Commercial Interiors: Positive Impacts for Occupants

July 24, 2009
LEED for Commercial Interiors is a beneficial framework that guides owners and managers through tenant improvements. Unfortunately, the fast-track nature of these projects can deter many from considering LEED certification.

While it’s true that tenant improvement projects are smaller than new construction and renovation, they serve an extremely important purpose. Preserving and reusing the current building stock is inherently sustainable: it conserves resources, reduces the need for the manufacture and transport of new building materials, and taps into existing infrastructure. In addition, when a company launches a commercial interiors project, management must create a space that promotes the health, safety, and welfare of employees. Green practices are designed to improve these aspects for building occupants.

LEED for Commercial Interiors is a beneficial framework that guides owners and managers through tenant improvements. Unfortunately, the fast-track nature of these projects can deter many from considering LEED certification. It’s true that certification is a demanding process for those who have never attempted it, but it’s not as hard as many assume, and the benefits extend well beyond certification.

Corporate Revelation
LEED can create opportunities to inspire a shift in thinking. Companies and government entities in the United States and abroad are becoming increasingly aware of the impacts of their decisions. As a result, they’re using the LEED framework to direct them toward better choices. Rather than view LEED as a point system where you check off as many credits as possible, approach your commercial interiors project from a larger perspective.

An excellent example is a new commercial interiors project in Lima, Peru. Company owners became concerned about the cultural differences that made attaining points for bicycle storage and preferred parking spaces for carpools unrealistic. Bicycling in downtown Lima is dangerous, and carpooling and biking are viewed as transportation options for those who can’t afford to drive. Instead, management was encouraged to find credits that best suited their culture and build from there. The discussion surrounding these credits, however, provided an opportunity to view bicycling and carpooling from an environmental standpoint rather than a class issue. In cities across the world, discussions like these are opening the door to consideration of broader environmental advantages and changing the way people think about sustainable issues.

In the same way, your project can move past a point-system mentality to find the credits that best suit your corporate culture. For example, CO2 monitoring may be a way to earn a credit, but you may have operable windows in the space. Consider if your budget might go to something else with more valuable impact for your employees. Perhaps it would be better to retrofit the HVAC system, or allocate those funds to a more expensive sealant or carpet that doesn’t off-gas.

Examine individual items within the overall context as well. Having an experienced LEED consultant on your team can help you ascertain how various features affect each other. In addition to providing LEED documentation, consultants can educate the team on the most appropriate sustainable practices for your culture and help locate green products and local manufacturers. Think about how you can continue to have favorable impacts after certification, too, and craft a corporate sustainability plan that supports locally based vendors.

Conference Call
Analyses reveal that a company’s largest expenses are directly related to employees in the form of salary, benefits, training costs, and lost revenue from absenteeism. Because churn is very expensive, it’s important to make sure your employees have an environment that supports their health, happiness, and productivity. Post-occupancy surveys can be a beneficial way to gauge satisfaction in the new workplace, which will help protect your bottom line. LEED for Commercial Interiors provides a credit for a post-occupancy survey specifically related to thermal and lighting comfort. The credit also requires the owner to have a process for corrective action in response to the surveys. If you discover that occupants aren’t truly happy, there may be small changes you can make that would have widespread positive effects. Other changes may be financially out of reach in the short term, but knowing they exist allows you to designate future capital resources to specific action items.

Another valuable aspect of post-occupancy surveys is that they heighten occupant awareness. Because human behavior is a major component in keeping a green tenant improvement project green, questions about temperature, lighting levels, air quality, and overall enjoyment of the space can help employees recognize how their habits affect their experience. Surveys also allow occupants to feel like they have more influence over their surroundings, and studies have shown that productivity levels rise when occupants have a sense of control in their environment. In fact, a manager responded in one survey that he wished his group had more control over the HVAC and plug loads because it would’ve motivated them to monitor their usage and take additional steps to reduce energy.

Beyond the Water Cooler
LEED certification is a morale booster, so make a point of announcing your achievement and the specific practices you’ve implemented. Draw clear associations between the green features in your space and how they improve occupant well being and safeguard the environment to transfer this knowledge from the owner and design team members to employees. Encourage occupants to participate through signage, an intranet site with a place for feedback and suggestions, or informal meetings that discuss sustainable strategies. Understanding the consequences of one’s actions makes people more likely to permanently change habits that waste energy, water, and materials. As you engender pride in the workplace, excitement will carry over into their personal lives and affect those around them, increasing the reach that your sustainable efforts have.

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