Leveraging Investment and Providing Returns in Owner-Occupied Buildings

Aug. 23, 2010

The owners of owner-occupied buildings are invested in their buildings for the long term – offering more potential for return on investment and any improvements that impact building efficiency and/or affect their employees

Sustainability’s value proposition relies on many variables. For some, the dominant value lies in a property’s marketability, operating income, or operational utility savings. For others, it is in resource conservation and environmental stewardship. Different financial models drive merchant developers, owners of multi-tenant buildings, and owners and managers of owner-occupied buildings. The motivations behind green building initiatives for these three types of building owners may overlap, but owner-occupied buildings are in a prime position to benefit directly from sustainable practices. Unlike merchant developers or developers of multi-tenant buildings, these owners are invested in their buildings for the long term, which offers more potential for return on investment and any improvements that impact building efficiency and/or affect their employees.

Because 90% of an organization’s cost is in its people, creating a better working environment can have huge impacts on a company’s financial stability through employee retention, reduced absenteeism, and higher employee satisfaction. In addition, many owner-occupied building owners have more than one building in their portfolios. Once you figure which sustainable measures and systems work best for one building and employee set, you can transfer it to your other facilities to leverage positive impacts. As you undertake improvement, organize your team, plan, tools, and platform.

Team Players

In order to understand the implications of your decisions, it’s important to have the all right people at the table from the project’s inception. Create a team that includes someone from the human resources, daily operations, facilities management, purchasing, and information technology departments and turn them into your green team. Talk about how your decisions will affect all employees. Find out what information they need to assist the effort, what tools will best help them measure success, and make them the source for feedback during and after the project. Recognize that departments within institutions may operate as silos. The planning office has a capital budget for new facilities, renovations, or retrofits, and the facilities department has an operations budget it must adhere to. Address this disconnect by making your facilities team part of the design and construction effort, so they are engaging the planning team, and then in turn, have the design and construction team stay involved after the initial work is done to ensure a smooth hand-off.

Plan from a Vision

Once the group is assembled, discuss all the things you want to achieve. This is the time to collectively create the vision for your facility. Be sure your team has a clear understanding of the financial opportunities and outcomes associated with the vision. Then, back cast the sequence of measures required to reach your identified goals. Create the roadmap with a timeframe for key milestones and document the strategies and tactics you will implement. An important part of your plan is to create a system for measuring success. You may have utility bills to draw upon for energy savings, but how will you baseline where you are now in terms of occupant performance? How will you be able to ascertain if your green building measures are working?

Useful Tools

As the owner or manager of your organization’s building, upfront costs are only a part of the equation. You will be the one to operate, maintain, and replace whatever systems or features you install, so it’s smart to examine the durability and long-term viability of your choices. One of the best tools to assist you in this endeavor is a life cycle cost analysis. You will also want to create a facilities maintenance plan and operations budget that will ensure your new systems remain in top operating condition. Other tools may serve your particular needs. For example, if one of your goals is a 50% reduction in energy, you might need to hire someone to perform energy modeling or provide you with an energy audit to establish your current baseline and determine opportunities for improvement. If you are targeting waste reduction as part of your vision, you may need to have an independent waste audit conducted.

Communication Platform

Implement your plan, get feedback from the team, and talk about how it’s going. Communicate your efforts – not only to building occupants but also to employees in other facilities throughout the organization. Tell the story so people can watch it unfold in the building around them and participate in the changes from afar. Unlock the potential of your employees. When people contribute, they get inspired. Get creative about the ways in which your employees can communicate with each other. Set up a social media site that allows the project’s green team to share what they are doing, garner peer support, and announce successes. When you are ready to take your highest performing sustainable features and systems to other facilities, engage a similar multi-faceted internal team at the new location. Show them the model, help them understand why it worked and what your goals are, and ask them how they would adapt it fit their particular facility and occupant needs. Your small investment in the new team’s green education and opportunity for feedback will produce buy in and create a better fit for the building.

As the owner or manager of an owner-occupied building, your vested interest in the welfare of your employees means that sustainable practices can offer exceptional benefits. If you own multiple buildings, you can apply the knowledge from your initial investment across your entire portfolio to gain exponential rewards.

Ralph DiNola, Associate AIA, LEED AP BD+C, LEED Faculty, is a principal at Green Building Services Inc. He provides environmental leadership and practical applications for green building projects in the United States and around the world. Ralph can be reached at 866-743-4277 or [email protected].

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