New trends in Green Buildings and sustainability Reporting: Integrity versus Applicability

According to the most recent GreenBiz State of Green Business report, an increasing number of environmental performance results will be both reported and explained in the form of an Integrated Report (IR). An IR accounts for the inclusion of absolute environmental costs, which are “tallied by compiling companies’ individual impacts, such as carbon emissions, water consumption and waste, and assigning a cost to each impact.” Very few companies have yet to factor these considerations into their accounting systems, let alone report such information to investors. But GreenBiz notes that as governments begin to regulate carbon and as the climate change causes shifts in the monetary value of resources companies rely on, environmental costs will become a bigger lever for success or failure.

When it comes to addressing environmental costs, the areas of requiring the most attention occur outside the corporate office, in sectors such as operations, facilities, fleets, energy and real estate. The buildings sector is one part of the climate change equation with the greatest potential for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing environmental costs. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that buildings are responsible for more than 40% of energy use internationally, one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and 30% of raw material use. “Greening” corporate real estate can help achieve deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions both rapidly and cost-effectively, while simultaneously allowing companies to better manage and measure their environmental performance.

The recent trend of integrative reporting is already accounting for this component by urging companies to provide a basis for identifying and quantifying the projected benefits from investments in green building, and by fueling interest in integrating building sector reporting standards under the GRI and other frameworks.

Given investor and consumer consciousness of labeling programs, it is no surprise that as sustainability reporting develops to include these factors, many companies also seek certification to better communicate their green building initiatives. Studies show that because of investor and consumer awareness, certified buildings often lead in business activity; for instance, PNC Financial Services Group’s LEED rated facilities opened more than four hundred additional consumer deposit accounts and had more than three million more in consumer deposit balances per facility per year than non-certified properties. Overall, certifying a facility can exponentially improve a company’s financial performance and help to lower its operational costs.

Yet, the green building certification process remains a huge barrier for many businesses seeking to incorporate green building in their sustainability strategies. Programs such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) can add millions to construction costs while promising to cut other expenses. The additional costs of hefty certification fees and the soft costs of consultants and other hires leave little room in the budget for improving a buildings’ sustainability performance post-certification. And because corporations sometimes require various property types (whether owned or leased) to operate their business, there may exist drastically different conditions for each building seeking certification. Frustration over costs, building limitations and impracticalities of requirements consequently causes some businesses to throw their facilities to the wayside with certification.

But if the operation and management of corporate real estate plays a significant negative or positive factor in a company’s social responsibility, citizenship, or sustainability actions, then this shouldn’t be the case. Some may find that they can no longer afford to ignore the certification procedure – through certification they can more effectively address the critical role of their real estate assets.

One way that CSE is helping companies to achieve this in a less costly manner is through SERF, or the Society of Environmentally Responsible Facilities. SERF was designed in an effort to avoid many of the issues encountered with green building certification – mainly that it can be cost-prohibitive, timely, and oftentimes inaccessible. With SERF, integrity no longer trumps applicability – users avoid settling for a single trophy building by applying one rating system along an entire building portfolio at a much lower cost.

SERF offers an approachable method for certifying all facility types, whether that is a leased office or a warehouse, a small urban building or a large rural one. The process itself saves time and money by moving away from reliance on third-party consultants and commissioning agents for documentation (although all SERF documentation is verified by a licensed architect or engineer before certification is granted). Better yet, it’s flexible. Users can better address their sustainability goals by choosing to certify a building through a prescriptive pathway or a performance-based pathway. A dynamic scoring system also offers criteria that are considerate of building environment and limitations. The result? There’s no need to beat your head against the wall to achieve simple, streamlined results – you can have your green building and flaunt it too.

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