Embracing the WELL Building Standard: The Next Step in Green

Did you turn off the lamp on your desk today before you left the office? Did you remember to reach down and turn off the power strip your computer was plugged into? When you got home from work, did you walk through the house turning off all the lights the kids had left on, and did you reach over and turn off the running water while they were brushing their teeth?

You probably did because Earth Day is upon us. It’s the one day a year when reminders are everywhere to do the thousands of small things that can make a difference in the health and well-being of our planet and in our future.

What started in 1970 as a call to protect the environment for future generations, has turned into a global movement. At Skanska, we don’t wait for Earth Day to work toward building a better society. We work hard to bring innovative ideas and sustainable solutions to each and every project we undertake.

 LEED certification awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council, has been the standard in our industry for many years for designing and building environmentally preferable and energy-efficient buildings. LEED – and other standards – have evolved raising the bar over the years.

Enter the WELL Building Standard, by the International Well Building Institute. The certification builds on the foundation of LEED, and goes further. WELL version 1 has been in the development stage the last five years, going though both pilot and peer review, and it’s now ready for prime time, with version 2 expected late 2017/early 2018. We expect to see a growing interest in applying this standard to new building construction, actively building human health into the planetary improvements that Earth Day founders originally envisioned.

And with good reason. When you consider that 90% of our time is spent in buildings, how these environments can contribute to workplace productivity, health and wellness is the logical next step in the smart building movement.

Because the U.S. is mostly a service economy, most companies spend less than 10% on their mortgage and utilities and 90% on personnel. The bigger investment, therefore, is in people, so creating an environment that nurtures the health and well-being of a workforce, and reduces sickness, absenteeism and healthcare costs are important. It creates a virtuous cycle in which we all benefit.

We’ve all read about how millennials are reshaping the workplace, seeking live/work/play environments. By 2020, millennials will account for 50% of the global workforce. And this cohort is full of sustainability natives, meaning they see building green as a smart and natural thing to do. I suspect that they will be quick to embrace WELL.

The WELL standard is a win-win for both the building owner and the workforce. From the building owner’s perspective, they can see real savings by lowering absenteeism and presenteeism, where workers are sick on the job, for example. This lost productivity is said to cost U.S. employers more than $570 billion annually (based on the Integrated Benefits Institute and includes workers compensation, disability and group health program expenses). The WELL standard creates and environment built on health and wellness, keeping people active and energetic. On the workforce side, this way of smart building attracts employees who seek to work in spaces and buildings that have a ‘cool’ factor and play a role in improving on the green-built foundation.

What’s WELL all about? WELL addresses seven concepts:

1. Air: WELL establishes requirements in buildings that promote clean air and reduce or minimize the sources of indoor air pollution

2. Water: WELL promotes safe and clean water through the implementation of proper filtration techniques and regular testing

3. Nourishment: WELL requires the availability of fresh and wholesome foods, limits highly-processed ingredients and supports mindful eating

4. Light: WELL provides illumination guidelines that minimize disruption to the body’s circadian system, enhance productivity and support good sleep quality

5. Fitness: WELL promotes the integration of physical activity into everyday life by providing opportunities and support for an active lifestyle and discouraging sedentary behaviors

6. Comfort: WELL considers thermal, acoustic, ergonomic, and olfactory comfort to optimize indoor working environments

7. Mind: WELL optimizes cognitive and emotional health through design, technology, and treatment strategies

From a logistical perspective, the organization that certifies LEED projects, the Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI) also certifies WELL projects. This makes it easy to see how close a LEED project is to gaining WELL certification. WELL goes further by requiring information from employer on policies and benefits that go beyond the built environment.

The triple bottom line is about planet, profit and people. WELL doubles down on all three aspects of sustainability building on LEED’s strong foundation. It’s a fast and direct on-ramp to next generation buildings and the people who will occupy them. And we need to keep going.

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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A Sustainable Journey Need Not Be the Road Less Traveled

To mark Earth Day 2016, we asked our Chief Sustainability Officer Beth Heider to capture the essence of a recent address she gave to the Women Build America conference earlier this month. In that address, Beth explored a new paradigm to create value driven leadership across diverse business units, cultures and profit structures. 

When a restaurant advertises “home cooking,” that isn’t enough information to make me head inside and order a meal.  For me, it really depends on whose home cooking we’re talking about. In the end, it’s a value proposition.

