I have written extensively about green building around the world. Builders in various countries and regions are learning that energy efficiency and good health are important to tenants. Businesses understand that they can save money in a green office building or manufacturing facility.
Increased insulation, reclaimed building materials, low-e windows, water recycling, waste reduction and efficient HVAC systems are contributing to LEED or BREEAM certification of commercial buildings. This is what tenants want, and designers and builders needs to stay competitive by building green.
If tenants are seeking out green buildings, then they must have some sense of energy efficiency and resource conservation. I don’t think tenants make those decisions blindly. They may even have the option to be part of the design process. Non-construction tenants have different and unbiased ideas, I think. The two parties working together can create a suitable and healthy space.
Green living doesn’t have to be a competition
I have been reading about software that tenants can use to track their energy use. This is a great idea, since performance of a green building is as crucial as it’s construction. When the last nail is put in is not the end of its greenness! How it performs will tell how well it was built as well as how involved the tenants are.
What I don’t like about this software is that it pits one tenant against another in a competition to see who uses the least energy. This, to me, is crazy. I’m not a competitive person, so the idea of trying to beat someone else at saving energy feels like middle school behavior.
If building owners would like tenants to know how much energy others are saving, they could be informed with a regular notice, say every two weeks or once a month. Energy saved and the means could be reported, and each office could see how they are doing in comparison. This would influence them to do better or pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
It’s to the building owner’s benefit that tenants save energy, so an inclusion of overall energy use in the report and a target use/reduction would be informative. Tenants can then adjust their energy consumption accordingly. Competition needs to stay out of it. Cooperation is a better way to work towards a goal.
Green living not about doing without
We also need to get the idea of energy conservation as ‘austerity’ out of the way. We don’t need to make sacrifices to save energy. Our lifestyles, at home or at work, don’t have to change drastically in order to make a difference.
I have solar hot water. It will have paid for itself in five years (which will be this year, 2012). My habits aren’t different. I take showers, wash dishes and do laundry. All I had to do was make a closet for the water tanks and put a solar panel on the roof. Other than that, my life has not changed, and my hot water will be free later this year.
I installed low-e windows. I did not have to change the way I do anything. On the contrary, now I can sit in the summer sun pouring in the sliding glass door and take in the mountain views without getting hot. That is different! I used to cover up the door with a curtain to keep the heat out.
In an office, water can be caught and recycled, and no one will see the workings of this system. People can wash their hands and flush the toilets without knowing they are saving water. They can keep blinds open for healthy, natural light without heating up the building. They will breathe air that is not stale without realizing there is an air exchanger installed keeping it fresh.
We need to work together, not against each other, to save energy and create healthy work and living spaces.