It’s no secret at this point: our planet needs us to do better. Be it by reducing consumption or tackling projects that give back to the planet, North Americans – especially those living in big urban centers – are increasingly interested in finding ways to do their part, and they expect their landlords and employers to do the same. Of course, green roofs and building vegetation has long been a favourite for property owners, managers and tenants alike, but did you know that there are countless other simple ways to improve your building’s sustainability without breaking the bank? Here are five initiatives you should consider to get the green ball rolling and the environmental conversation going.
1. Focus on education
In many ways, making the shift towards sustainability means changing your lense on the world – everyday plastic bags become frustrating reminders that we forgot our reusable tote bags, and sips of cold coffee in thin paper cups make us wish we’d remembered to bring our own portable thermal mugs. But to get there, it’s important to provide helpful, judgement-free educational resources to help people build new reflexes and understandings of the impact they can have on the world around them.
In the case of our urban beekeeping program, that learning comes built-in to our turnkey services, with workshops, hands-on experiences and educational materials that allow tenants to get involved and truly understand the science and ethos behind the hives. Some of our clients, like the MTCC, have even taken it to the next level – installing signs and posters near their rooftop beehives so employees, visitors and tourists can all get to know their buzzing neighbours and see how they tie into the building’s other green initiatives.
That kind of proactive education can happen across all kinds of sustainability initiatives. Real estate investment firm Shorenstein, for example, created a short video to help tenants deepen their understanding of which materials can be recycled, composted or thrown out. Other building managers have put up posters in bathrooms and shared spaces reminding people to switch off the lights as they leave the room, or offer special training and certifications for maintenance staff hoping to learn sustainability best practices. In an ecological transition where every little bit matters, seizing opportunities to inform and engage every person that visits, lives or works in your building can go a long way.
2. Increase your building’s energy efficiency
Be it through legislation, tax cuts or other incentives, governments are big proponents of projects and investments that increase energy efficiency. That means that by being aware of new initiatives and technologies, you have plenty of opportunities to reduce your impact – and your costs too. Perhaps you’ll consider changing your lightbulbs, investing in new insulation, or strategically alternating your sliding doors to keep the heat in during the colder seasons. If you have one, you might also want to look into optimizing your kitchen, retrofitting some of your key appliances or switching to smart water fixtures. When you’re working on the scale of a whole building, you might be surprised to see how quickly every simple step can add up.
3. Switch to green cleaning products
As building owners and managers, keeping your properties clean and sanitary is one of your most important responsibilities. And while the powerful smell of artificial pine or lemon certainly does convey freshness and cleanliness, many of the industrial-grade products most commonly used in building maintenance can be down-right toxic. The good news is, there are plenty of greener alternatives that can prove just as powerful and effective. For example, latex and water-based paints are much less harmful to the environment than their oil-based counterparts. You can also opt for sanitary paper products and garbage bags made out of 100% recycled materials, which as a bonus, will often cost you less.
Companies like Green Seal have also developed a whole range of products and services to keep your buildings clean without causing undue damage or harm to our planet. So before you put in your next order of supplies, take a few extra minutes to find distributors with greener alternatives – your tenants and the environment will thank you for it.
4. Make sustainability part of your building culture
Though every little bit certainly helps when it comes to environmental change, having the buy-in and true commitment of your leadership in guiding the sustainability shift can dramatically increase the reach and impact of every initiative. That’s why it’s so important to embed environmental awareness into the very culture of your building and team.
In 2018, West Coast property owner Kilroy Realty became the first North American real estate company to commit to carbon neutrality by 2020. With over 13M square feet of office properties to its name and tenants like Adobe, Fender and Viacom in their buildings, their leadership understood that by being creative and proactive, they could make a serious dent. They’ve since placed their environmental commitment at the center of nearly everything they do; integrating green language into their new leases, installing smart water meters and reclaimed water infrastructures to reduce waste, adding solar panels and high-tech window films to existing properties, and even growing pollinator-friendly landscapes and roof gardens to nurture and feed their urban beehives. So as new tenants move in, they get the message loud and clear: environmental sustainability matters here.
Granted, many of these initiatives are quite ambitious and high budget, but there’s plenty you can do on a smaller scale and budget too. Be it by involving your tenants in your green initiatives and creating incentives for them to go above and beyond, by hosting monthly talks or workshops, by ordering supplies in bulk, or by adding environmental tips and progress reports to your monthly newsletter, there are all kinds of steps big and small you can take to lead the change.
5. Tap into the broader community
We know it can feel daunting to take those first steps towards a more environmentally-friendly building, but it doesn’t have to be, there are plenty of existing communities, events, guidelines and initiatives you can piggy-back on to set the tone. How about starting with simple, one-day events like Earth Hour or Car-Free Day? With fairly little time and resources, these North American initiatives can help you spark the conversation and connect your tenants to something bigger and more emotional than basic building sustainability. From there, you can start getting more creative and ambitious. California-based property investment, development and management company CommonWealth Partners, for example, launched a whole calendar of sustainability-focused events in order to get tenants involved in their 2020 sustainability goals.
From a Green Office Challenge, to Battle of the Buildings Bootcamps, Compost Week and regular Lunch & Learns, they found unique ways of building on existing momentum to expose thousands of employees and tenants to their environmental efforts. You can also lean on existing benchmarks and certification organizations like the GRESB, BOMA, LEED, or the World Green Building Council – which is based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – to get a sense of the targets you should be looking to hit, and the multiple ways others are tweaking their buildings to get there. Trust us, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, countless organizations have started blazing the path toward sustainability and are more than happy to share and spread what they’ve learned along the way.