Jay Coalson, LEED AP; President, Green Building Services, Inc. (Jun/Jul 08)
Ten years ago, climate change, sick building syndrome, and social and environmental responsibility weren't commonplace subjects. Now these topics are prevalent in the daily news, taught in schools, and discussed at the water cooler. Simply put, people are paying more attention to how they live and where they work. The qualities of a green facility resonate with many prospective employees on personal and ethical levels, and they are particularly meaningful to the informed, conscientious members of the highly skilled work force.
A Company's Greatest Asset
The highly skilled work force is composed of educated, perceptive individuals. Thanks to the Internet, media, and instant messaging, these workers are aware of and connected to the world around them like never before. They care about their own health and the health of the planet, as demonstrated by the demand for organic, non-toxic, fuel-efficient, and socially equitable products.
In addition, the highly skilled workers of tomorrow are making sustainable waves in universities today. At the University of California Santa Cruz, students created a student fee so the campus could purchase green power and reduce its impact on climate change. Students also worked with campus staff and the community to make organic foods part of the campus dining hall menus. As these determined students enter the work force, they will be drawn to workplaces that allow them to continue to support environmentally sound practices.
Sustainable facilities appeal to knowledgeable employees by providing meaningful benefits such as: • healthier indoor environments;
• improved occupant comfort and well-being;
• alignment with values of environ-mental responsibility.
While companies such as Standard Insurance Company ("The Standard") pursue environmental stewardship as part of a larger goal, they recognize that it can help attract valuable employees. "The Standard invests in sustainability because we think it's important to be a good corporate citizen and because it supports our business objectives," says Trond Ingvaldsen, vice president of StanCorp Real Estate. "We want to minimize our environmental footprint, reduce energy use, save costs, and provide better working environments. We believe the best and brightest employees will want to work for a company that's committed to these principles. That's a win for us, for the planet, and for our customers."
Workers Say Yes
While adequate compensation and benefits are paramount in a prospective candidate's decision-making process, knowledgeable employees are savvy enough to know that the workplace environment affects their performance and outlook.
According to the Gensler 2006 U.S. Workplace Survey, more than 2,000 respondents drawn from randomly selected office staff and management in six major U.S. geographic regions ranked healthy and secure working conditions as the most important factor in an efficient working environment. More than 90 percent believed that the quality of their working environment influenced their mood and attitude about their work. In addition, 89 percent rated the quality of their working environment as very important to job satisfaction.
In a survey by the American Society of Interior Designers, 73 percent of employees ranked the work environment as the number two reason for job dissatisfaction, right after compensation. For 41 percent of employees, comfort was the major issue affecting their dissatisfaction.
Commercial tenants also recognize that sustainable characteristics are a big draw for employees. Respondents of the Colliers International 2007 Canadian Office Tenant Survey stated that an office close to public transit with a healthy indoor environment that incorporates daylight was very important to attract and retain staff, and 91 percent of the commercial tenants surveyed said they would give preference to a green building.
Erik Selvig, geo facilities manager - Americas West for Autodesk, agrees. Autodesk employs 7,000 people worldwide that Selvig describes as a "motivated, healthy group of people." He believes that their company's product and corporate culture appeal to the highly skilled candidates they're seeking to hire. "We are the leader in sustainable design software," says Selvig. "We want to bring people into our work force [who] will create the next generation of design software, and those people are attracted to buildings that are sustainably designed and operated."
Green Facility Characteristics
The definition of a "green" facility can be enigmatic unless measurement and verification are involved. The U.S. Green Building Council created LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as a benchmark for sustainable building design and operations. Now the national standard, LEED provides a rating system that allows building owners and developers, as well as commercial tenants, to achieve specific criteria and obtain certification. Because true sustainability involves a comprehensive approach, LEED criteria cover five different categories:
• sustainable sites;
• water efficiency;
• energy and atmosphere;
• materials and resources;
• indoor environmental quality.
Following this framework, sustainable facilities reduce waste, conserve natural resources, reduce impacts on the environment and ecology, and provide healthier indoor spaces.