December 5, 2008 As reported in CoStar Advisor
Written by Andrew C. Burr

New Numbers Revealed on Worker Productivity, Cost Premiums, Energy Efficiency

It is difficult to imagine economic turmoil as a good thing for any business sector, but as markets have steadily worsened this year, the outlook for the green building industry appears to be trending the opposite direction.

November was an exceptionally robust month for the publication of green building data, with more than 10 surveys and reports exploring an array of topics such as worker productivity in LEED buildings, the impact of construction declines, cost premiums and payback periods, and perceptions of the business case for green.

Though polling and research has increased in the past few years, new data has been even more in-demand lately as property stakeholders attempt to gauge how the credit crisis and a full year of recession have affected green building.

Almost universally, the data points to another good year in 2009.

One of the more insightful reports is the “Green Building Impact Report 2008” from Greener World Media, which quantifies the overall effects of LEED on industry and the environment.

In its boldest conclusion, the report said that companies in LEED building have realized annual employee productivity gains exceeding $170 million as a result of improved indoor environmental quality — a cause and effect that has been difficult to quantify. That figure is predicted to jump well into the billions by 2015 as the number of employees in LEED buildings grows more than 10-fold, the report said.

On the industry side, LEED-certified projects have specified more than $10 billion of green materials to date, which has been a boon for the manufacturing sector, according to the study. Environmentally, LEED buildings have cumulatively saved 400 million vehicle miles traveled, 9.5 billion gallons of water and 0.03 quadrillion quads of energy.

The report predicts an overall “flattening” of the rate of LEED growth as it begins to saturate markets, but continued growth in the amount of floor area that is certified. “The current economic situation coupled with increased stringency in the LEED requirements will contribute to an expected slowdown” in LEED growth, the report said.

Three studies report on how the downturn in construction will affect green building development — which is not very much, they conclude.

McGraw Hill’s “2009 Green Outlook” study said green building seems to be insulated from the recession and is growing “in spite of the market downturn.” The value of green construction increased five-fold from $10 billion in 2005 to as much as $49 billion this year, and could triple by 2013 to nearly $150 billion, the study reported.

In Turner Construction Co.’s “2008 Green Building Market Barometer”, more than 80 percent of real estate executives said they would be “extremely” or “very likely” to seek LEED certification for new projects in the next three years. And at an Ernst & Young roundtable of construction company financial executives, 99 percent of survey respondents said interest in green development would increase next year, or at least remain the same as it is this year.

All of that is good news for architects, who were polled in the recent “2008 Autodesk/AIA Green Index” survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) trade group and architecture software firm Autodesk.

For the second year in a row, architects said that sustainable design is being driven by client demand, which is in turn being driven primarily by perceived energy savings and marketing benefits. More than 20 percent of architects also said that “market demand” was motivating clients to build green. Only 10 percent said that was a factor last year.

Nearly three-fourths of architects polled were concerned that clients are still not willing to pay cost premiums for green design, although according to a new global study written by sustainability expert Greg Kats, premiums for new buildings average just 2 percent.

Called “Greening Buildings and Communities: Costs and Benefits”, the report found that most green buildings cost less than 4 percent more than conventional buildings, with the greatest concentration of premiums in the 0 percent to 1 percent range.

As a CoStar study revealed earlier in the year, key indicators of building value such as occupancy, sale prices and lease rates tend to be higher in green buildings than in conventional buildings, the Kats study reported.

It also said that green buildings reduce energy use by an average of 33 percent, and that cost savings from energy efficiency would more than offset the green development premium, often in five years or less.

Kats said those factors have made green buildings remarkably resilient to the economy. “The deep downturn in real estate has not reduced the rapid growth in demand for and construction of green buildings. This suggests a flight to quality as buyers express a market preference for buildings that are more energy efficient, more comfortable and healthier,” he said.

That notion is not lacking for supporters.

Eighty percent of respondents in a survey by the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) International, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the publication Real Estate Forum said that energy efficiency measures have defrayed costs, and 65 percent said their green investments have generated a positive ROI, which is up about five percent from last year.

Nearly 70 percent of corporate real estate executives responded that sustainability is a “critical business issue” in a survey by Jones Lang LaSalle and corporate real estate trade group CoreNet Global in a recent survey, which is up almost 20 points from last year.

And a majority of North American corporate sustainability executives believe capital remains available for sustainability projects, respondents told Panel Intelligence, a research company, in a survey last month.

Apparently however, green building data could afford to spend a little more time away from the office. Autodesk and research firm Harris Interactive recently asked 2,600 U.S. adults if they knew that buildings are the nation’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. About 4 percent said they did.

Our Perspective

The movement to Go Green is coming to the forefront. With the growing demand for energy and the lack of facilities to support this growing demand, steps are finally being taken to address this issue. The alternative energy market is poised to explode and this will also lead to more energy efficient buildings being built or retrofitted.

This issue should not be taken lightly, America faces a grave challenge in the near future. We must all work together to spread the awareness and present viable solutions.

Let us know your thoughts? You may leave a comment or email george@hbsadvantage.com