Category Archives: Importance of Sustainability

Impact of Green Building Certifications on Real Estate Investments

Green Building CertificationsWhen it comes to sustainability initiatives, just how important are green building certifications? The answer comes straight from Deloitte’s Global and US Real Estate Industry Leader, Bob O’Brien. According to him in a recent interview for the 2015 Commercial Real Estate Outlook, “… there is an increase in awareness and implementation of sustainability initiatives aimed at energy, water, and waste efficiency as indicated by a growth in green building certifications. The combined demands of occupiers, investors, and regulators are such that tangible benefits can be derived from embedding sustainability into the full investment process. Going forward, adoption, measurement, and reporting of sustainability initiatives will be a business imperative, given the broader benefits on rental growth, yield premiums, total occupancy costs, asset values, and marketability.”

In other words, investors now consider sustainability as a significant value add to real estate transactions.  Properties granted with these green building certifications have proof of their track record to see their green strategies and practices through, therefore adding to their overall value.

The credibility of green building certifications comes with several benefits, such as:

  • Government incentives – Different kinds of incentives like tax deductions are available only to organizations that meet a certain criteria (e.g., 50 percent savings in projected annual energy costs).  Each state has its own set of incentives, which can be found on DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency).
  • Marketing buzz – Organizations can add their green building certifications to their list of credentials to attract more customers and investors, and also to draw interest to their projects. People are apt to support organizations that fight for a cause, especially a timely one like environmental awareness.
  • Anti-greenwashing – Some organizations have opted for greenwashing, which is the practice of falsely presenting a green image through the dissemination of false information. They have gotten so good at it that it has become difficult to distinguish the truth from fiction. However, green building certifications differentiate legitimate organizations from the rest.
  • Forward-thinking design – In their desire to get certified (and to maintain said certifications), organizations are actively thinking of ways to achieve their sustainability goals. This helps them to be more innovative with their ideas, which leads to improved efficiency in their building designs.

With these benefits, investing in getting green building certifications should automatically be a worthwhile cause, but this is not the case for smaller organizations. LEED, the most popular certification program for green buildings, is costly and difficult to qualify for as it requires buildings to be built with green materials right from the start. For organizations with existing properties, this calls for major renovations.

Fortunately, there are other respected certification programs like Class-G that focus more on an organization’s current practices and strategies. Through these programs, organizations that are already doing things right don’t have to start from scratch – just to get the recognition they deserve.

The Cost of Wasteful Power Use

Cost of Wasteful PowerMore and more businesses today are realizing the importance of saving energy and taking steps to conserve. However, even with the best of intentions, many organizations still waste power. Particularly for a large company, there are hundreds of ways they may be consuming excess energy of which they’re not aware. And that energy can end up costing them, without their even realizing it.

Ways Organizations Waste Power

Many companies are replacing their buildings’ wasteful, incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs, which operate much more efficiently and can last for years. However, those same buildings will leave their energy-saving lights on 24 hours a day, whether anyone is on the premises or not. A few low wattage emergency lights should be used to illuminate the paths to the exits, but other than that, a building’s lights should all be powered down once it closes for the day.

Similarly, many employees will leave their computers on all night, to make it easier to jump back into a project the next morning. Or they’ll leave them running during the day, even if they’re going to lunch, or spending the next two hours in a meeting. This sort of individual employee behavior can be difficult for a large company with multiple buildings to regulate, but it can end up costing them a lot of money — anywhere from $50 to $150+ per device that remains in use. Official company policy might be to set computers to go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity, and for all computers, printers, and copiers to be turned off entirely at the end of the night.

Even after adopting conservationist habits, however, both for individuals and the organization as a whole, there’s still the problem of energy vampires to contend with. Energy vampires are appliances that continue to use power even if they’ve been turned off. Computers are major offenders in this regard, as are televisions and device chargers. Even the microwave and coffeemaker in a company’s break room are draining energy while idle. Anything with a digital clock or an indicator light on it is an energy vampire.

In individual homes, the way to combat these energy vampires is to unplug them. Adopting this as a company policy, however, would be difficult to enforce. Fortunately, there are power strips that can automatically cut the power to an individual device as soon as it’s turned off. Or, if there’s a device that needs to be left on, such as a laser printer, it can be plugged into a special outlet on the strip that provides it with continuous electricity, while still cutting power to other devices on the same strip. This way, companies can conserve that energy without even having to think about it.

