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Green status more than a value play

In choosing from the wide offering of environmental certifications, sustainability experts are saying those designations should firstly reflect a company’s values.

During a recent CoreNet Global sustainability gathering, leaders in the field of sustainability discussed the growing trend of environmental certifications. With more and more certifications popping up, the panelists also argued that companies should be seeking those that fit their mission and their budget.

Environmental certifications are earned when buildings hit a certain threshold outlined by an organization. As companies look to be more socially responsible and environmentally-conscious, they are looking to earn these certifications as green badges of honor.

“Sustainability is a very trendy topic in real estate today, but it’s a conversation that is difficult to fully appreciate without the proper understanding of what goes into energy efficiency initiatives and the sustainability efforts one reads about in the news,” Thomas O’Halloran, CoreNet NYC’s sustainability community chair and Structure Tone’s vice president of business development, said.

L to R: Anthony Guerrero, Director of Facilities and Sustainability for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Janna Wandzilak, Director at Delos; CoreNet Sponsor and Committee Member Jennifer Taranto of Structure Tone; Josh Wise, Director of Workplace Experience with Criteo; and moderator David Briefel, Sustainability Director and Senior Associate at Gensler.

Certifications began trending after LEED—short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—became commonplace for new buildings. Several popular New York City buildings boast LEED Gold certifications, like the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center, as they focused on energy efficiency, water usage, waste management, and other green features during construction. The organization has even updated its criteria and framework in its fourth iteration, LEED v4.

At the same time, newer certifications have become popular ways for companies to highlight what they care about.

“One of the things to consider when you’re thinking about certifications is what are your goals as an organization because not all of these certifications are exactly the same,” Janna Wandzliak, director at DELOS. “Each certification is measuring different things.”

Certifications like WELL highlight human wellness through things like clean air, availability of fresh food and natural light requirements. The recent Fitwel certifications highlights buildings that encourage physical activity, healthier snacks and wellbeing and safety. And one of the toughest standards to achieve, The Living Building Challenge, requires a building to produce more positive impact to the environment than it affects.

Even with all these options, sustainability leaders often advise companies of the cost, effectiveness and potential value of each certification so they know which ones to pursue.

“We get a lot of questions if certifications are worth it,” Briefel said. “Certifications are still a strong way to ensure rigor of achieving [sustainability] goals because they’re well-researched and established benchmarks that allow you to guide a project in a structured way.”

JLL’s managing director, Dana Robbins Schneider, who was also recently appointed to the LEED Steering Committee, added that earning certifications require an arduous verification process.

“If using a system like LEED, WELL, Fitwell, you can’t just check the boxes and say you’re doing something, you have to rigorously verify you’ve done so,” Robbins Schneider said. Nowadays, Robbins Schneider said that companies often create their own customized set of challenging standards to prove they’re serious about the environment.

She added that the certifications will continue to progress and evolve as the bar for environmental standards continue to be raised.

“Walking away from the rating systems because it’s difficult to achieve would set us back in terms of the progress we’re trying to achieve,” Robbins Schneider said of the difficulty in achieving certifications.

Still, she maintained that pursuing the certifications are worth it as they offer a standard to a company’s pursuit of a healthier environment.

“The valuation of assets continued to be tied to the performance of those assets from an energy, environmental and health perspective,” Robbins Schneider said. “And the rating systems give consistency, rigor and a high bar to those standards.”

For companies who are committed to have their buildings earn environmental certifications, Josh Wise, director of workplace experience said they should be ready to have a serious discussion first.

“A key component is mobilizing internally and then making a decision about which things really are aligning with your organization’s internal values and mission,” Wise said.

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