Simply put, LEED certification, through the best practices it represents, matters to tenants’ employees. Canadians increasingly expect their workplaces to proactively adopt green initiatives. As a result, sound environmental stewardship has moved from a ‘nice-to-do’ to a ‘must-do’ for many corporations. Locating in a LEED-certified building is a not only a clear demonstration of a company’s commitment to sustainability, but LEED-certified space can lead to happier and more productive employees, help improve employee attraction and retention as well as boost the bottom line.
Sustainability is now a mainstream issue and resonates in particular with millennials, who are far more socially and environmentally conscious than the generation that came before them. Bearing in mind that millennials are a key demographic target for many employers and are this year predicted to become the largest share of the Canadian workforce, corporations who occupy LEED-certified buildings can easily and readily differentiate themselves from those who don’t.
Attaining LEED certification for an existing building, or building a new one to LEED standards, has well-documented long-term cost benefits to tenants through reduced operating expenses. Savings achieved through energy and water consumption-reducing measures such as building commissioning, daylight harvesting, and lighting and HVAC schedule optimization get passed on to tenants. According to Canadian Green Business Council guidelines, buildings can reduce energy and water bills by as much as 40 per cent through the LEED-certification process.
What are less clear, and less communicated, are the direct benefits that LEED certification can have on employees’ well-being. Research commissioned by Oxford and conducted by Environics indicate that the top three desired office features are access to natural light, access to gyms and fitness centres, and flexible office space. These are also the top three aspects employees would change about their workplace to improve overall well-being and satisfaction at work. The good news for tenants is that these are areas that LEED can help to address in assessing the human experience and occupant health and comfort within a workspace.
The use of natural light is an important component of LEED certification. Not only does it create a bright and attractive place to work, but, according to a recent Northwestern University medical study, office workers who have a greater exposure to natural daylight are more active, have longer and less interrupted sleep and report markedly better results in quality of life assessments.
LEED certification standards also establish minimum indoor air quality (IAQ) performance to enhance indoor air quality in buildings, thus contributing to the health and well-being of occupants. Not only can IAQ play a role in promoting productivity, but it can also help to reduce incidents of respiratory illness and related absenteeism. Pollutants in an office’s air can cause dizziness and headaches, plus aggravate allergies and asthma, thus making proper ventilation critical. Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recorded a 35-per-cent decrease in short-term employee absence when internal ventilation rates were doubled at a test office.
As employee wellness increasingly becomes an integral part of the corporate and social responsibility (CSR) sphere, tenants in LEED-certified buildings have access to concrete examples of how their physical working environment helps support this goal. Moving ahead, perhaps the idea of ‘employee wellness’ needs to be given greater weighting in the LEED standard and when discussing the advantages of LEED certification. Millennials, despite being socially and environmentally conscious, have been labeled by some as the ‘me me me generation’. So while they might care about the environmental benefits of LEED certification, they also want to know, “What’s in it for me?”
Ultimately, for most businesses, staff costs are by far and away the largest proportion of a company’s overhead, with real estate typically only representing six to 10 per cent of that cost. However, by promoting a healthy and attractive physical workplace environment through LEED certification, the real estate industry can help employers to fully utilize a cost-effective way to reap the big rewards of increased staff attraction and retention, productivity and wellness.
Michael Turner is senior vice president of real estate management at Oxford Properties and is currently responsible for leading Oxford’s Canadian office and retail businesses.