It should be clear to all property development and facilities management professionals that sustainability is here to stay. It’s more than just a buzzword – green and sustainable projects are projected to comprise a larger portion of all new and renovation developments going forward. In fact, almost 40 percent of U.S. construction, contracting and architecture firms expect to have at least 60 percent of their projects certified as green by 2018, according to figures from Dodge Data and Analytics, against just 24 percent two years ago.
However, it might be time to stop thinking about sustainability in one-dimensional terms. It needs to become a theory of development and maintenance that encompasses multiple ideas. Environmental stewardship is important, to be sure – but a green building does no one good if it can’t function in an affordable, consistent manner. And even a profitable, low-carbon building will have problems if it’s unhealthy or unlivable for its occupants.
Sustainability and operational safety work together
Profiles in Sustainability: Business, Community, and Environment is a new report from the Campbell Institute, a division of the National Safety Council. The paper identifies common traits among a number of major multinational firms that have developed extensive and effective approaches to sustainable operations, including:
- A “triple bottom line” definition of sustainability that encompasses “people, planet and profit.”
- The use of internationally recognized standards.
- Strong metrics to determine the ROI of various campaigns.
- Setting goals that are ambitious but within the realm of possibility.
This all represents a pretty big ask of any facilities management program or new building developer, but the report finds real benefits for many industrial giants. Indiana-based engine and generator manufacturer Cummins realized broad gains through their sustainability and safety initiatives, including a reduction of 36 percent in greenhouse gas emissions and a 33 percent drop in energy intensity. Simultaneously, they realized a 15 percent improvement in their rate of ergonomic injuries and an 7 percent improvement of their total rate of major injuries.
At Toledo, Ohio, manufacturer Owens Corning, the Campbell Institute reported similar priorities that combined growth in sustainability and safety. Over the last 7 years, Owens Corning cut their toxic air emissions by 65 percent and their greenhouse gases by 34 percent. From 2006, the firm has had no fatalities among employees or contractors, and their total recordable injury rate comes in 84 percent under its industry’s average.
Green structures are more than just building materials
The popular conception of green buildings remains pretty basic – solar panels, airy lobbies and reclaimed wood feature prominently in the public imagination and on the covers of development brochures. In the long term, the products and materials, both durable and consumable, used inside a facility matter just as much.
In the long term, the products and materials used inside a facility matter just as much.
For instance, a particular measure that cropped up for several of the report’s subjects was the use or spread of volatile organic compounds (VOC) within manufacturing facilities. VOCs – which are common in a wide variety of solvents, cleaners, paints, waxes and varnishes – have been found by the Environmental Protection Agency to cause serious negative effects and symptoms, both on initial contact and, in some cases, through chronic exposure.
By reducing or eliminating the use of solvents, cleaners and other products that contain high levels of VOCs, manufacturers and facilities managers accomplish several goals simultaneously:
- They make their buildings safer for everyone who works in them day-in and day-out.
- The overall environmental footprint of the structure becomes greener and more sustainable.
- A healthier workforce tends to be happier, less prone to absenteeism and more motivated, ultimately saving on labor costs.
Moving into the future, it’s time for developers, facility managers and contractors to embrace a definition of sustainability that goes beyond one aspect and encompasses its full possibilities. The evidence continues to grow that a multi-faceted approach will benefit everyone, from a building’s occupants to its owners.