Sunday, March 21, 2010

Utilities can't justify a green building. People can.

Business owners have a different perspective on the costs of operating a building than the rest of us. They know that the biggest cost of operating an office building isn't the utilities or the taxes; It's the staff.

In isolation, saving money on utilities looks attractive. However, when you look at the big picture it's too small a win for most businesses to spend mental energy on.

Utility bills aren't the reason to look at a green (eco, not colour) building. The real reason you would rather be in a green building has to do with your people.

Buildings are expensive, and you pay for them once. Salaries are expensive, and they just keep coming.

Green buildings, with their natural light, their views and by avoiding nasty chemicals provide an environment where the employees are more likely to enjoy working there.

This is where it gets interesting. If the employees are happy in their space, and if the building doesn't make them sick, their productivity will go up, their sick days will go down, and they will be less likely to jump ship to another company.

Seeing as the salaries are a very expensive part of running the business, even modest gains in productivity pay off quickly.

In some cases the increased productivity can be so significant as to justify the entire construction project by itself. Your mileage may vary.

Don't try to justify a green building based on the utility bills. Yes, you'll save money and go easier on the environment, but that's probably not enough to sway shareholders.

Think of green buildings in terms of increased employee satisfaction, retention and productivity. Hidden costs and benefits. Suddenly green buildings become a compelling business decision.

Unfortunately this sort of evaluation is difficult to measure, and there's no control group. How do you track the day someone might have stayed home ill but didn't? How do you even notice that a valuable employee didn't get fed up and leave? It's hard to count the money you don't spend.

When thinking about a green building, the utility bills are easy to measure, but that's not where the real gains are.

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