Sept. 3 2008 10:17 AM

Confirmations from reliable sources such as the United Nations report that global warming is due to human activity and not to the natural cyclical process as it has occurred in the past, bringing forth the urgency to move into action. During the G-8  Nations Conference in July 2008, all of the countries involved agreed upon cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. During the conference, Regine Günther, Director of the WWF Climate Change Programme in Germany, said, "Time is running out. We have 10 to 15 years left in which the global emissions have to peak and decline. The world is at a crossroads where decisive action now could translate into
economic success."


In this country alone, our buildings are responsible for 48% of the energy consumption. There is an ongoing preoccupation with the issue of sustainability combined with a sense of complacency. How do we move into  action and out of resignation or cynicism? This concern is shared by many, and the  question posed is how to do something without having to spend much more for a green alternative. How do we implement sustainable practices that will allow for a return on investment (ROI) and use it as an opportunity for business as affirmed by Ms. Günther?


The Journal of Property Management stated in an article from March/April 2004 that "investments in green buildings pay for themselves 10 times over." The study was performed on 100 green buildings, and it was found that the financial benefits of green design are between $50 and $70 per square foot in a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building, more than 10 times the additional cost associated with building green. In some states, utility
companies provide rebate money to offset initial investment costs, making it easier to implement green alternatives.


Turner Construction Company announced a few years ago the findings of its survey of 719 building owners, developers, architects, engineers and consultants on green building issues. The significance of the research was that when asked to compare a list of benefits generated by green buildings with those generated by non-green buildings, a significant percentage of executives said that green buildings outperform non-green buildings in the following categories:


  • Greater health and well-being of occupants (86%)

  • Higher building value (79%)

  • Higher worker productivity (76%)

  • Higher return on investment (63%)

  • Higher asking rents (62%)

  • Higher occupancy rates (52%)

  • Higher retail sales (40%)


    Some studies have been made confirming that implementing efficient alternatives will reduce energy and consumption and can realistically bring a positive outcome in your bottom line. For example, the new building for Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, California, has invested approximately $1.4 million for energy and environmental retrofits These retrofits have resulted in approximately $1.2 million in annual savings and $380,000 in rebates, for a total ROI of approximately 121%, according to a study distributed by the company.


    Larry Laque, an executive for Discovery  Communications, Inc. (Discovery Channel), in the process of renovating one of its buildings, pointed to several changes the company had made. Green-handled, low-flush toilets were installed in every restroom. Three 400-gallon tanks in the garage store rainwater to irrigate the company's lawn. Additionally, numerous unnecessary light bulbs, such as vending machine lights, had been removed. "I do believe it is a lot of little things that add up," Laque states. "We are a big part of the problem, but we are also a big part of the solution."


    Sometimes simple and ingenuous solutions can generate great benefits. A large facility in California is using far less electricity since a daytime janitorial schedule was implemented in 2002. Techniques such as shutting off staff lighting at 6:00 PM has reduced electricity consumption by 8% a utility savings of $100,000 annually.


    Solutions in the realm of global warming are being researched across the board in most of the industries. In an article posted by Barry Sanel from Barry Sanel Packaging Advisors, about the Packaging Summit in Chicago in May 2008, sustainability was present in nearly each and every booth. Sanel writes about a device made by Recycletech that grinds up and melts down styrofoam waste. For example, the Outlook Group presented a label printer with pressure sensitive labels that are supplied on an ultra thin "microliner." This liner claims to be 100% recyclable and allows the label roll to hold up to 30% more labels. Since the label liner is wasted 100% after application, this is a good way to minimize this waste stream, Sanel says. He proceeds, "Something that I really never considered was having a company build a leased packaging plant right next door to your factory. What's sustainable about that? Well, zero trucking for one, and less factory waste. Also, you could design this new factory to be energy efficient from the beginning and help the local economy to boot. Aldelano Packaging Corporation can do just that."


    So, even if we can't do anything about our work environment, we might be able to contribute to our personal ROI. Tim Ferris, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek gives us two very simple choices:


    1) Save $250 per year simply with smart landscaping. Strategically planting trees and shrubs to shade your home can lower surrounding air temperatures during warm summer months by up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit and can reduce wall and roof temperatures by 200 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing energy costs for cooling and home carbon emissions by 3,952 pounds per year.


    2) Save $798 a year when you perform regular maintenance on your car to keep it running efficiently. Properly inflated tires, for example, can keep 5,800 pounds of carbon from entering the air each year. 


    Maybe we have a misperception about the initial costs of green buildings. Perhaps what is necessary is creativity and ingenuity to address the problems we have ahead of us. Most of us are not experienced in this area and, because of that, we tend to discard the uncertainty of the unknown by the security of what we already know. My experience is that many executives and managers believe that upfront costs are higher when working with green buildings and that ROI is  farther into the future, and energy and natural resource savings are lower. As the Turner Construction Company study previously mentioned discovered, many underestimate the human reactions and the benefits to this project productivity enhancements, higher occupancy rates and asking rents and increased return on your investment.


    Vera Angelico, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a licensed architect in New York and Michigan who specializes in mail center design. LEED Accredited Professionals have demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building practices and principles and familiarity with LEED requirements, resources, and processes. Vera can be reached at 212-867-5849 or

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