Much like seat belts in cars, sustainability is now widely recognized as an ‘absolute must-have’
Over the past decade, Andrew McAllan has witnessed an increasing number of businesses paying attention to sustainability. One reason is that reducing their environmental footprint is part of their corporate social responsibility commitments, he believes. But an equally powerful driver is the competition to attract and retain top talent. “We’ve noticed that employees, particularly those under 35, understand the impact of their actions on the environment and want to do what’s right for the planet,” says the senior vice-president at Oxford Properties Group.
A survey confirms that millennials consider sustainability so important that they make employment decisions based on the environmental performance of their workplace, says Mr. McAllan. “They look at everything from the commute to the amount of natural light, the ability to control heating and air conditioning, recycling programs, the full gambit.”
Better understanding their employees’ expectations can help organizations choose or design work environments that meet – or exceed – those needs. Mr. McAllan says his company realized early on that it could help employers create “the workplaces of the future.”
Today, Oxford Properties would not consider undertaking any office building project of scale that doesn’t meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, says Mr. McAllan, because customers and tenants expect it, and in turn, their employees require it.
It’s the new norm, he believes, similar to wearing a seat belt. “Fifty years ago, cars were sold without seat belts, which seems incredulous, since now we have not only seat belts but also airbags, active braking systems, etc.,” explains Mr. McAllan, who is also the chair of the board for the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). “Today, sustainability is widely recognized as an absolute must-have.”
Thomas Mueller, CaGBC president and CEO, agrees. While the initial support for the green building sector mainly came from innovators and early adopters, there is now buy-in from what he calls the “early majority or a larger segment of the industry.“
This is a segment of the industry where leaders and decision-makers want to understand both the risks and rewards before they take action,” he explains – and the industry’s track record can serve as an encouragement.
“There are proven economic benefits that go beyond energy savings,” says Mr. Mueller. On average, energy, water, waste disposal, and operation and maintenance savings in LEED-certified buildings add up to net savings of approximately $294.31 per square metre over the estimated 33-year economic life of a building. This adds up to hundreds of millions of dollar savings per year.
“It’s evident that sustainability is good for business,” says Mr. Mueller, adding that companies that embrace the concept see tremendous opportunities, whether they own or manage green properties, locate their businesses in sustainable buildings, or work in construction, design or technology innovation in the space.
According to Mr. McAllan, the benefits include “changed relationships between building owners and occupants,” he says. “We see lots of engagement with green teams and people volunteering to undertake everything from tree planting and litter pick-up, to learning about recycling programs.”
Mr. Mueller adds that apart from the satisfaction that comes from “doing the right thing for the environment,” there are tangible health benefits associated with sustainable buildings that include better cognitive function of their occupants and, if they are places of work, reduced absenteeism and a feeling of enhanced well-being during and after work.
Health and well-being rank high on Canadians’ lists of priorities, says Mr. Mueller. “This appetite for healthy living leads Canadians to consider their homes and places of work. We’re surrounded by materials that are made with chemical compounds, some are benign, others not so much. In our program, we take measures to eliminate [harmful] products or mitigate their impact.”
Mr. McAllan adds that the LEED certification, which is recognized in North America as the seal of assurance for the global standard of sustainability, is constantly advancing and introducing more rigour.
. Mueller says that leading Canadian companies – which have made a name for themselves in the green building space – report that they’ve gained dedicated employees as well as a good reputation with the general public, customers and investors. “We see many investors who choose to support only buildings with environmental certification,” he adds.
It’s certainly been good business for Oxford Properties, says Mr. McAllan. “We now save our customers more than $10-million a year due to energy efficiency and other conservation measures. And at the same time, we help our tenants attract and retain the right employees.”
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