“I want to build sustainably, but I’m not sure where to start.”

Dennis Lynch, VP Sustainable Buildings Group, BrightworksBy Dennis Lynch, VP, Sustainable Buildings Group

The other day an architect started a conversation with Brightworks about green building by saying he was not in favor of LEED and didn’t see the value in it for his firms’ clients. As our conversation continued, he related a few instances where he was able to interest his clients in at least considering some sustainable features for their building design. By the end, he confessed he did want to build more sustainably more often. His question to us was: “How do I get started?”

After reflecting on this question for some time, I realized you can begin building green in several ways. You can start with something easy, something strategic or something meaningful that makes the changes most valuable to you. Each entry point opens the door to more action, and each will suit a different type of business.


Start! Image via The Lost Jacket

Start with Easy and Inexpensive

My very first thought in response to his question was: Why not try greener alternatives that will have little or no cost? Recycled carpet to reduce waste and low-VOC paints and adhesives to keep toxic chemicals out of the building are easy substitutions. You’re already specifying carpet and paint, so just specify something greener. There are probably a dozen items like these you can easily incorporate into your design and construction.

Start with Strategy

Recommending only the inexpensive and easy route felt like a cop out after I met another architect with a different point of view. He’s part of a large firm that has made sustainable design an emphasis and differentiator of their work. At the very first meeting with clients, they start talking about sustainability and showing how clients can incorporate green features into their design. If the client wants a LEED-certified facility, this architect’s firm already has the steps outlined for them. He admitted they don’t win every job using this strategy, but here is a firm that leads with improving the environment and uses it to their advantage.

Start with Meaning

Another technique we’ve seen work is engaging individuals in your organization who really believe in sustainability as a way of life and a source of meaning. I have had the good fortune to live in two great cities that consider sustainability at every turn – Madison, WI and Portland, OR – and even these cities are challenged to find ways of making sustainability more affordable and relevant so its adoption will expand. People with a personal motivation to make sustainable change happen will advocate and work harder to make the business case for green in their companies and with their clients. Getting them involved is a great way to get senior management’s attention on what you are doing, why you are doing it and how it will benefit your business.

Results Are Waiting

The two firms I talked to have very different approaches to sustainability, but both want to design and build more sustainably. And why not? It’s what consumers increasingly want. We know in most industries consumers drive the need to be more sustainable, even if they aren’t sure what LEED is or what sustainability means. Consumers are recycling more and using less energy annually. And almost all newer plumbing fixtures have some low flow or restrictors in place.

Consumer awareness of the need to live more sustainably will only continue to grow. That’s why many companies promoting sustainability initiatives in their advertising are generating greater consumer response. Indeed, evidence continues to mount that sustainability practices and reporting strengthen a company’s brand and image. Just last week a study showed that merely disclosing carbon emissions can cause company stock prices to jump.

The benefits of embracing sustainability are clear: a stronger brand, greater pricing power, greater operational efficiency, more efficient use of resources, lower cost, enhanced ability to attract, retain and motivate employees and improved customer loyalty.

The key is to take any action you can – small or large – to get started down the sustainability path as soon as you can because it makes good business sense. And besides, wouldn’t you rather than lead than follow?

2 Comments to ““I want to build sustainably, but I’m not sure where to start.””

  1. Really like how you broke it down here succinctly and simply. Look forward to reading more posts!

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