Skanska USA expresses its corporate commitment to the triple bottom line through its Sustainability Agenda. The following is the first of a five-part series exploring how Skanska is approaching the triple bottom line for the good of its clients, its respective businesses and for the good of the places we live, play and work.
According to McGraw-Hill’s research, the market for green building in 2012 could end up tallying more than $85 billion. By 2016, they forecast that it will potentially increase to nearly $250 billion. That is tremendous growth, but it will put the focus more and more on the methods owners and contractors use to achieve the savings green building can enable.
It’s an exciting time for green building. In order to be successful, though, we must collaborate with our clients to identify appropriate mid- and long-term solutions to ensure their buildings operate efficiently. Our resolve to help our clients achieve higher energy and environmental performance is more important now than ever as energy prices climb higher and CO2 emissions begin to become commoditized. Owners can control what they build today; they cannot control the price of energy tomorrow. Buildings have long life spans, so the decisions made today have a lasting impact. Owners can feel empowered that today’s green buildings incorporate a decade of lessons learned, providing demonstrable evidence that companies can save money and lower their use of energy and water in significant ways if they are designed and operated thoughtfully.
I would submit that not building high-performing buildings will cost too much: in operation costs, which are easy to measure, and compromised human health and productivity, which are not. Even retrofitting old buildings to LEED standards is a worthwhile investment. The USGBC has reported that buildings that feature high-performance systems can reduce water usage by 40 percent and can cut energy use in half. The resulting reductions in water and energy bills go directly to the bottom line. The USGBC estimates that businesses that green their buildings can anticipate an 8-9 percent decrease in operating costs.
Read more: Building performance also depends on operation, maintenance and occupant behavior.[pagebreak]
Buildings alone, though, aren’t going to make a more sustainable world. If you drive a Prius like a Maserati, it won’t get the best possible mileage. The same is true for buildings. Building operation, maintenance and occupant behavior can keep buildings from meeting their performance potential. How we operate buildings – and how we go about building – matters.
Yet, every year, we see “top green designer and contractor” lists set up as though certified buildings alone are the answer. It’s time to examine a broader set of factors. Our industry does a lot more than build. We create jobs. We are market innovators with the expertise to deliver construction solutions that support our client’s business objectives.
The building industry has the potential to accelerate the journey toward a more sustainable future. We have the ability to create shared value in communities, helping bolster small business and keeping construction dollars in the places where the projects are. Long term, that’s helping support a local business community. Building sustainably also means keeping our workers safe and working in an ethical manner. It means operating responsibly and transparently.
Finally, we must be innovative and beneficially disruptive, to take on new challenges and, in so doing, advance the market. Even deeper green than LEED Platinum, Living Buildings demand that we collaborate with the design team to identify and provide materials that reveal their health and environmental impacts, improving building performance, reducing the potential for future asbestos-type risk and positively affecting the supply chain. We participate in research that can inform our client’s decisions. For example, we now know that the greenest building may be the one you don’t have to build, but one you retrofit. Imagine what we can do when it comes to community-scale solutions like District Energy?
It’s up to us to be agents of change. The result won’t just be a better construction industry. It will be a more sustainable world.
Elizabeth Heider is the Senior Vice President of Skanska USA Building.
Photo credit Diana Rothery.