Green Sells

A tough economy forces companies to pay more attention to detail. Pressures to keep pace with growth, anticipate future business needs, recruit from a shrinking labour pool, and spend money wisely drive many companies to re-evaluate how they do business. To compete, they must be careful about how they manage the assets they have – including their people, their buildings, and their financial investments. Even companies that don’t give a hoot about the environment in the abstract will find that attention to all things green is now critical for the bottom line. Green mandates for corporations promote a wide range of values, greatly enhancing each company’s ability to recruit top talent; attract customers and clients; improve public relations; reduce operational and real estate costs; and ultimately increase productivity.

Yet to meet these formidable challenges, employers and employees must do more than drive hybrid cars and replace light bulbs. Employers need to rethink their expectations about how work happens, and employees need to rethink how they live and work. While many companies acknowledge this as a corporate priority, only a small number are incorporating sustainability as a basic core of their corporate philosophies.

This is to their own loss, since companies that address sustainability issues and integrate them into their ways of doing business perform markedly better than those that don’t, according to a growing number of surveys. A 2008 study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Doing Good: Business and the Sustainability Challenge, surveyed 1,254 senior business executives to learn how, if at all, stock performance correlated to corporate social responsibility performance. Among the many results, the survey showed that companies exhibiting the highest share-price growth from 2005-2007 were also the ones that paid more attention to sustainability issues. It seems self-evident that shareholders are more interested in companies that display a longer and more comprehensive view of their business, a view that by its nature includes social and environmental factors, and is also displayed in more areas than just a marketing brochure.

Greg Winkler puts it very well in the opening paragraph of chapter one of his new book, Green Facilities: Industrial and Commercial LEED Certification. “Green facilities are smart facilities. They are businesses that control their costs through focused attention on reduced energy consumption, enhanced equipment efficiency, consistent maintenance, and more flexible building and human resource management. In the sense that business environmental sustainability is largely measured in resource efficiency, businesses have been practicing sustainability for a long time under the name of cost reduction. A business that did not routinely look for ways to produce their products or services less expensively was destined to be overtaken by producers who operated more efficiently and sold their wares for less. This aspect of green practices is not new, though the tools available to today’s managers for assessing and implementing cost reduction measures are vastly greater than those of even a decade ago. What is new, is the beginning of a new era of looking at a wider range of sustainability factors-including facilities, human resources, equipment, and operations-in a comprehensive manner as part of an overall sustainability program.”

Environmental strategies and actions that have long-term impact are about achieving more than high-performing, sustainable buildings: they are about changing the way people live and think about the world. A green workplace in its truest sense is one that integrates place, human behaviour, technology, building operations, design, and business goals. It requires an understanding of green principles and of how people react to change. With Corus Quay, featured in this issue, Quadrangle Architects Limited of Toronto has created a building which brings life to a nascent neighbourhood, engaging both the public and the building’s occupants. It encourages employee wellness and enables literacy of resources, empowering staff to make decisions within a framework of knowledge. While green buildings can only partially solve today’s environmental problems, Corus Quay vividly illustrates that companies can change not only the buildings where work takes place, but also the rules about how people use buildings and even what “workplace” means.

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