Ways Organizations Can Save Power

Addressing the individual causes of wasteful power usage is only the first step in saving energy. It’s also important to be proactive and implement policies that stem energy use at the source. This means finding ways not only to reduce the power being used by appliances within the organization, but to reduce the need for those appliances.

For instance, the single biggest drain on most buildings’ energy use is heating and cooling. To combat this, many organizations invest in energy-efficient HVAC systems, which can keep buildings comfortable for less energy and less money. But those organizations can reduce those costs even more by putting in a few deciduous trees around the building, such as oaks or elms. In the summer, they provide shade, which helps to cool the building naturally, reducing the need for air conditioning. In the winter, they lose their leaves, letting in the sunlight to warm the building, thus reducing the need for heating.

Companies can also reduce energy use by creating functional outdoor areas. By putting in a few outdoor tables and chairs, along with some greenery, employees can have a place to eat lunch or even hold meetings outside, thus saving the energy they would have used, had they taken up a room indoors.

Wasting power costs much more than most organizations realize. Not only does it waste huge amounts of money, it also increases their carbon footprint and ultimately damages the environment, making it a high cost not only for them, but for everyone. With just a little vigilance, however, companies can become more aware of that wastefulness in all of its forms. And with a little creativity, they can find ways to eliminate it, and reduce the cost of their power use significantly.

Understanding the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and What It Means to Human Health

AQHI Cloud ChainThe Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is an indicator that can help estimate the risk of developing certain health conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer, from exposure to air pollutants. Unlike the traditional Air Quality Index (AQI), which reports air quality based on each pollutant separately, AQHI provides more comprehensive information, presenting potential health risks resulting from the combined effects of a mixture of pollutants in a particular area.

The AQHI was designed to measure numerous pollutants found in the air, categorize the level of danger they may pose to the public and offer advice on how to be as healthy as possible in the respective areas.

The AQHI is calculated by measuring the presence of potentially hazardous pollutants in the air, including nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter. The levels at which these pollutants are present, as well as which combinations are detected, determine how the area ranks on the AQHI scale.

The scale ranges from 1 to 10+, with 1 representing little or no threat and 10 or more representing serious potential problems. The scale is further divided by categories that represent different levels of potential health risk.

  • 1-3 represents a low health risk, meaning the entire population can enjoy their usual activities safely.
  • A moderate score of 4-6 indicates that at-risk members of the population should think about rescheduling or reducing their amount of time in that area. It also means the rest of the general public can go about their outdoor activities as usual unless they experience throat irritation, coughing or similar symptoms while in the area.
  • An AQHI score between 7 and 10 indicates that at-risk individuals, as well as children and the elderly, should seriously consider a major reduction of activity or a change of schedule, and everyone should do the same if they ever experience the aforementioned symptoms of failing health.
  • A score above 10 means that children, the elderly and all at-risk individuals should avoid physical activity in this area, and the rest of the public should be prepared to do the same if they run into any of the previously mentioned symptoms.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates AQHI for five air pollutants: particle pollution, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. As claimed by the same agency, particle pollution and ground-level ozone pose the greatest threat to human health. While particle pollution consists of a mixture of liquid and solid, organic and inorganic particles (e.g. sulfates, nitrates, ammonia, mineral dust, etc.), ozone at ground level is one of the components of photo-chemical smog, resulted from the reaction between certain pollutants (e.g. nitrogen oxides, vehicle and industry emissions, etc.) and sunlight. Since negative health effects increase as air pollution worsens, prolonged exposure to air pollutants contributes to the risk of developing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, even in healthy individuals.

Although the health effects of air pollution depend on the health status, genetic background, individual reaction, type and concentration of pollutants, and duration of exposure, the elderly, children, and people suffering from acute and chronic heart and lung diseases are most affected.

The national air quality standards along with the indoor air quality programs included in green building practices and AQHI have become critical requirements for an accurate air quality assessment. Additionally, AQHI allows experts to project potential health improvements that could be obtained if air pollution is reduced.

We cannot talk about AQHI without referring to green building concepts. Focusing on reducing resource use, waste, water pollution and air pollution, among others, these concepts encourage organizations to implement and promote environmentally sustainable work practices that will not only help save the environment, but also protect public health. By complementing green building practices with AQHI, a company can contribute to a sustainable future.