The learn/work environment is the place in which many policies converge like Finance, Operation, Sales & Marketing, HRM, and specific programs such as those relating to safety & security, health & wellbeing and sustainability.
The motto People, Planet, Profit (Prosperity) sounds nice, but as a rule, it does not involve more than at most some adjustment of existing practices. At its core, environmental and climate policy requires real, painful political choices.
The ‘more’ of economic growth and the ‘less’ than benefits ecology are usually at odds with each other. At the very least, creating awareness among those involved helps in making and accepting necessary choices. Because choices will have either economic or ecological consequences. Sustainability 3.0: The individual makes the difference. It’s mainly about behaviour change. From climate change to social change.
“Change without really wanting to change is a dead end.” (René Stevens)
The goal of a company is not exclusively to optimize its profits. It also shares responsibility for social and ecological consequences. Society nowadays expects organisations to meet this Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In an ideal situation, there is a balance between the social consequences of commercial actions, the ecological effects and the economic results for the company. This not only contributes to a sustainable society but also leads to better results for the company. It is a trade-off between the short term and the long term, and between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Taking into consideration long term prosperity over the short term gain.
Research shows that the definition of sustainability is very wide-ranging. It covers more or less everything. Its meaning depends on the context in which it is used, and it is subjective. There is no clear-cut and unambiguous definition. The mention of sustainability moreover often implies an ethical discussion about the goals humanity should be striving for. There are often conflicting interests for both society and businesses.
Sustainability has no real meaning in itself. It is a quality that is assigned to tangible things (such as sustainable products, services or production processes) and intangible things (such as human life, the environment and society). There are various meanings for which this word is used:
- Sustainability itself, in the sense of a thing that is long-lasting in relation to its environment.
- Durability and endurability, meaning the inbuilt ability of a thing to resist or tolerate external influences.
- Renewability, mainly in relation to the sensible use of energy and commodities to maintain life on planet Earth.
Sustainability therefore relates to both ‘here and now’ and to ‘elsewhere and later’.
Sustainability is a catch-all term that includes everything that has to do with socially responsible living, the environment, ecology and future-oriented thinking. Although in most programs, the scope of sustainability goals is limited to carbon footprint, CO2 emission, energy consumption and energy generation.
The following principles are generally applied to ensure long-term efficiency and prevent divestments in the real estate portfolio.
- Anticipate long term goals early – Because real estate is realized for the long term, there are only limited natural intervention moments. With a depreciation period of at least 30 years, this means that the target for all buildings energy-neutral will be pursued for new construction and renovation, in order to prevent additional and unnecessary interventions later. By anticipating long-term goals at an early stage, an optimal basis is created.
- Linking strategic interventions to an appropriate level of ambition – The criteria on which it is decided whether or not to implement sustainable measures are related to the lifespan of those measures. As well as the required investment and the expected energy price development (from which the payback period is calculated). Operational costs are allowed to increase for measures that lead to an acceptable degree of improvement of the indoor climate.
- An integrated approach – Sustainability is not the only reason for an organisation to adjust its real estate portfolio. Changes in the organisational structure and developments in education also lead to changing accommodation needs. In order to prevent divestments, the real estate portfolio must be approached as integrally as possible. If a building has to be renovated or if it concerns new construction, the sustainability targets must be met at the same time to avoid duplication of work. Sustainability, therefore, forms an integral part of any project scope.
In most sustainability programs all short and long term decisions are tested to the following guidelines.
- Striving for high-quality accommodation that matches a modern, dynamic and innovative educational concept, in which safe, healthy and pleasant learning and working conditions are self-evident.
- In doing so, a commercial trade-off between costs and quality in relation to yields is made.
- Sustainability and future-proofing are paramount in both functional and technical requirements. The threshold limit is determined by the legal requirements set for air quality and energy efficiency.
- Confirmation to (inter)national guidelines and targets and organisational 5-year targets to follow through.
In line with the strategy and principles for sustainability, the sustainability challenge will, where possible, be integrated into the maintenance of the existing accommodation. In maintenance processes, only some aspects of a building are modified, making it impossible to make the building integrally sustainable.
The basic principle is that the interventions that take place in accordance with the multi-year maintenance plan are carried out sustainably in order to gradually improve the sustainability level of the entire building.
When it comes to interventions, most organisations focus first on energy savings in the building. The less energy is consumed, the less energy must be generated or purchased. Finally, the various options for making the existing application of fossil energy as efficient as possible are considered.
An additional motivation to get started with the theme of sustainability is to make visible local involvement in combating climate change. Energy-generating installations can be used by schools as a flywheel in educational themes, business operations, external communication and PR purposes.
From both a social and a business perspective, there is an eye for the sustainability of buildings. Therefore every building should have an Energy Performance and Energy Indoor Climate scan including recommendations. These tailor-made recommendations provide insight into the current energy performance of the building and also the possible structural and installation improvement measures.
An Energy Performance report provides:
- An overview of the current energy performance of a building.
- Insight into architectural and installation-technical improvement measures.
