Each century has its defining economic trend. In the 19th century, it was mechanization. In the 20th century, it was globalization. And if the world could vote on the one modern economic trend that has defined the 21st century so far, chances are pretty good that sustainability would loom large.
Barely on the radar screen back in 2000, sustainability has exploded onto the corporate scene over the past decade and a half. More than two-thirds of Fortune Global 500 firms now issue annual sustainability reports, and many small firms are following suit. Phrases like “triple bottom line,” “cradle to cradle” and “carbon footprint” have become mainstream additions to the English language. There are even HR recruiters who specialize in helping companies find employees who can assist in developing and maintaining their sustainability goals.
What is sustainability?
Simply put, sustainability means the ability to continue indefinitely. When applied to business and economics, it has been defined by the United Nations as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
As it turns out, sustainability is not merely a buzzword. Organizations implementing sustainability initiatives consistently outperform those that don’t in terms of return on equity, return on assets and overall ROI. This should come as no surprise because one of the green movement’s largest concerns is waste reduction. Building maintenance and operations play a key role, and most people would agree that sustainability should be an essential component of any MRO program.
Just one problem: Sustainability, or going green, is a complex idea that means different things to different people. And it’s a concept that can carry a lot of baggage.
Talking to property managers
“Some people hear ‘sustainability’ and they automatically think, ‘It’s going to cost too much,’” says Shel Horowitz, owner of GoingBeyondSustainabilty.com and author of “Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green.”
For a property to reap the full benefits of any sustainability initiative, it is essential for those responsible for managing the property to understand why sustainability is important—and how best to implement sustainability measures for their specific property. Therefore, communication about the issue to property and office managers is critical.
Horowitz suggests that for most property managers, introducing the subject in terms of economic advantage will get the most positive response. “For most people, don’t try to be green. Instead, phrase it in terms of maximizing resources and minimizing costs. Phrase it to highlight their advantage; find their motivations. That is the point of first communication.”
Layers of sustainable advantage
It can be helpful to point out the various layers of economic advantage that sustainable changes can bring about:
• First, there is direct payback. For example, replacing conventional incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs may reduce the electric bills for lighting by 75 percent.
• Then, look for indirect payback. LED bulbs also last 20 times longer, so the extra maintenance costs associated with changing bulbs should also be factored in, along with the cost of disposal.
• Next, analyze how different systems might be designed to work together for maximum efficiency. A good example might be a facility where waste is diverted from the landfill and used to fuel an on-site high-efficiency furnace or boiler instead.
• Then, consider human health. Daylighting is a good example. Studies have proven that natural light in a building improves worker productivity, decreases absenteeism and can even influence retail customers to spend more.
• And human interest. “(A green initiative) may make the project more worthy of grants and media attention,” Horowitz says. “Building managers in municipalities actively working on sustainability could realize some benefits in bringing what they’re doing to the attention of the city.”
• Examine extraneous costs. Green initiatives, especially those that reduce or eliminate chemical exposure, may reduce a company’s likelihood of being targeted for litigation. Increased efficiency may also facilitate reduction of compliance costs.
• Finally, consider social and environmental impact. While not true of everyone, some individuals are highly motivated to do the right thing for people and the planet. The greenest choice might not be the most cost-effective, but there could be situations when an individual would choose a more sustainable option regardless of cost—especially when those choices would enjoy support from the surrounding community.
Sustainable success through involvement
Feedback and collaboration help to facilitate sustainability communication. For property and office managers, these elements are essential. Once people are clear on the general benefits of a sustainable approach to the building, encourage them to analyze various aspects of their building—energy efficiency, air quality, space efficiency and water use—for their sustainability impacts, and challenge them to beat the status quo. Chances are they will deliver!
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