help you identify leaks and other water consumption issues. A ‘WaterSense at Work’ guide to best management practices for commercial and institutional facilities is also on the EPA website.
Using the EPA Portfolio Manager reporting tool can help you measure your monthly energy use as well as identify potential inefficiencies. Installing ENERGY STAR certified products helps to improve efficiency and reduces energy costs. These products include appliances, lighting, electronics, HVAC systems, vending machines, building products, office, and commercial foodservice equipment. The most proactive way to reduce energy use is to design your building to earn the ‘Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR’ recognition. Pursuing ENERGY STAR certification is free, and one of the most trusted environmental emblems in the U.S.
Passive design strategies, where appropriate, can also offset energy requirements. Passive solar heating, ventilation, and cooling strategies, as well as daylight maximization, can help to improve overall building performance of commercial buildings. You can also decrease the amount of energy needed to cool your buildings by using hardscape concrete and roofing materials with high SRI values, which will help to reduce the heat island surrounding your building.
To see if additional energy tax credits, rebates, or other cost-saving opportunities are available within your area, search the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency website by zip code (https://www.dsireusa.org/).
Additional Low and No Cost Sustainability Measures
You can employ many other low and no cost sustainability measures to minimize your impact on the environment. When it’s time to update and expand, renovating existing buildings is an excellent choice as it reduces the natural resources and cost needed for development. When sourcing materials for development, make sure to request recycled and local materials. Additionally, utilizing building products with Health Product Declarations (HPD) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) provides a level of transparency into their contents, their relationship to health, and life-cycle impacts. Also, locations near public transit encourage less use of polluting automobiles.
Employee & Customer Benefits
A company’s demonstration of commitment to environmental, human, and economic sustainability can attract and retain employees. Recent surveys indicate that workers in green buildings are happier, healthier, and more productive. Sustainable features noted in these surveys included outdoor views, natural daylight, enhanced indoor air quality, occupant-controlled lighting and thermal comfort, and working for companies that shared their environmental values. Reduce employee absenteeism by promoting employee health and well-being with a wellness program that could include an in-house gym, bike racks, and healthy breakroom snack choices.
You can enhance indoor air quality by banning all smoking inside and within 25 feet of entrances, intakes, and windows; using environmentally friendly cleaning products and procedures; and targeted pest management with the least toxic substances.
Additionally, a growing research base shows an increase in customer satisfaction and sales associated with natural daylighting and biophilic design. Natural lighting not only improves the look of your products, it also boosts people’s Vitamin D levels and releases serotonin in the brain, thereby improving mood. Natural lighting also biologically balances circadian rhythm, regulating alertness.
The Bottom Line for Sustainable Practices
Sustainable practices enhance the public perception of an organization and help differentiate it from its competitors. With Gen X & Y customers in the marketplace, sustainability provides a competitive advantage and enhances a company’s reputation, thereby attracting and retaining those customers who tend to purchase from companies that share their environmental values.
To assist with marketing and PR, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) offers free online sustainability reporting tools to help organizations measure, understand, communicate and set goals for their economic, environmental, and social performance. This will help you create compelling messaging around your sustainability efforts and avoid greenwashing your brand, which consumers are wary of in today’s market.
Early risk assessment of your building and site for vulnerability to local shocks and stresses can help to protect occupants against significant injury, limit property damage, and minimize replacement costs. Focusing on resilience in your sustainable architecture designs will help mitigate days closed in the event of a natural disaster, making sure your building is operational again faster.
Though it’s not necessary to pursue a third-party building certification process to create a sustainable workplace, it’s important to document the necessary practices and policies to ensure that the measures are being executed correctly. If you’re clear about this in your marketing and PR messaging, your employees and customers know you stand behind your sustainability assertions. It’s important to remember that being sustainable is good for the environment, your customers and employees, and good for the bottom line.
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