Friday, August 21, 2009

Does being or becoming Sustainable or Green benefit my business and bottom line?

Clients, Contractors and Business Partners often ask if becoming a more sustainable or green oriented organization is truly beneficial or just another buzzword which will fade in a year or so? It's a terrific question not be shied away from asking or answering. Based upon working with lots of public, private, for profit, non-profit customers I know the answer is evolving and relative to the situation of the business or organization asking. There is not one answer. First, do you have a set of core company values, a mission statement encompassing more than financial profits and success? If not, examine some Vermont examples where I live.

Working and growing up in Vermont I have luckily been exposed to some extraordinary companies with truly remarkable sustainable visions who have been models for others to follow over the last generation and mentors now for those following in their footsteps. Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, King Arthur Flour, Seventh Generation, NRG Systems, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, National Life of Vermont, Small Dog Electronics, Efficiency Vermont...the list goes on an on. Year after year they show remarkable performance and a large part of their success lies in the different way they run their businesses. Their success is driven by their focus on a triple bottom lined approach to seeing the world, of focusing on "People, Profits and Planet". They are active members of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a non-profit focusing on how businesses can accumulate social and environmental capital along with economic prosperity in Vermont.

Each one of these companies believes strongly in a socially responsible vision and are leaders in their industries. As successful as they are as businesses they also are often voted best places to work in Vermont, with lots of economic data supporting or reinforcing why it's beneficial to embrace sustainability. They have extremely dynamic and vibrant work cultures or communities with a strong sense of corporate identity and shared goals. In the cases where these companies publish Corporate Responsibility Reports, they measure among many factors worker productivity, quality and types of benefits, workplace comfort, relative health and wellness, absentism, community volunteerism. These measures go beyond the ordinary business performance factors often measured in traditional end of the year financial reports.

Secondly, to support the organizational aspects of the high performance workplace a critical physical step is to provide to employees a green, sustainably oriented building or office fit-out. To be a sustainable business I feel also means embracing green building fundamentals which directly impact worker comfort and well-being and indirectly help the environment, lower organizational exposure to fluctuating energy costs. Many companies and organizations over the last five or ten years have dramatically embraced the Green Movement and are no longer beginners but rather moving on to the second or third generation of integrating green building ideas into their workplaces. Seeing what works and what does not. In the process many have facilities which are LEED certified and are walking their talk in a very open and visible way.

Here is some information from the USGBC:

Benefits of Green Building & Sustainbility in Business (adapted from the
US Green Building Council [USGBC] website, See below

Environmental benefits:
1. Enhance and protect ecosystems and biodiversity
2. Improve air and water quality
3. Reduce solid waste
4. Conserve natural resources

Economic benefits:
1. Reduce operating costs
2. Enhance asset value and profits
3. Improve employee productivity and satisfaction
4. Optimize life-cycle economic performance

Health and community benefits:
1. Improve air, thermal, and acoustic environments
2. Enhance occupant comfort and health
3. Minimize strain on local infrastructure
4. Contribute to overall quality of life


Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility

Winning Workplaces - Helping to create the High Performance Workplace

US Green Building Council - Facts for Businesses

(Disclosure, as a long term team member of Maclay Architects I have had the good fortune of working with NRG Systems, Seventh Generation and Efficiency Vermont, VBSR among others in various capacities, you can learn more about that work at our website)

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