Small businesses help drive sustainability issues

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the December 15, 2014 Daily Herald

                The holidays are greener than they used to be – which has little to do with the weather and more to do with the fact that, says architect Richard Preves, many business owners “really do care” about sustainability, energy efficiency and popularly labeled green initiatives.

(Broadly defined, sustainability incorporates a living today so future generations have adequate resources for living tomorrow philosophy applicable to both individuals and businesses.)

It’s not just businesses with bigger budgets that care, either. John Gledhill, for example, has found green space for businesses seeking as little as 1,000 sq. ft. of space. Gledhill is a senior vice president who advises tenants on sustainability issues at Transwestern, a Houston, TX-headquartered real estate brokerage. Gledhill is based in Transwestern’s Rosemont office.

Especially if their business owns the building – perhaps newly constructed or remodeled expansion space – “Business owners can be very green,” says Preves, president, Richard Preves & Associates P.C., Libertyville. Environmental concerns “become part of their branding and strategy.”

The continuum ranges from “those loving Mother Earth to those who say, ‘I don’t want to talk about green unless it’s from the U.S. Treasury,’” Gledhill says. Business leaders closer to the Mother Earth approach look at sustainability and energy efficiency as “the right thing to do, even if it costs more,” he adds.

For some companies, “It’s important to have a social footprint that will appeal to the workforce they want – or will allow them to ‘brag’ to investors and clients.”

Other businesses are essentially forced into sustainability issues. Wal-Mart, Gledhill says as an example, “requires its vendors to meet sustainability levels.”

Energy efficiency best practices first took hold in the late 1980s. Related, and continuing, building code enhancements have made a difference, but so have individual choices.

Small business owners interested in sustainability have options. Green products include new countertops and cleaner paints with low voc (volatile organic compounds) generally thought to be safer for the environment, says architect David Kennedy, principal at Perkins Pryde + Kennedy, Glen Ellyn.

LED fixtures that last longer are another option, Kennedy says. Even newer fluorescent bulbs “are smaller and more efficient.”

LED bulbs “used to cost 10 times as much as fluorescents,” Preves says. “Now as technology has improved the bulbs cost 1.5 to 2 times as much.”

Gledhill says landlords will “sometimes improve space to help appeal to a wider scope of prospects, a faster lease or sale” at a better, for the landlord, price. Moving to space a landlord has already improved is one thing. Remodeling or building a new facility to handle a growth relocation is another.

“We look at the ROI, the payback,” Preves says. Although every project is different, paybacks that once took 15-20 years now often are less than two years, he says. For one thing, HVAC equipment is more efficient; computer controlled systems make a difference as well.


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