Blog: Built Environment

October 16, 2012
Built Environment - green building, green business
Green Office Building

As it happens, “greening” your business could mean a boost for the environment as well as your company’s bottom line. There is now empirical evidence showing the adoption of sustainable policies, including environmental management and product standards, increases employee productivity, creating real and positive impacts on a company.

In the past decade, studies have shown that the improved lighting, ventilation, and general environment of Energy Star and LEED certified buildings lead to a decrease in employee sick days and an increase in perceived productivity, and thereby, economic benefits. A recent study by UCLA professor Magali Delmas and University of Paris-Dauphine’s Sanja Pekovic delves a little deeper and is the first to demonstrate how a company’s environmental commitment affects its productivity. The study, Environmental standards and labor productivity: Understanding the mechanisms that sustain sustainability, was published this September in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. Check it out here.

The findings are surprisingly clear: employee productivity is 16% higher at companies that adopt environmental practices. “Green” companies include those that follow international standards and adopt eco-labels such as “fair trade” and “organic.”

The robust jump in productivity can be attributed to a “virtuous cycle.” As described by Delmas, companies attract top people, then adopt environmental practices, and in turn, attract even better people. Patagonia is a prime example of the cyclical improvement of sustainably-minded companies. It has seen widespread success in the outdoor adventure retail space, is applauded for its longstanding sustainability efforts, and attracts an average of 900 applicants for each open position. After adopting a range of sustainability measures, a boutique hotel in Santa Monica, CA, also saw improved employee health and happiness.

Green companies create motivated employees who receive more training and improved interpersonal relationships. The result is increased employee productivity over conventional firms. Management will hopefully take note of the success of such companies and studies that consistently reveal the economic benefits of sustainability initiatives. As Delmas attests, “Adopting green practices isn’t just good for the environment. It’s good for your employees and it’s good for your bottom line.”  

May 18, 2012
Built Environment - green leasing, resources
Check out the Alliance Green Leases Toolkit, featured under the Toolkits tab!

The California Sustainability Alliance Green Leases Toolkit is featured in the Green Lease Library, recently released by the Department of Energy. The library is a great tool that will help implement “green leases” – commercial rental agreements that support and encourage energy efficiency.

The agreement for commercial leases specifies how the energy costs will be divided between tenants and owners: either the building owner is be responsible for covering the cost of utilities, allowing the tenant to “waste” energy without any type of penalty, or the tenant is responsible for the utility bills, giving the building owner little incentive to make any energy efficiency improvements to the property.

Green leases include modified lease clauses , where both the owner and the tenant have an incentive to take steps towards a more green way of living and doing business, which in turn will save money and conserve resources.

The Green Lease Library is meant to become a “one-stop-shop” for all a wide range of users: building owners, existing and future tenants, and lawyers. It is user friendly and is organized in three main components:

  • Guidance – How to develop, negotiate and implement green leases
  • Best Practices – Successful green lease studies
  • Toolkits – Sample Green lease language and templates

Each category houses documents and resources that provide a wealth of information on green leases. The resources are organized by Audience & Building Type, Description, Author and Subscription Type: whether the subscription is free or there is a cost associated with it. Most of the subscriptions are free and can be accessed instantly.

The Green Lease Library is the result of collaboration between the following organizations that are part of the green lease community:

  • General Services Administration
  • U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Building Technologies Program
  • Commercial Real Estate Energy Alliance
  • Building Owners and Managers Association
  • Rocky Mountain Institute
  • NYU Shack Institute of Real Estate, Center for the Sustainable Built Environment
  • Institute for Market Transformation
  • Natural Resources Defense Council


May 3, 2012
Built Environment - energy efficiency
Keeping doors closed when air-conditioning is running can help California meet its energy efficiency goals.

Walking in any of California’s major retail zones (or in most of the U.S. for that matter), it is common to see inviting store fronts with highly planned out – even artful – window displays. There is little mystery or confusion about why retailers do this. They are designed to pique our interest, draw us inside and result in our making a purchase.

But, there is another part to the façade of any establishment that goes less-noticed, which is worth a look: The door. Barring severe weather, many retailers choose to keep their doors open during business hours—helping to make their stores even more accessible and inviting. This practice, however, has costs, both for the retailer and its customers. The costs are in the energy that is required to keep the store temperature at comfortable levels for both employees and shoppers.

