Let’s get one thing out of the way: you can spend more on sustainability. That is a truism. But what if I told you that sustainability measures can be achieved without spending a dime? If your obstacle to sustainability is cost, then you should be excited to learn that cost isn’t the problem you thought it was.

By thoughtfully allocating a development or operating budget, you can introduce higher performance design with a little give and take.

Added bonus: sustainability strategies will deliver improved financial performance. If you shift from adding no sustainability measures to any sustainability measures, the project will end up financially ahead.  We’re not suggesting that you commit to sustainable design because it feels good – quite to the contrary, sustainability must be synergistic with financial performance.

CEO Tom Paladino recently said, “Let’s make our projects wholly, inherently sustainable without any added costs. Stop fitting sustainable elements into a project based on an ‘add’ to the budget. Just STOP IT!”

I couldn’t agree more. So how do you do it?

Step 1: Change your mind

Often organizations only look at sustainability through a lens of “doing the right thing” and what the benefit is externally to the community or environment. It starts with a shift in your company’s collective belief that sustainability is an add-on. You must see that sustainability delivers improved financial performance.

A recent corporate visioning session with a client started with the sustainability task force overcoming a misconception before we could move forward with a value-based sustainability program. The misconception was that sustainability is exclusively about addressing social and environmental issues. What was lost was the third leg of the sustainability stool: prosperity.

To succeed, a sustainability program has to include “What’s in it for the company.” The program can deliver social and environmental benefits, but not at the expense of the organization. Every sustainability initiative must be a win-win-win.

Step 2: Determine your company’s motivators for sustainability 

Do you have shareholder pressure?  Are you looking to grow top line revenue? Is your focus on operating costs?  Whatever your motivators are, sustainability measures should be evaluated by their relationship to your business. What are the things most important to your company?

For example, PNC Financial Services Group understands how real estate fits its purpose because all development decisions align with predetermined sustainability pillars, built upon their values. PNC identified “Workplace Innovator” as one of three of its sustainability pillars on its recently completed Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh. It is an exceptional example of using a strong motivator for the company to drive decisions.

To meet the goal of Workplace Innovator, PNC looked to the future when choosing to create a headquarters that would serve as a tool to attract and retain the best and brightest talent. The Tower utilizes innovative space and building systems that promote collaboration and productivity, and sets the bar for a healthy indoor environment that is attractive to Pittsburgh leadership.

Collaborative and community space are abundant in The Tower at PNC Plaza.

Step 3: Stay focused

Focus sustainability decisions on your company’s sustainability values. Avoid the distraction of “shiny objects” that waste money. If a green wall doesn’t meet your sustainability value, don’t build one.

To make smart choices, it is imperative to use objective data instead of intuition or optics. Like most things, the devil is in the details. At Paladino we use proprietary interactive financial tools that provide clear benefit and budget impact in real-time. There are other low-tech techniques that may not be as effective, but are better than un-analyzed intuition.

For example, The National Park Service (NPS) defined two sustainability values: visitor experience and operational efficiency. While working with the NPS on the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center at the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Honolulu, HI, our strategies reduced the project budget by 50 percent. How did we do it?

In using our analytical tools it became clear that shifting from an enclosed “air conditioned box” to a naturally ventilated campus of buildings met the project needs, improved the visitor experience and reduced the budget substantially. The only spaces that required complete air conditioning were the artifact exhibits, which gave the design team flexibility to re-think every other space and experience. Moving visitors from the interior conditioned into tempered, shaded or open site spaces provided a seamless experience for a location that attracts 1.8 million visitors annually, without harsh transitions between environments.

We focused the available funds on delivering the message and experience and not on an expensive building and complex mechanical systems. Sustainability strategies = (Budget savings) + (Better visitor experience).

PHVC1_Credit (C) Portico Group_Small
Visitors at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center transition comfortably between indoor and outdoor spaces. 

Know your options

Stay aligned with your sustainability motivators and your budget. You don’t need extra budget as much as you need the smarts and experience to know your options.

Every sustainability initiative should sit squarely within your business values, and every existing real estate or new construction project has room in the budget for efficiency.



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