Filed under: Design + Architecture, Society + Media | Tags: green building, LEED, Packard Foundation, ROI
Is there a business case for sustainable buildings? Do “green” buildings cost more? That depends on how the answer is framed (knowing your audience). But if your goal is to obtain buy-in, the business/ROI angle can be clear and effective way to get your message across.
The USGBC calculates that most buildings have an average lifespan between 50 and 100 years. This bit of data is important because under current market standards, construction costs represent less than 1% of building costs over a 100-year operational model.
On the call I had mentioned the Packard Foundation as a great source of information related to the true cost of sustainability. They released a report in 2002 that looks at first costs and compares them to overall costs over a 30, 60 and 100 year period. The results showed that while there was a higher initial cost for sustainable buildings, one could expect small returns as quickly as in 30 years, with significant savings at the 60 and 100 year marks.
This is where the issue of framing and knowing your audience becomes important, because as one begins to craft a message the focus must be kept on long term savings. This message can be especially effective if your audience is business managers and building operators. Anecdotally, I have noticed that “executive-types” tend to be more concerned with capital costs and it is imperative to understand their threshold for long returns when creating a message that appeals to them. To that effect, the charts created by the Packard foundation are an excellent tool to help reframe the conversation on the issues that create a sustainable environment and help save the company money.
This conversation is also particularly interesting in light of the assigned readings. Yes, the USGBC acts as shield to protect building sustainability claims against greenwashing, but that is not the point I wanted to make. With all of the discussion and the documentaries and advertising about how green buildings make fiscal sense; triple bottom line studies like the Packard Foundation’s are not as widespread as you may expect. It is immensely easier to obtain “marketing-type” material about green buildings than it is to find data that is actually useful to make a business case. Ultimately my criticism is that although entities must speak in easy terms in order to connect they must also be able to back what they say with factual information and make this data easily accessible. This will become the basis on which audiences will become more educated and ultimately the best catalyst for change.
On a side note:
While I agree with the notion that even small things can help. Dunkin Donuts could go through the steps to streamline their coffee production and reduce the waste in their disposable cups. But buildings are a very large ticket item when it comes to the environment: They account for 72% of our electricity (which comes from coal), 38% of all CO2 and 30% of all waste. So, while that may not be part of the main “mission” for someone like DD (unlike coffee); it is a great place to try to generate change.
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