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Senior leadership makes strategic decisions related to capital investments, and many increased their bottom line by embracing sustainability strategies in their physical plant. Acquiring a previously developed, underutilized site that leverages utilities, and other community assets already in place rather than embarking on a new construction project on a green-field site is a smart financial and environmental strategy as the cost, and carbon footprint of existing infrastructure is embedded in the site. Renovating a current facility to increase energy efficiency rather than downsizing staff to cut costs reduces utility expenses. Even the decision to increase the level of natural daylight in a workspace will decrease sick days taken, and increase employee productivity. Adopting these types of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) strategies requires thoughtful, long term planning, and senior leaders need to know the multi faceted nature of planning a LEED strategy for maximum return.

Employing a senior level point person or consultant who understands facilities, construction, and engineering management to act as a liaison with the AEC, (architecture, engineering, and construction) adds value to the team. This individual should also understand the building envelope and site constraints as well as the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification process. Fostering a cross-disciplinary workflow environment that avoids thought silos is necessary to properly manage the amount of data, and decisions involved. At this point, companies must make a very important decision; should the company pursue LEED Certification, or pursue a shorter process that is simply inspired by LEED objectives? This is a purely financial decision for some companies. Many companies arrive at this point in the process having already made the commitment as part of their corporate strategic plan to seek LEED certification, sustainability and corporate social responsibility as part of its overall marketing, branding, cultural and business objectives as a way to gain competitive advantage.

McGraw Hill Construction’s Dodge Analytics have compiled green building design performance data for nearly twenty years and have documented statistics on a number of benchmarks. It has found that 61 percent of corporate leaders believe sustainability leads to market differentiation and improved financial performance. Tenants are becoming increasingly sophisticated and seek Class A office spaces that are green, are located in green buildings and have green site amenities; lease-up rates for these green buildings typically range from average to 20 percent above average. Companies that commit to seeking LEED certification as part of their strategic plan have also reported that their ROI improved by 19.2 percent for completed, occupied green projects. Additionally LEED-certified buildings have been proven to use 25 percent less energy and enjoy a 19 percent reduction in aggregate operational costs in comparison to non-certified buildings. Operating costs in LEED new construction decreased by 13.6 percent and by 8.5 percent in LEED renovation projects. At the same time, building values increased 10.9 percent for new construction and 6.8 percent for renovations. Obviously the net gains for LEED renovations are less than those for LEED new construction because of the complexity of building systems and unforeseen circumstances inherent in renovating an existing structure. Projects may also enjoy a variety of tax benefits, tax credits, grants, and incentives available to green buildings depending on the state and municipality of the project.

Nearly all large companies now post their voluntary sustainability reports that outline strategic policy objectives and accomplishments on their websites for added transparency. Many of these companies also view LEED facilities as another way to further demonstrate the company’s commitment to a forward looking vision. Senior leadership recognizes stakeholders now demand that companies meet a new performance bar raised by sustainability, and the market will bear the cost. The U.S. Green Building Council suggests that the green building market grew to $260 billion globally in 2013 since its beginnings in the 1990s, and projects that commercial building owners and managers will invest an estimated $960 billion globally between now and 2023 in order to add green attributes to existing built infrastructure.

Cheryl Scandale-Murnin, LEED AP, is an adjunct faculty in the School of Business and Global Innovation at Marywood University. As a LEED AP, she is an Accredited Professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, demonstrating a high level of professional expertise in issues of sustainability. She served both as a former V.P. of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and member of the Small Business Advisory Board of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.