A healthy impact.
REAPING THE REWARDS OF GREEN DESIGN.
Green design is gaining momentum in the marketplace — and not only because it sends a warm, eco-friendly vibe. “Going green” isn’t just good for the environment; it also can have a positive impact on everything from employee well-being to benefiting the bottom line.
“There’s no denying that green design is hot right now,” says Margaret Thomas, an assistant professor of interior design at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.
There has been a resurgence in environmental consciousness in general, whether it’s the popularity of hybrid cars, the growth in organic foods or the buzz about former Vice President Al Gore’s 2007 Oscar®-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which details the effects of global warming.
So it’s no surprise that sustainable issues are turning up in almost every design assignment and request for proposal. It shows that “most clients believe in the general philosophy of sustainable design,” Thomas says.
Interest also is accelerating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a voluntary standard for developing environmentally sound buildings. A LEED-certified building can assist in attracting tenants, marketing a company to potential customers and, in some states, qualifying for tax incentives.
In the last few years, the number of green interior design projects seeking LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors) certification has more than doubled from approximately 100 in 2004, LEED-CI’s first year, to 238 in 2006. LEED was created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and awards points for environmentally responsible practices, such as the use of recycled materials or an energy efficient design. LEED has separate rating systems for new construction; existing buildings; core and shell; and CI.
SENDING A GREEN MESSAGE.
Linda Sorrento, LEED-AP (Accredited Professional), director for LEED-CI at the USGBC describes LEED as a way for companies to “walk the talk — and to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.”
For Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc. (WSSI), a water and natural resources consulting firm, its new green headquarters building in Virginia was a way to demonstrate its commitment to ecologically responsible developments.
The company also preferred green design because of the impact it can have on employee well-being, says Thomas, who worked as an associate at Virginia-based architecture and design firm Bartzen + Ball during the project. The WSSI interior includes 62 individually controlled thermal zones and an open floor plan that allows more than 80 percent of employees to receive daylight.
Tracy Backus, LEED-AP, national architecture and design program manager for Teknion, says green design choices that “connect people to the outdoors,” such as keeping workstations low and providing exposure to daylight, have been shown to increase employee productivity, while good indoor air quality can reduce employee absenteeism due to allergies and illness.
Creating a high-quality indoor environment was paramount to Genzyme Corporation when the biotechnology company built its Cambridge, Mass., headquarters. The green approach has paid off. After one year in the LEED-certified building, 58 percent of employees say they are more productive than they were in the previous headquarters.
Marymount University’s Thomas hears similar stories. “My client at WSSI has talked about improved morale and satisfaction,” she says, adding that the new space also has contributed to employees’ pride in the workplace and overall company loyalty.
Creating healthy work environments also pays off in employee retention and recruitment, and demonstrates an employer’s commitment to its employees, says USGBC’s Sorrento.
A GREEN INVESTMENT.
Despite the benefits of green design, some companies hesitate because of the perceived higher costs. “People really think it costs more to design with green products and toward sustainability. There are statistics that prove that is not always true. Teknion has monitored some of its own facilities to illustrate that,” Backus says.
One of the keys to controlling costs is to introduce and agree upon the goal of sustainability early in the design process, Thomas says. Deciding to change a project’s direction, and adopt sustainable practices and products when the project is already under way, can increase costs.
In some instances, implementing green practices and purchasing green products can be more expensive upfront. But experts agree that as the industry transforms and green design becomes the norm, these costs will decline.
The initial investment in new green buildings also is countered by long-term savings. Green construction can save 20 percent to 50 percent in operating costs, says Paul von Paumgartten, director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs for Johnson Controls, a global market leader in automotive systems and facility management and control, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis. Retrofitting an existing building using sustainable principles can shave between 50 cents and one dollar per square foot annually in operating costs, he says.
According to USGBC, one California study found that green building improvements pay for themselves within three years, with an annual return on investment of 25 percent to 40 percent. Average savings were substantial: 30 percent increase in energy savings, 30 percent to 50 percent decrease in water consumption and 50 percent to 97 percent savings in waste costs.
These findings are in line with savings Genzyme is enjoying with its new building. While the headquarters did cost more to construct than a standard office building, its energy costs are estimated to be 42 percent less than those of a comparable conventional building, and its water usage is estimated to be 34 percent less.
Don’t expect sustainable design to lose momentum any time soon. As the market better understands this approach, it may become the norm. “USGBC is leading the industry to transform the building and its impact. We’re just at the beginning, and it’s a mad rush,” USGBC’s Sorrento says. “It’s incredible.”