Arup Thoughts: Finding value in sustainability

Currently the industry tends to talk about initiatives in terms of their impact, rather than the value to the client or to the end users.


Courtesy: ArupTo make sustainability meaningful, I think it needs translating into a currency businesses really value. And that should be the job of designers and sustainability professionals.

Currently the industry tends to talk about initiatives in terms of their impact rather than the value to the client or to the end users. The major environmental and sustainability rating tools like Green Star reinforce this because they're based on impacts on resources such as energy, water and materials. They show you how to reduce carbon emissions, for example, but not how this would make your building more attractive to tenants or staff.

This focus on impact instead of value is a problem for several reasons. Studies show that companies generally don't inherently value protecting the environment; the reported value comes from improved reputations, reduced costs and through stimulating innovation. This means that a client might not see straight away why they should do some of the things that can be done.

Research also shows that focusing on environmental problems rather than opportunities and desirable outcomes can lead people to disengage with an issue. Even the extent to which we focus on the environment is important.

I have seen this first hand in a design workshop. The design team viewed sustainability as good business and were supportive of initiatives, whereas the finance director viewed sustainability as tree hugging and was skeptical of anything related to environmental protection that didn't have an obvious payback.

So what did I do? I framed sustainability initiatives in business terms, managing compliance risks, reducing operating costs, supporting patient well-being, attracting and retaining staff, and reputation. This enabled me to keep the finance director engaged for the duration of the workshop. It's only a small step, but it's something that we can all do.

How do you make sustainability meaningful?

Gerard Healey was originally trained as a mechanical engineer, but has a passion for sustainable buildings. At Arup, Gerard designs green buildings and understands how people use them. This content originally appeared on Arup Thoughts. Edited by Brittany Merchut, Project Manager, CFE Media, bmerchut(at) 

No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Water use efficiency: Diminishing water quality, escalating costs; Lowering building energy use; Power for fire pumps
Building envelope and integration; Manufacturing industrial Q&A; NFPA 99; Testing fire systems
Labs and research facilities: Q&A with the experts; Water heating systems; Smart building integration; 40 Under 40 winners
Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Protecting standby generators for mission critical facilities; Selecting energy-efficient transformers; Integrating power monitoring systems; Mitigating harmonics in electrical systems
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.