Building green gives a business long-term benefits

In recent years, there has been substantial growth in environmental awareness in a wide variety of industries. Green technology, green buildings and green products have entered the thoughts and vocabularies of professionals world-wide.

But what does it mean to be green? According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, green facilities “are designed to meet certain objectives such as protecting occupant health; improving employee productivity; using energy, water, and other resources more efficiently; and reducing the overall impact to the environment.” Being green is more than just a practice, however — it is a process, a culture and a belief system.

Long before the first Earth Day in 1970, people and businesses acknowledged the need to care for the environment. So what makes today’s green phenomenon different? Until recently, green practices were largely unrefined and primarily associated with technological, social and professional inadequacy. Tech-savvy factories were often the ones that pumped the most pollutants into the air, thriving corporations typically used the most energy to power their facilities, and leaders in key industries inevitably drained natural resources with little concern for the health of their workforce or their community.

Being big meant being bad — to the environment.

Today, the playing field has changed. The competitive arena for businesses small and large is mandated by their use – or misuse – of the environment. Corporate executives, small-business owners and employees alike compete to have the latest green technologies, facilities and products in their industry.

Being green has become one of the most highly sought-after competitive advantages in business, making it clear to see why so many businesses are coming down with a case of “green fever”.

Big savings

While the bigwigs in the green revolution concern themselves with the political benefits of going green, many medium to small companies must focus on another shade of green – cash.

Despite common misconceptions, going green presents opportunities for businesses to cut costs, work more efficiently and ultimately improve their bottom line results.

For example, energy costs, a large factor in any business’s budget, can be reduced through environmentally beneficial, low-energy consumption methods. According to a 2004 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, energy costs associated with a company’s physical plant represent nearly 40 percent of all energy use and 68 percent of total electricity consumption.

Green buildings can reduce these costs significantly. According to a study authored by Gregory H. Kats, director of financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, green buildings reduce energy consumption by 25 to 30 percent, on average. Businesses in the United States spend more than $107 billion annually on energy for their facilities, according to the Department of Energy. A 30 percent cut in this cost would represent $32 billion annually in bottom-line savings for businesses in every region and sector of the country.

But going green is about more than just reducing energy costs, it is also about maintaining a healthy workforce. Illnesses related to the work environment can be significantly improved by a number of commonly used green building methods, including increased ventilation, reduced air recirculation, improved filtration, ultraviolet disinfection of air, reduced office sharing and reduced occupant density.

According to a 2000 study by William J. Fisk of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, such improvements significantly lower the occurrence of four of the most common respiratory illnesses, which account for 176 million days of lost work at a cost of $70 billion a year.

Such improvements in building design also can create a 9 to 20 percent reduction in cases of the common cold, translating into 16 million to 37 million fewer cases annually. This annual reduction could save U.S. businesses as much as $14 billion each year.

Improved health also generally increases worker performance and productivity, which ultimately stimulates a company’s bottom line. Fisk estimates that companies could save a combined $160 billion a year by improving indoor air quality regulations and standards.

Resistance remains

In order to measure the value of green buildings, however, it also is necessary to consider the cost of building green as compared to traditional building practices.

While building green may come at a higher initial cost than traditional building methods, green investments are easily regained over time.

In “The Economics of Green Building,” author David Gottfried estimates that the initial construction of green buildings typically accounts for 2 percent of the total cost, with operations and maintenance accounting for 6 percent. Payroll costs represent 92 percent. When you consider the yearly savings that result from reducing lost work time and improving worker health that result from green businesses, the benefits of green building become even more obvious.

So why aren’t more companies going green? Many companies remain resistant to green building due to the initial increase in construction costs. Many businesses also labor under the misconception that catering to environmental needs comes at the expense of style, convenience and state-of-the-art design, when in actuality modern developments have made green building a competitive, construction and renovation option.

In the near future, with more and more key corporations reaping the benefits of choosing to go green, companies that resist the green movement will face staunch criticism and, ultimately, risk failure. Green building, through demonstrated return on investment, long-term energy savings and improved worker health and productivity, has become a benchmark in industrial and commercial building and promises to be an even greater necessity in the years to come.

Scott H. Lawson is president of The Scott Lawson Companies, Concord. He can be reached at 603-228-3610 or