JUST GOOD BUSINESS CASE STUDY : Space-based productivity

In an industry tainted by the “leaky building” debacle, the quality reassurance underpinning “green star” rating is good news for reasons that go further than financial security.
“Though from the industry viewpoint, green building is better way of doing things environmentally and sustainably, really it is about the people,” says Jane Henley.
In the five years since she became CEO of the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), the drive toward sustainable structures has intensified – and the research supporting that drive has become more compelling.
Perhaps of particular relevance given today’s emphasis on improving worker productivity are the studies revealing how healthier workspaces boost employee performance. Just few examples:
• At the City of Melbourne’s CHD, Australia’s first 6-star Green Office Design rated building, productivity has risen by 10.9 percent with an estimated annual cost savings of A$2 million.
• Closer to home, post-occupancy study of the Green Star certified Meridian Building (taken after the initial “holiday” effect of new premises) showed staff productivity has improved by about nine percent.
• Green schools have been shown to deliver 20 percent faster progression in maths, 26 percent faster progression in reading and increased performance of about 10 percent – just by providing students with views from windows.
Natural light, fresh air, access to views and more control over individual workspace temperature or light all affect performance – as well as health, says Henley.
“Occupying green building turns out to have number of associated benefits – there’s the brand association, there’s also the internal staff benefits. There are now so many international statistics showing increased productivity, fewer sick days, better concentration, memory retention, faster typing speed – they all add up to productivity increases of around six to 15 percent.
“Given wages are the biggest outgoing for any business, if you can make 10 percent improvement in productivity that significantly impacts the bottom line,” she says. “More so than the savings you make in energy or water or other features of green buildings.”
They’ve also proven good talent magnet, she adds, with companies occupying green buildings noting the impact on both attracting and retaining top employers – particularly in the Gen X and Y age groups.
And while productivity measures may not spur property developers into embracing green, the tenancy premiums, investment returns (even in the downturn, New Zealand developers have managed to sell ‘green’ buildings to overseas investors who are after that kind of spec) and future proofing aspects all look pretty appealing.
You could almost see ‘green’ spec with its focus on quality and longevity as the total antithesis of the ‘leaky’ syndrome in terms of the overall approach to property development. There is bit of front-end cost loading partly because of the higher quality specs and partly because some of the products involved are not yet available on the scale that would make individual components cheaper. But longer-term – with lower running and maintenance costs – it all works out, says Henley.
And there are some interesting side benefits. For instance, the need to collaborate more closely on what is new building approach has resulted in more integrated design-build process.
“Typically you get fairly linear process which makes it harder to change something decided earlier on, but we’ve seen real ability for teams to work more as unit so you get the construction and commissioning guys involved in the process from the start. That gives the developers more certainty and I think over time this integrated design process will decrease costs – there’s lot of wastage in the system when changes are made after the project has started,” says Henley.
She believes the NZ Green Building Council is working because it provides platform for the industry to come together and nut out processes and solutions.
“There is lot of industry ownership. We don’t tell people what to do; we’re just facilitator to help show that people can trust the building industry to deliver quality buildings. And having third party verified process like Green Star shows we are in line with best international practice.
“So I think we arrived here when the industry needed something positive. There are about 430 companies that are now members of the Council from all aspects of the industry and people are quite proactively involved – it’s not about Government telling business what to do but about business seeing this as an opportunity. It’s bit of learning curve – so let’s understand it and get ahead of the curve.”
In global terms, New Zealand was in the fast follower category in establishing GBC – it was about the 10th to be set up behind countries like the US, the UK, Australia and Japan. Now there are 66 countries involved and the World GBC is aiming for membership of 100.
That is now very relevant to Henley who, after being on the board of the World Council for two years is taking on the role of its CEO. It’s an interesting and challenging time to get involved, she says. The growing membership offers wide-ranging differences between member countries – including poverty and lack of building codes.
She is particularly interested in looking at how buildings can be incorporated in the carbon reduction conversations – possibly through clean development mechanisms (CDMs) established as part of global emissions trading whereby emitters can offset through projects that help bring green solutions to third-world countries.
“I would love global commitment to building to be part of every country’s carbon-reduction problem. And I’d like to see some sort of common global language for green buildings.
“Also I think as countries mature and green building matures, the conversation will broaden to be more about communities – about people. How do we create communities that work? I think the building industry has huge opportunity to create better cities, better communities.”
More at www.nzgbc.org.nz

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