The Cost of Avoiding Sustainability

Why 2030 Matters Today

The Cost of Avoiding Sustainability

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An exploration of four Emerald Built Environments Clients and their approach to sustainability as featured in Properties Magazine.

2021-EBE-Properties-Magazine-Word-CloudUpon rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, the US committed to achieving 50% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The members of 2030 Districts across America have too. The buildings you build and renovate today will be measured by the goals of 50% reductions in just a few short years.

If we had our way, every architect, engineer, and contractor would be using 2030 energy goals as the new minimum design standard, exploring ways to go above and beyond. It’s time to stop using Code minimum as an acceptable standard for performance.

What will it cost your business if sustainability is not considered as a prerequisite for each project?

Let’s explore how a few Emerald clients approach sustainability and what their experiences may mean for you:

ENGAGED: “This renovation to the May Dugan Center is our only shot in addressing our part of the climate crisis, if we don’t do it today, we will have missed our chance to be stewards of the environment,” said Rick Kemm, Executive Director during a recent eco-charrette. While philanthropic investors may require it to achieve LEED certification, the desire to ‘embrace this opportunity’ is the owner’s requirement.

PROACTIVE: “I want to be ready for when my CEO asks how we are doing with E.S.G. reporting (Environmental, Social, Governance),” said the facilities leader of an Emerald client as we scoped next steps in their sustainability journey.

DIRECTED: “The executive team met and asked why LEED certification wasn’t included in this project – we need to get to work now,” said the architect for a publicly traded company with a renovation and new-build nearing CD phase.

COMPLIANT: “We need to get our facilities LEED EBOM certified, per the parent company,” said the UK facilities leader of an American multi-national, in consideration of ongoing compliance with European emissions standards.

When you think about potential cost increases of pursuing sustainable design and construction, including building certifications such as LEED, WELL, or Green Globes, are you thinking only about first cost? We encourage you to think today about the opportunity cost of not helping the client avoid increased costs from:

  • Late change orders to add LEED during CDs (or even DD!)
  • Failing to help your client recognize its long-term goals
  • Missing the opportunity to lead and coach your client representative when it's likely their executives & board will require sustainable performance
  • Jeopardizing a project’s funding stack by not recognizing its requirements for energy and sustainable performance

For the Directed and Compliant clients, the need for sustainability was there, but the client representative didn’t act until the ‘higher ups’ said to do so. In the case of a renovation and new construction, we all know waiting too long to start down the LEED or sustainability path inevitably leads to higher costs. What would have been the reputational, time, and cost savings if the team committed to delivering a sustainable building from the start?

Our Proactive client teaches us that if we ask questions around ESG during the sales process, we will potentially uncover opportunities to align project goals at the highest levels of the organization.

Our Engaged client shows us that while the first words may be “the funding stack requires it,” connecting with core values of the organization leads to greater opportunity. Solar is on the table for this client – if funded. Many sustainable design elements can be additive and planned for with controlled first cost.

The opportunity is to prevent a financial or reputational ‘cost’ from not fully understanding your client’s sustainability, ESG, or 2030 goals. A few questions you might ask during the sales process include:

  • Is this client a multi-national? If yes, explore the impact of European standards on reporting and carbon goals.
  • Is this client funded by a philanthropy or investors with sustainability goals? If so, talk about the cost of going “all in” with certification late in a project. Underscore how sustainability from the start is the smarter way – both financially and for program flow.
  • Is this a “one and done” project to last for decades with this client? If yes, ask them if they are aware of 2030 climate goals and how you can help them align future requirements with today’s project.

Continuous improvement is something many from the A/E/C industry embrace as a core value – at Emerald we call it Constantly Raising the Bar. Your organization could start by:

  • Setting your own NetZero or 2030 goals so you can talk from experience when connecting with clients
  • Establishing a basis for cost savings when sustainability is embraced in planning
  • Clearly understanding what basic sustainable design elements are easily added or funded through operations
  • Participating in your local 2030 District to learn more


This article was featured in the September 2021 Issue of Properties Magazine

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