- Insight into the costs, benefits and payback times of these measures.
- Insight into the CO2 reduction by implementing saving measures.
- A good basis for consultation with the authorities.
An improved energy performance generally results in a lower energy bill, more comfort, lower environmental impact, a healthier indoor climate and lower management costs.
It is ultimately people that with their thoughts, emotions and resulting actions will make a lasting difference. Companies can apply their influence here. A sustainable change in behaviour is a journey with many small steps, falling down and getting up again, but not impossible. People make choices mostly on emotional grounds, not on rational grounds alone. If hearts are touched and people feel joined together in a greater cause, much can be achieved.
The essence of socially responsible or sustainable business operation is doing business decently. Decency is not a question of what you do, but who you are. You are not only an employer or an employee, you are also a person and an inhabitant of this planet. In both capacities, you have a responsibility that is not without its obligations. By setting an example, you can inspire and influence others.
Energy-saving concerns the contribution to the social and CSR objectives of an organisation, the reduction of the carbon footprint, the improvement of the living environment and accountability for the sustainability efforts.
Reducing energy consumption is possible by:
- Good information to the users of the learn/work environment.
- Awareness of one’s own behaviour with regard to energy consumption.
- Checking the correct use of the installations, exploiting the possibilities that installations offer, setting clock times, etc.
- Monitoring and adjusting energy consumption using the Building Management System and “Smart Meters”.
- Having a base of reliable data and performance targets to benchmark an organisation’s energy consumption.
Each organisation has a different take on sustainability and the degree of sustainability, just as each organisation has a different view of quality, costs or profit. Is your goal to reduce the burden you place on the environment as far as possible, or is it to make as large a contribution as possible to the environment?
This difference in approach can also be seen if one searches for the most sustainable building. The designation ‘most sustainable building turns out to depend on how one measures sustainability. There are several organisations using different criteria and associated certification, each with its own approach to sustainability. Sustainability moreover depends on the context and the time when it is assessed since our understanding of the concept and our measuring techniques are continually changing.
In the search for sustainability, it also emerges that ‘how far you want to go’ is a determining factor for the sustainability framework. Can a cigarette factory be sustainable because its factory building is extremely sustainable, even though its product, the cigarettes, is damaging to the health of both smokers and non-smokers? Is a bank automatically sustainable if it allows your savings to contribute to a more sustainable society simply by investing in social, cultural and ‘green’ businesses? Regardless of how it treats its employees, clients and assets, etc.?
And from another point of view: Is there no point for the cigarette factory to try to be sustainable because its core business is not? When all of us start to do what we can, sustainability will gather momentum and in due course, new possibilities for making a contribution will appear.
However valuable energy saving and reducing the CO2 footprint are, focusing mainly on making our real estate more sustainable is too limited an approach. This is only a part of what is needed in terms of sustainability.
Are you actually in a position to name and properly calculate all your dependencies in order to assess what is more or less sustainable? These calculations are difficult in practice because in many cases the composition of the production process for products and components in terms of people, resources and materials is not known in detail. The only way to resolve this is to establish where the focus on sustainability should be in your organisation. This will always be a subjective assessment but is not a licence for taking half measures.
Employees usually have little or no involvement in the question of sustainability as individuals. Is it enough for an employee to be able to say that they work in a sustainable building? The more important point is whether their behaviour inside that building is sustainable. It is human behaviour and action that ultimately determine whether sustainable measures are effective or not.
Without emotional commitment, sustainability will not take root. Make the ‘What’s in it for me’ clear to employees: not only the rational financial incentives but also the emotional intrinsic incentives. Make the sustainability policy simple and fun. Make it tangible and visual so that employees can recognize their own dreams, ideals and hopes. Then and only then will inspiration come from the heart, and people will be truly motivated. They will then behave sustainably not only inside the sustainable building but outside as well.
This will create a snowball effect and their family and friends will become involved. The behaviour of your employees will moreover spread the policy through the chain and customers and suppliers will become involved and inspired to make their own contribution. Something that works and possibly cannot be demonstrated with figures is better than something that looks good on paper but does not work in practice.
Be clear and transparent regarding your organisation’s goals with regard to CSR. Indicate the priorities so that choices can be made in conflict situations. Setting an example and encouragement is more important than producing an annual sustainability report. The sustainability policy will then not remain in the board room, it will be part of the organisation’s daily activities.
Employees are proud to work for a company that takes this approach to sustainability; they want to associate with it, and this creates a commitment that goes beyond an employment contract.
Organisations that have their sustainable buildings certified usually use a measuring method that is likely to place them at the top of the list. But what is the employer doing, other than employing people in a sustainable building? The far more important point is that individuals, people like you and me, are intrinsically motivated to (also) make a contribution in their daily lives to prosperity for all, now and in the future.
As an individual, you cannot change the world, but you can change your own behaviour and set an example. Setting a good example is effective. Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ It is a question of one’s attitude to life. It is not something that is the responsibility of only our political leaders or our employer.