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Onto Greater Heights

Embracing the green building trend
  • Ingrid Ostby
November/December 2011

There are many potential routes on the journey toward creating a more energy efficient and envi ronmentally responsible organization. Some of the top publicly traded US businesses try for a ranking in Newsweek’s list of 100 greenest companies. Others look to partners whose purpose is to help profession als navigate and achieve sustainability goals. There also is an increasing trend in green, or high- performance, buildings. In addition to cost savings for owners and environmental returns, according  to the recent article by Larry G.  Wash entitled “How to Get the Most Out of Your High-Performance Building,” these structures “improve the efficiency and productivity of their occupants and help enterprises achieve their  primary missions.”

In other words, greening your facilities affects the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. According to Scott Tew, the executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand, the high-performance building  concept at his company incorporates elements of both the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Energy Star programs. However, Tew says, the concept substantially surpasses theenergy and environmental parameters that define  the two energy programs: It encompasses each  high-performance building attribute, including energy efficiency, durability, life cycle performance, and occupant productivity.

“It is distinguished by the idea that a high- performance building that is designed for purpose, well constructed, and well operated can be one of an organization’s most valuable assets, capable of mak ing a significant contribution to the effectiveness and efficiency of the people within.”

Tew’s colleague, Holly Emerson, LEED AP, is a senior analyst for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in the Climate Solutions Sector  at Ingersoll Rand. She, too, says there are immeasur able benefits to green buildings, including improved quality of the company itself and improved quality of life for the employees who work there. She adds that these actions are important for changing the way employees think about their jobs and life out side work. “We begin to put a sustainability lens on our everyday actions, and that makes a difference to the community and environment where we live and work,” she explains.

Ingersoll Rand, which placed in Newsweek’s second-annual green rankings last year, has a wealth of buildings with various LEED certifications. One of its regional office buildings in San Antonio, Texas, has been certified under the LEED Commercial Interior program; its Saint Paul, Minnesota, facility has been certified under the LEED for Existing Buildings program; and both its offices and its manufacturing facility in Taicang, China, are LEED certified. In addition, the company has several offices that are being prepared for LEED certifica tion. It’s not surprising that large, publicly traded companies such as Ingersoll Rand are leading the pack not only in business alone, but also in sustain ability initiatives.

In APICS magazine’s “Working Green” department from November/December 2008 titled “Building for the Future,” author Antonio Galvao, CSCP, discussed the local and statewide incentives his employer, JohnsonDiversey, was able to receive while building its LEED-compliant building. This isn’t uncommon. Many communities are willing to provide funding toward the construction and retrofitting of sustainable buildings.

Earlier this year, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) published a report about green build ings in relation to state legislature called “Advancing Green Building Policy in the States: 2011 Victories from Alabama to Wyoming.” The report discussed the hundreds of state bills the USGBC has kept track of this year—including passed and not-passed legislation.  The statistics showed significant and measurable advancement in green building and the perks for those who undertake it.

Especially with LEED-certified build ings, there are an increasing amount of incentives from local, state, and federal governments and school districts—in addition to tax incentives. But even without the big-name certification,owners of buildings that are retrofitted or built with green standardized mea sures are able to submit building data to their local government for possible tax credits, tax breaks, reduced fees, and reduced-interest loans.

“The incremental cost of building a fully functioning, high-performance school or office building is relatively small … In many cases, there may be no construction cost premium at all,” Tew says. “Life cycle energy and operational efficiencies yield savings of between 20 percent and 50 percent per year, compared with conventional buildings. These savings enable organizations to reduce their energy, operating, and maintenance budgets and redeploy increasingly scarce financial resources to other priorities that directly benefit their stakeholders.”

Because of these and other possible cost-cutting opportunities, it is becom ing increasingly apparent that having greener buildings just makes business sense. Wash’s article for—an online journal and resource for sustainable businesses—discusses the topic of green-compliant buildings and their consequential company-wide effects. “The business improve ment potential of high-performance buildings is well documented. A 2009 Michigan State University study found that workgroups moving into [LEED]-certified offices boosted their productivity,” Wash wrote. He also explained that high-performance build ings can help organizations improve their reputations and grow and retain their customer, employee, and inves tor bases. Also mentioned is a CoStar Group study, which revealed commer cial facilities with LEED or Energy Star certification enable higher rents and are sold at higher prices. So even if you move out of your sustainable facility, you still may see profit from it.

