How to turn gray into green?

A way in which companies can make their buildings sustainable


Alberto Bailin Co-founder of Lienzo

Photo by Kate (K8_iv)

Whether it's your retail store, factory, warehouse, office, or any other facility, the same environmental considerations apply when it comes to sustainability in buildings. Contrary to other business areas, where sustainability may appear more abstract and more challenging to quantify, integrating sustainability in buildings can produce effects that are both rewarding and simple to maintain. There is mounting evidence that green buildings have several advantages. They offer some of the most efficient ways to accomplish a number of international objectives, including combating climate change, building sustainable and vibrant communities, and promoting economic progress. In other words, the benefits of green buildings(1) can be grouped within three categories: environmental, economic and social. Let’s go deeper into these.

Environmental benefits

In many circumstances, green buildings can have a beneficial impact on the environment (at the scale of the building or city) by producing their own energy or boosting biodiversity in addition to reducing or eliminating negative environmental consequences by consuming less water, energy, or natural resources. According to a study conducted by the UNEP(2), the building sector has the potential to make energy savings of at least 50% by 2050, contributing thus to limiting global temperatures rises to 2°C above pre industrial levels. This same study stated that the emissions savings potential is said to be as much as 84 gigatonnes of CO2 through energy efficiency, fuel switching and the use of renewable energy.

Economic benefits

Green construction and hence green buildings can result in significant economic savings by improving employee productivity, increasing benefits from improvements in health and safety, and providing savings from energy, maintenance, and operational costs. These cost savings include energy or water savings on utility bills, either for tenants or households, lower construction costs and higher property value for building developers. According to the European Commission(3), global energy efficiency measures could save an estimated €280 to €410 billion in savings on energy spending, in other words, the equivalent to almost double the annual electricity consumption of the United States.

Social benefits

Last but not least, it is important to highlight that green building benefits go beyond economics and the environment, and have been shown to bring positive social impacts too. Many of these benefits are around the health and wellbeing of people who work in green offices or live in green homes (enhanced occupant health and comfort, improved indoor air quality, better quality of life). According to a study conducted by the universities of Harvard and Syracuse(4), workers in green, well-ventilated offices recorded a 101% increase in cognitive scores. At the same time, this study showed that employees in offices with windows slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.

Up to this point we have talked about all the benefits that green buildings can bring us, which are potentially many and of different kinds. So, the question that arises at this point is no other than how to get there. The aim of the end of this article is none other than to give guidelines to fashion companies for the development and implementation of sustainable green buildings. To do it in a simple and concise way, we have decided to use a checklist format, something that could be printed and used as a cheat sheet, as we think it can be more useful for companies when implementing these tips in their different buildings.

Sustainable buildings implementation Check-list

  1. Use less water

    1. Use low-water appliances like low flow toilets, dishwashers, faucets

    2. Make sure plants and gardens are low-water

    3. Consider filtering and recycling your own water (specially relevant for factories that tend to use large volumes of water, like it could be the case of a denim production company)

  2. Use less energy

      1. When possible, use natural lights

      2. Turn everything off when you are not using it

      3. Make sure you are using low-energy uye electronics

  3. Use better energy

      1. Use renewable and low-carbon energy

      2. Measure your carbon footprint

      3. Do an energy audit. Sometimes cities do this for free so it is worth it to reach out !

  4. Don't use toxic chemicals

  5. Reduce waste

      1. Use less paper and try to go paperless

      2. Don’t use plastic or paper dishes, glasses, or bottles. Rather use real ones and wash them

      3. If possible, drink tap water and avoid single use plastic bottles

  6. Shop local

  7. Reduce impact from travel

      1. Prioritize public transportation

      2. Choose train or bus over airplane for long distance trips whenever possible

      3. Use technology: video conferencing can avoid employee travel.

  8. Measure and track your improvement

      1. Start with specific goals for your workplace sustainability initiatives and work to continually improve

      2. Get the entire company involved

      3. Build a green team

      4. Provide training and budget for sustainability initiatives

(1) World Green Building Council: “A ‘green’ building is a building that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment.”

(2) UNEP, 2016: “Towards zero-emissions efficient and resilient buildings”

(3)European Commission, 2015:”Savings and benefits of global regulations for energy efficient products”

(4) Harvard University, Syracuse University, 2015: “The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function”