Home Green Design Upfront Investment in Green Design, Cleaning and Other Practices Yields Long-Term Benefits

Upfront Investment in Green Design, Cleaning and Other Practices Yields Long-Term Benefits


NATIONAL REPORT—One of the most extensive and comprehensive studies to date, an analysis by the California Sustainable Building Task Force released in October 2003, found that “a minimal upfront investment of about 2 percent of design and construction costs to integrate green or sustainable building practices into a facility typically yields life cycle savings of more than 10 times the initial investment.”

The study indicated, for example, that an initial investment of approximately $100,000 to incorporate green and sustainable building upgrades into a $5 million facility would result in a savings of at least $1 million over the building’s life span, assuming a 20-year life cycle. And, although the study involved an analysis of state buildings in California, the report indicated that the data is applicable to similar green/sustainable buildings throughout the country, including hotels and other privately held buildings.

The analysis was based on a study of 33 green public facilities throughout California. It involved several dozen building representatives, managers, contractors, and architects, who were asked to analyze the costs and benefits of building and operating a green/sustainable facility compared to a more conventional design and operation of those very same buildings.

The financial savings were derived from:

• lower water and energy costs;

• more efficient waste disposal measures;

• reduced environmental and emissions costs;

• more productive cleaning and maintenance operations; and

• savings from increased productivity and the health of those using and working in the facility.

The savings from water, energy, and more efficient waste disposal were fairly easy to tabulate with reasonable precision, measurement, and monitoring over time. Improvements in productivity and health benefits derived from incorporating green/sustainable measures were less predictable and often harder to gauge. However, there is significant evidence that indicates a correlation between green/sustainable buildings and improved health and productivity of occupants that use the facility.

Additionally, hotels that have switched to green cleaning and similar measures report that hotel housekeepers have fewer allergic reactions to cleaning chemicals—helping improve productivity. Also, there are fewer complaints from hotel guests regarding odors or allergic reactions to cleaning chemicals.


Green or sustainable buildings use key resources such as energy, water, building materials, land, cleaning chemicals and products much more efficiently than buildings built to typical construction codes and maintained using conventional cleaning and operating systems. More specifically, sustainable building practices incorporate the use of products that are renewable so that its use today will not deprive them for use by future generations. Both the practices and products have been found to create healthier work, living, and learning environments with improved indoor air and environmental quality and more natural light, all of which improve occupant health, productivity and comfort.

Over the past few years, the green movement has grown tremendously. In the cleaning industry five years ago, major chemical manufacturers were not offering environmentally preferable cleaning products nor did most consider green cleaning a serious industry trend. Today, numerous manufacturers are producing entire lines of environmentally preferable products—including degreasers, detergents, spot removers, floor products and carpet cleaning chemicals—with many rushing to be a market leader in the field. And in addition to the products offered by chemical manufacturers, others manufacturers now offer environmentally preferable janitorial paper products, vacuum cleaners, carpet extractors, micro-fiber products, entryway mats and more.

At the same time, and possibly because of it, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system have been widely embraced nationally and worldwide as the green building standard. Based on these standards, American cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have constructed green/sustainable buildings.

Some states, such as New York and Maryland, have adopted green building policies. Federal agencies such as the General Services Administration and corporate entities such as IBM, Steelcase, Herman Miller and others have constructed green facilities. With the development of green hotel and restaurant associations, we can expect green to become a much bigger issue in hotels and restaurant as well.

Previous Studies

Although the Task Force study is the most comprehensive analysis to date, there have been other studies that extol the benefits, cost savings, and financial payback of building and operating green/sustainable facilities. For instance, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation released a study in 2002 regarding a new 90,000-square-foot office facility. Their analysis found that “with each increasing level of sustainability, (including various levels of LEED), short-term costs increased, but long-term costs decreased dramatically.”

A previous study, conducted by Xenergy for the City of Portland, Ore., revealed a 15 percent building life cycle savings when three facilities were brought up to USGBC and LEED certification levels. According to this study, most of the savings were associated with improved energy efficiency, water use, and the use of salvageable materials.

Other studies have documented the harder to measure and quantify benefits of green/sustainable buildings mentioned earlier, such as enhanced worker productivity and student performance. One such study, conducted by the Heschong-Mahone Group, found that students in classrooms with the greatest amount of natural lighting performed up to 20 percent better than those students in classrooms with little day lighting. Another report by Herman-Miller indicated a 7 percent improvement in worker productivity by moving to a green/sustainable facility. And, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif., reports that U.S. businesses could save as much as $58 billion in time lost due to sickness and an additional $200 billion in enhanced worker performance if improvements are made to indoor air and environmental quality.

A Clear Conclusion

Historically, both private and public entities have not fully recognized green/sustainable buildings’ financial value. They may acknowledge some easy to measure benefits, such as reduced energy and water use, but have been unaware of or totally ignored many other significant financial benefits of designing, constructing, and operating green/sustainable facilities. However, despite data limitations and the need for more research, the Task Force’s report proves that, “building green [and sustainable facilities] is cost-effective and makes financial sense today.”

It is true that these benefits are most directly the result of savings in energy, water, and waste disposal, but they are also the result of improved building maintenance and operation, as well as enhanced occupant health and productivity. Additionally, the Task Force concluded that green/sustainable facilities have a major impact on worker productivity and student performance that far exceeds any initial upfront costs in building design, construction, or operation.

Stephen P. Ashkin