In Galvao’s article, he spoke of the overall benefits of LEED certifica tion and other building benchmarks. “Developing and maintaining a build ing according to LEED standards is not simply about environmental steward ship; nor is it solely about improving the bottom line or providing a safe and healthy work environment,” he wrote. “Sustainable structures encompass all of the above.”

So, the benefits are clear—but how to achieve them? Following is a break down of the top building certifications worldwide. While the most prominent green building certification programs are vast and complex, generally theyeach have the same amount of rating systems from which to choose—and the systems are similar enough that under standing the process of one will help provide an understanding of the rest.

LEED consists of a third-party  certification program with nine  different rating systems depending  on the type of building project. Most applicable to manufacturing, retail, health care, and other commercial industries are the new construction, existing buildings, commercial inte riors, retail, and health care rating systems. Each provides a project checklist so those seeking certification can log their process while building or retrofitting their facilities. For example, the existing buildings rating system includes the following checklist catego ries: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation in operations, and regional priority credits.

In order to successfully orchestrate construction of or compliance with these checklists, a project must incor porate a design process, preferably with LEED certification in mind and sustainable building strategies in place from the get-go. The most important aspect, however, is the LEED review process—orchestrated by the Green Building Certification Institute—when reviewers with LEED credentials survey the building project.

Then, after the project’s completion,  a team of professional reviewers, including architects, engineers, and  a host of people who are well versed  in fine-tuning buildings, review and score the submitted checklists, theorganization’s project strategies, and documentation of compliance. If all standards are met, this results in certi fication. If not, the company reassesses the project coordinates to better meet certification criteria.

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), which was developed  in the United Kingdom, uses a similar model of assessment in rating green buildings and more frequently is usedoutside of the United States. In deter mining whether to achieve LEED  or BREEAM—as the processes for  both are similar enough that it may  be redundant to attempt compliance with both—considerations might include what the standard certification system is in your company’s country of origin or which certification execu tives prefer to represent them and their buildings worldwide.

Australia has its own green rating system called Green Star, which also employs a complex assessment program in determining building certification. The emphasis is on whole-building design, environmental leadership,  and promoting the cause of green building construction.

Because completion of any of the systems is so involved, there are many resources devoted to comprehension of the certification systems around the world and how to obtain them. LEED especially has a wealth of sites devotedto its set of certifications, as it is the most globally recognized green build ing credential.

The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) is a membership-based professional organization located in the United Kingdom that promotes sustainable development and worldwide best  practices for environmental manage ment. IEMA provides support, audits, and assessments across industries in order to aid in the development of envi ronmentally conscious performance. Membership helps practitioners keep up-to-date on environmental legislation and publishes materials and resources for those looking to become greener. The website’s Reading Room and practitioner-authored reports provide expertise on topics such as sustainabil ity labeling in building standards, legal opinions on building sustainability,  and guides for reducing emissions in office buildings.

Businesses such as Jones Lang LaSalle, a global commercial real estate service, help organizations across vari ous industries create company-wide sustainability strategies in order to improve the bottom line. Jones Lang LaSalle consists of IEMA members and professionals accredited in LEED, BREEAM, and Green Star, who assist clients with the development and implementation of sustainable building. The company’s most notable project is its retrofit of the Empire State Building in Manhattan.

There also is Johnson Controls Global Workplace Systems, whose objective is to help larger companies that have multiple operational facilities improve the environment for both employees and customers. Johnson Controls, like Jones Lang LaSalle,  puts together a real estate strategy  for companies so they can create more sustainable, higher-performing, and more efficient buildings.

Of course, these programs involve considerable investment and—while many organizations that use these services see an improved bottom line—there are less expensive options. For example, the aforementioned devotes numerous articles to building and energy effi ciency and is up-to-date on compliance maintenance and issues.

Similarly, the website for the Sustainable Sites Initiative contains many resources—its mission being to develop national guidelines and perfor mance benchmarks for best practices in sustainable design, construction, andmaintenance. Once a building falls in line with green building information and documentation on these websites, the next step is to measure the facility standards against those provided by LEED, BREEAM, and the like and takenecessary steps to become certified,  if desired.

According to Tew, a building’s lifespan can be anywhere from 50 to 75 years or longer. Thus, choosing the best strategy for your company’s facilities significantly contributes to achieving best-in-class building—and,consequently, company—performance. “Improved efficiency reduces life cycle costs so an organization can invest in other priorities,” Tew says. “Ultimately, a high-performance building becomes a strategic asset that helps an organiza tion achieve its primary mission and pays for itself many times during its occupied life.”

Ingrid Ostby is a freelance writer and copy editor, as well as a former APICS magazine editor, based in New York, New York. She may be contacted at


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