The Hidden Benefits of Green Office Buildings
By Joseph Tohill
Despite a lacklustre domestic economy, green office buildings represent a growing share of the US commercial real-estate sector. Just last September, LEED certified its 10,000th commercial building, marking a major milestone for the highly-esteemed green building rating system. Recently, a new report from CoStar Group revealed that as early as 2009, 50% of all new rentable building area (RBA) was LEED certified.
Why are green office buildings still performing so well? Wouldn’t their higher construction costs make them less desirable in today’s economy?
While it’s true that green office buildings are more expensive to build, they provide a number of benefits for companies seeking to attain a competitive advantage. Some of the benefits are obvious (such as energy savings), while others are less obvious but perhaps no less important.
The Bullitt Center in Seattle
The Bullitt Foundation designed its new center with one thing in mind: to construct an office building fully self-sufficient in terms of water and electricity with no negative impact on the environment. In short, the Bullitt Foundation wanted to build the greenest office building in the world.
To reduce the project’s carbon footprint, the Bullitt Center will be constructed with materials shipped within a 300 million radius. The wooden frame will only use timbre derived from certified sustainable forests.
But even more ambitious is the center’s ambitious energy and water infrastructure.
The building’s overstory will be adorned with a lattice of solar panels for electricity generation. In the summer, the building will provide surplus electricity to the grid to offset its electricity use in the winter. Rainwater will be collected and stored in a giant cistern beneath the building. It will be treated and then used in the building’s water fountains and washrooms. Finally, nearly all of the light will be provided from the sun, facilitated via high ceilings and tall windows.
Clearly the Bullitt Foundation has done its homework, and when the project is completed later this year, Bullitt will have a 6-story testament of its commitment to sustainability. Not only will the building provide huge energy-savings in the long-term, it will solidify the foundation’s reputation as a green leader.
The Hidden Benefits of Green Office Buildings
But despite all these long-term savings in energy usage, there is still one more benefit that is often neglected by companies on the fence about embracing green offices: higher worker productivity. I like to call this a “hidden” benefit because it’s less tangible than energy savings, but perhaps just as important.
State-of-the-art green office buildings like the Bullitt Center are positive work environments. They feature improved ventilation, better lighting, and highly modern technology. Because they use natural light (and provide great window views) workers are much happier on the job. This translates to more positive and productive workers.
In fact, a study carried out by the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate found that workers in green office buildings generally took less sick-leave and were happier on the job than workers in typical office environments.
And when you consider that employee wages represent a whopping 90 percent of money flow throw office buildings, these less tangible benefits should not be overlooked.
The Future of Green Office Buildings
Green office building developers are beginning to seek out new avenues to remain on the forefront of green technology. Most recently, office buildings are beginning to integrate EV charging stations to allow EV owners to juice up their vehicles while at work. With the emergence of the EV market, EV charging stations will provide a much needed amenity for office workers to charge up their EVs.
In the end, green office buildings will continue to pop-up in cityscapes across the country as companies increasingly embrace environmental objectives and energy savings. And as green building technology continues to improve, office workers could be seeing some remarkable improvements in the environments they work in.
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Joseph Tohill is a freelance writer and online communications specialist for organizations in the sustainability sector. He has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia and spent most of his academic career studying sustainable urban development; namely the interdisciplinary relationship between built form and natural environment.