The full story of green buildings is still being discovered. Up to now, green buildings have been described as a costly luxury. The emphasis to date has been on costs – the costs of green materials, costs of innovative design, costs of meeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, and so forth. All of these costs do add up, but these real costs are concretely offset by direct economic benefits.
The economic value of green buildings
Green buildings have a higher market value because they are in demand, thus commanding higher rents, and operate more cost-effectively.
Cape Brick is making major advances in the manufacturing of environmentally friendly masonry in the Western Cape. By manufacturing their products using recycled construction and demolition waste as a substitute for quarried sand and stone, they save huge amounts of energy that would otherwise be consumed in the transportation of demolition material to dumping sites and the mining of new material which would otherwise have to be transported to their factory. The end product is a brick of superior quality, excellent thermal insulation and no ‘green’ drawbacks. There is no downside in terms of quality or price which is so often the case when sourcing environmentally friendly alternatives.
Lower costs: Savings from lower operating and maintenance costs will repay the investment in making the building ‘green’ after a relatively short period of time, according to Gregory Kats.
Higher income: Green buildings bring in greater revenues too. They have 3.5% lower vacancy rates and 13% higher rents than standard buildings.
The economic value for companies working in green buildings
Companies are catching on that working in sustainable buildings is good for their employees and good for their bottom line. Deloitte Consulting conducted a survey of with companies that had implemented green retrofits. Here are the results:
- 100% reported increased employee goodwill;
- 93% reported a greater ability to attract talent;
- 87% saw improved workforce productivity;
- 81% saw greater employee retention; and,
- 75% saw improved employee health (thus fewer sick days).
The value of higher productivity: Every 1% increase in productivity (about 5 minutes per working day) translates to about $650 per employee per year, according to Kats. Thus, a medium-sized business with 1,000 employees could gain $600k-700k per year, while a large business with 5,000 employees could gain $3-3.5 million.
How higher productivity is achieved: Green buildings provide higher air quality, light quality, and greater thermal comfort. This improves people’s physiology as well as cognitive and social functioning. Thus, green buildings not only cut the costs related to “sick” buildings (e.g. illness, discomfort, stress, absenteeism, etc.), but they also grow the top line by increasing productivity. Lighting improvements alone can increase productivity by 3.2%, according to Carnegie Mellon University.
Just beginning to measure the full value of green buildings
The new focus on measuring the economic benefits of green buildings to companies and employees augments the existing business case of operational cost savings. Even as we strive to more accurately quantify increased worker productivity, there is enough evidence to suggest that green buildings add value for workers, companies, and the environment.