In 2008, the shopping mecca of New York City passed a law requiring that retailers meeting specific criteria must keep their doors shut while the air-conditioning is running. ConEdison of New York helped to inform retailers of their role in energy efficiency by publishing The Price of Open Doors, a widely distributed informational flyer providing information on kWh and dollar savings, and the impact of lost energy in the region.

With all of this information, one could wonder why retailers simply don’t just close their doors and save energy? It boils down to today’s highly competitive retail environment; retailers have [legitimate] concerns that keeping the door closed will negatively impact sales. Doors create, quite literally, a physical barrier between potential customers and merchandise. And, to be successful, retailers must minimize barriers that keep “window shoppers” from turning into product purchasers. 

So, how can retailers reconcile aspirations to be environmentally responsible and drive sales? Two key starting point are:

  • Introduce a code– When local and/or state governments pass codes, as New York City did, a level playing field exists for retailers. Customers would be equally drawn into stores by the other merchandisingapproaches available, not though the doors being left wide open.
  • Turn it into a marketing opportunity – Nowadays, it’s quite common for retailers to publish their sustainability statement as a way of winning favor with their clientele. Retailers can use this environmentally-responsible action to their favor by informing current and prospective customers of the change—perhaps with a sticker on the door (that can only be seen when it’s shut) to remind customers of their commitment to sustainability.

Let us know what you think!

February 23, 2012
Built Environment - green building
To better engage tenants, the facility manager should use charts to display energy patterns and cost savings.

A recent article published on Property Management Software Guide claims occupant behavior – not funding or awareness – is preventing green buildings from reaching their environmental performance goals.  The article, Occupant Behavior: Five Keys to Meeting Environmental Performance Goals, identifies five ways to encourage behaviors that align with environmental performance goals:

  1. Engage occupants before they move in.  Hold an eco-charrette with the future tenants to include their ideas about the building’s design and help them understand the importance of established performance goals.
  2. Take a holistic approach.  It may not be enough to focus solely on energy and water usage. Holistic programs emphasizing sustainability and overall health and well-being have proven to be very successful.
  3. Measure energy use with new technologies.  New social energy management tools can assist in making tenants more aware of their energy use by showing the real-time environmental performance of the building.
  4. Provoke competition.  Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be leveraged to create friendly competition among occupants, floors, or even other local buildings. By setting clear goals and displaying real-time data, facility managers can capitalize on tenants’ competitive spirit in order to reduce a building’s carbon footprint.
  5. Create transparency.  It is important to make energy data available in a way that it is easily understood.  Providing tenants with easy-to-read charts or graphs showing energy usage patterns, data on actual cost savings and shrinking carbon footprints, helps facility managers better engage their tenants.

Ashley Halligan is the author of Occupant Behavior: Five Keys to Meeting Environmental Performance Goals. Ashley is a Property Management Systems Analyst at Software Advice.

November 18, 2011
Built Environment - green building

The adoption of green building systems and technologies is now widespread among California’s premier office buildings. As measured by our Green Building Barometer, 54% of Class A office space in the state is now classified as green (defined as either Energy Star or LEED certified). This achievement is a striking improvement over the situation just three years ago, when only 26% of Class A space was certified green.

With the construction of new office buildings at an all time low, the increase in green space largely reflects the upgrading and certification of existing buildings. LEED certification is becoming almost mandatory for Class-A office buildings in the financial districts of the major cities:

  • In San Francisco the Transamerica Pyramid recently achieved the highest level of certification with LEED Platinum status.
  • In Southern California, the Irvine Company achieved LEED certification for all three of its high rise office towers located in Orange County and San Diego.
  • Building codes in the state are now greener, so that where new construction does occur, green certification is now very likely to follow, such as at the Tustin Centre in Orange County.

The adoption of greener operations in commercial buildings is being aided by new tools and technologies that help building owners to go green. For example, in October the City of San Francisco and the Business Council on Climate Change published a Green Tenant Toolkit for commercial buildings. The toolkit uses many of the green leasing tools and strategies developed by the California Sustainability Alliance, and is part of a suite of initiatives that also includes green financing packages and legislative changes designed to encourage greener buildings.