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.
Take a Deep Breath
The importance of quality indoor air in relation to good health is obvious, yet many buildings still offer inadequate ventilation and contain air that's tainted with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, or bacteria. As a result of daily exposure to poor air, building occupants may experience sick building syndrome with symptoms such as respiratory irritations, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, and even serious long-term health problems. Sustainable facilities address these concerns with a combination of factors that extend from the design process through ongoing operations.
Because products with VOCs emit gasses over time, sustainable facilities are designed with low-VOC materials, paints, and sealants to help safeguard air quality. Ducts can be sealed during construction to prevent the accumulation of dust in the ventilation system and trapped humidity, which may lead to mold growth. Well-designed ventilation systems are integral to a sustainable facility, as they introduce fresh air into the building and ensure even distribution to all interior spaces. Many green buildings incorporate CO2 sensors to monitor air quality. By specifying non-toxic cleaning products, green housekeeping policies help keep harmful chemicals out of the air and water systems.
Sustainable facilities incorporate these measures to create a cleaner and healthier indoor environment for occupants, which not only appeals to prospective employees interested in protecting their own well-being, but also increases a company's bottom line by reducing illness and absenteeism.
Physical comfort and psychological factors greatly influence employees' perceptions and performance in the workplace. Sustainable facilities positively impact the workplace experience and are proven to enhance productivity. Some of the features that contribute to greater workplace satisfaction include thermal comfort, natural light, and access to views.
Green buildings frequently include mechanical systems designed to give individuals personal control over the temperature in their workspace. The incorporation of daylight and access to views has a measurable affect on the human ability to function as noted by two studies from the Heschong Mahone Group Inc.
One study found that students in classrooms with the most daylighting had a learning progression that was 20 percent faster in math and 26 percent faster in reading than similar students in classrooms with the least daylighting. Since the work tasks of knowledgeable employees are similar to student work in that they include reading comprehension, synthesis of information, writing, calculations, and communications, the results of the study have relevant application for highly skilled workers.
Another Heschong study showed that office workers performed 10 to 25 percent better on tests of mental function and memory recall when they had the best possible view compared with those that had no view.
Heightened capabilities point to the fact that daylight and views pave the way for an improved experience in the workplace, which increases employee satisfaction.
The Right Fit
Resource conservation, waste reduction, and minimizing pollutants are integral components of a sustainable facility, and knowledgeable employees will be excited by the prospect of working in a facility that supports their commitment to the environment.
With natural resources becoming scarce, energy-efficient building systems and appliances as well as water-saving fixtures and techniques have taken on great importance. The fact that buildings are responsible for 48 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions means that every effort to reduce the amount of energy consumed and utilize clean, renewable power has global ramifications. Sustainable facilities often locate near public transportation, provide bike racks and showers, or create reserved parking spaces for electric, hybrid, or biodiesel vehicles so employees can minimize their use of fossil fuels. The use of recycled-content materials and operational practices that include recycling help employees keep materials kept out of the waste stream. On-site stormwater treatment lets employees know that contaminants from stormwater runoff aren't overflowing into natural waterways and seeping into the groundwater. The ability to work in facility that aligns with their own value systems instills pride in employees.
By providing sustainable facilities, building owners and corporations send the message that they take a proactive approach to employee well being and are concerned about the environment. Highly skilled workers are always in demand, and sustainable facilities offer a compelling market differentiation to help recruit and retain skilled work force talent.
Jay Coalson, LEED AP, is president of Green Building Services Inc., a Portland, Oregon-based professional consulting firm that helps clients successfully adopt green building and facility management practices. Jay can be reached at (866) 743-4277.