Moreover, seldom-counted side benefits can be far more valuable than the direct savings. For instance, a typical office pays about 160 times as much for people as for energy, so a 0.6 percent gain in labor productivity would have the same bottom-line effect as eliminating the energy bill. But we routinely see not a 0.6 but a 6 to 16 percent gain in labor productivity in efficient buildings with better thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort. When people can see what theyâ€™re doing, hear themselves think, breathe cleaner air, and feel more comfortable, they do more and better work. We also see 40 percent higher retail sales in well day-lit stores, 20-odd percent faster learning in well day-lit schools, and better clinical outcomes in green and efficient hospitals. These often overlooked side benefits are frequently worth tens or hundreds of times more than the actual reduction in energy costs.
For instance, a famous aerospace building designed for day lighting gave a far faster payback than expected, because it spurred 15 percent higher productivity and 15 percent less absenteeism. The higher productivity and reduced overhead of the green building gave the company a competitive advantage in a tough contract bid. Winning that contract generated enough profit to pay for the whole building. When the Wall Street Journal was writing its third article about the building, the Journalâ€™s reporter called me and said, â€œTheyâ€™ve clammed up. I canâ€™t get any data. Can you find out whatâ€™s going on?â€ Well, the CEO had realized that the building was an important source of competitive advantage and that theyâ€™d already said way too much about it.
In order to encourage the efficiency investments required to fight climate change, it will be important to quantify and value these kinds of co-benefits, as well as focus on developing and deploying designs that enhance them.
This is a situation where it is possible to deploy the opposite of a hair shirt environmental solution: create something that is both more sustainable and more comfortable and economically desirable. It just takes creativity, joined up thinking, and a willingness to consider at least the medium term when investing.
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