Mar 20, 2020
Recently at GreenBiz, an annual conference where sustainability leaders and practitioners explore emerging industry trends, a reoccurring question presented itself: What is a green building consultant doing at a corporate sustainability conference? My response: buildings are more impactful to corporate social responsibility than one might think.
Investopedia defines corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a “self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable—to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.” Often corporations evaluate their CSR by the impact their business practices have on the environment, economy and society. CSR typically takes the form of volunteerism, philanthropy, modifications to manufacturing practices (i.e. reducing plastic in packaging materials) and diversifying hiring strategies. Because almost all organizations, regardless of their business function in the economy, have infrastructure such as offices, warehouses, dorms, lecture halls and data centers, CSR should also consider the built environment.
In CSR commitments, building considerations can have the largest impact– driving environmental conservation and revitalization efforts regardless of the organization’s business practices. According to the USGBC, LEED-certified buildings consume 25% less energy and 11% less water than traditional buildings. This is partly due to green building practices utilizing fewer materials, which are created with less environmental impact. In addition, all building materials have embodied effects, meaning there are environmental impacts for their entire lifecycle. For corporations committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, scalable, direct measures can include fuel switching, building optimization and use of renewable energy.
From savings on utility bills and operating costs to job creation and increased property value, the economic value of green building is undeniable. For organizations with transparency driven CSR goals, green buildings foster transparent material selection and purchasing practices. Building owners and occupants in turn have a better understanding of the materials within the building and the potential impact those materials could have on their health over the life of the structure.
Green buildings create social benefits as well, which is especially critical given that humans spend most of their time indoors. Spaces that promote health and comfort, including improved air quality and increased access to daylight, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.
Beyond the occupants of the building, green building practices reduce urban heat island effect and stress on local resources (i.e. energy, water, land and materials). Green buildings also foster connected communities– reducing the need for cars and increasing the support of surrounding businesses.
Just like a bird’s nest is a piece of their identity, so is the building that an organization uses to live, work or play. Beyond a green building’s direct impacts, it is also a physical display of an organization’s commitment to CSR.
Each stakeholder in the structure has their own take on what the CSR commitment means to them. To shareholders, a sustainable building serves as proof that the organization is financially invested in corporate accountability initiatives, while employees may feel green building highlights an organization’s commitment to their personal well-being. To consumers or clients, the building itself becomes the “plaque,” or display of a dedication to CSR practices, while owners and builders feel validated by the infusion of sustainable building strategies.
Green building practices are synonymous with a commitment to corporate social responsibility. Whether it is a single building or a portfolio, sustainability strategies are directly connected to an organization’s identity. The built environment offers opportunities to mitigate impact on the natural environment, human health and the economy. From design and construction to renovations and updates, green building strategies can be integrated at any stage of the building’s life cycle.