How to Manage “Green Fatigue”

Summer 2013

Businesses and consumers are inundated with “green,” whether watching TV or going to the car wash. It’s enough to force many to simply tune-out, ignoring calls for lower carbon footprints, recycling, and driving less.

So what does this mean for commercial building owners? Unfortunately, it means building occupants and visitors are often those very same green-fatigued consumers who are tuning out the benefits of their state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly and energy efficient surroundings. In addition, many of the building management teams have reached their limits relative to green courses and certifications, filling out extensive new forms and working with consultants — all tasks carried out in addition to their already heavy workloads.

However, given the importance of green buildings in reducing costs and increasing asset value, building owners should not ignore the opportunity. In a 2011 study by McGraw-Hill Construction, it was shown that third-party certified green buildings enjoy an 11 percent value premium over comparable non-green buildings. Over the next three years, according to McGraw-Hill, green building activity is expected to triple, representing $145 billion in new construction and $18 billion in retrofit and renovation projects. Therefore, keeping building teams and tenants motivated is critical. The answer is relatively straightforward: Stop the big picture green marketing and start translating progress into easy-to-understand messages that resonate with occupants, visitors, and building management teams.

People understand and are driven by results. By showing various stakeholders how efforts to be green are making a measurable difference, attention can be recaptured. Many organizations, including the U.S. Green Building Council, are acutely aware of “green fatigue” and are aggressively pushing ways to detail the measurable green benefits to businesses and consumers.

Take the example of thermal comfort in buildings. By engaging occupants and delivering information — about both how to maintain optimal conditions and the benefits of doing so — appreciation for higher performing buildings can be increased. Similarly, when working with building engineers to reduce energy demand, it is crucial to provide near real-time feedback, educate them on the monetary benefits, and also provide information about the broader impact of the building’s performance on the community at-large. For example, displaying real-time building performance metrics, such as energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, increases awareness both internally and externally, which in turn influences and promotes an increased appetite to improve building performance.

This information can be displayed strategically via a dashboard, which shows multiple levels of performance data at a glance in a graphical format, either on a flat screen in the lobby and/or provided via a secure online portal to building tenants. These metrics are benchmarked, and then compared to previous data and to improvement targets. Real-time data is essential in driving building performance optimization, and ultimately reducing emissions and building operating costs. Showcasing the accomplishments of internal and external building teams creates awareness around environmental issues and also encourages tenants to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Many of us have developed a kind of numbness to the chatter about recycling, carbon neutrality, or being ozone friendly. People want to make a difference, but to engage them in environmental stewardship, they need to understand the why and what of their work and the impact it has on their life, the environment, and the bottom line.