The same is true for corporations: when we choose to laud or emulate a company’s efforts, we need to ask, are we talking about Walt Disney or Bernie Madoff?

Values are meant to articulate our own high aspirations; a comprehensive culture that transcends profit.  To that end, values-driven leadership doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it is a journey that a company and its employees take together.

I have a values journey of my own – one that articulates my deeply held beliefs about sustainable building practices and their importance to leaving a desirable legacy for future generations.

Like many journeys, I didn’t intentionally set out to get to where I am today.  My own values served as an internal compass. It brought me to intersect with Skanska, which followed a values compass of its own.

Let me rewind.

2015 LOGO-BuildingWhatMatters-Green

Two decades and two employers and ago, my boss at a construction firm came storming into our open office area – this kind of a mosh pit of humanity – where we were sweating to get a bid together.   He yelled, “The problem with you, Heider, is that you need to learn how to lie better.”

One of our subs, who always came through with good prices and complete scopes had asked me a fair question and I answered him honestly – behavior that my boss found unacceptable.  Stunned and humiliated at his tongue lashing, and after a good cry in the ladies room and three months to think it over, I quit to take a job at a consulting firm. That experience made me unsure that I ever wanted to work at another construction company, doubting the industry would ever align with my values compass. Six years later, I found myself entertaining a job offer from Skanska, one of the biggest construction companies on the planet.

At the time, Skanska was pursuing two federal courthouse projects. Having spent three years building a cost tool to establish the more than $1 billion federal budget for new court construction, Skanska wanted me to bring that expertise to their shop.  But before I took what I thought would be a dream assignment, I needed to know that their values compass pointed in the same direction as mine.

I got my answer in the form of two events, one at Skanska and one in my own career.

In 1997, Skanska was building a rail tunnel in Hallandsås, Sweden. The tunnel ran through a particularly nasty piece of geology and the injectable grout used to manage water infiltration leached into a nearby aquifer.  An environmental disaster followed, and news reports of poisoned cows and sick workers had a devastating effect on Skanska’s reputation.

Rather than phoning in a fix, Skanska leadership chose to change how they did business: having a third-party certify all future operations globally under ISO 14001 Environmental Standards.  ISO requires an environmental management plan that addresses project-specific hazards, and further commits a company to incrementally raise the bar on its own environmental performance. It required a significant financial investment from Skanska, as well as thorough company-wide education. But it was the right thing to do, and Skanska emerged to successfully continue with the project.

Meanwhile, back in the US, GSA was beginning its own journey, exploring the cost commitment necessary to green the federal workplace.  Daunting to my colleagues but fascinating to me, I climbed aboard the green bus. It was the beginning of my own sustainability journey – making the business case for green – and unbeknownst to me, put me on an intercept course with Skanska, whose values compass that had been reset by the Hallandsås tunnel experience, and now aligned with my own.

Last year, Skanska cut the ribbon on the Hallandsås Tunnel, successfully completed under  ISO 14001 certification and without further environmental incident.

PHOTO-Hallandsås Tunnel

Now, nearly 20 years later, Skanska is looking inward again and asking: do we really need to wait for the next crisis to change how we operate, or can we change to prevent the next crisis from happening? Further, why do we exist as a company?  What is our purpose?

As builders, Skanska creates projects that fulfill the needs of society – whether a tunnel, a hospital, a commercial building or an airport.

Equally important is how we create those critical projects. We aspire, not only to “do less bad,” but to accomplish good. Our corporate values – depicted as four connected arcs – form the foundation for our corporate purpose: to Build for a Better Society:

Care for Life:

    for the safety of our people and the health of our environment, and to be accountable for both;

Act Ethically and Transparently:

    to be honest, to do what’s right and to adhere to a clearly delineated Code of Conduct;

Be Better Together:

    we believe in collaboration that drives innovation and continuous improvement, while embracing and harnessing the power of diversity to foster an inclusive culture;

Commit to Customers:

    to listen, understand and add value to our customers so they are successful.

This rearticulation of our values compass is charting yet another new course for Skanska.

Former CEO of Alcoa and Secretary of the US Treasury Paul O’Neil has said, “The number one reason employees choose to stay in their current job isn’t because they work for a great company – it is because they felt they were enabled to contribute to achieve shared and ambitious goals.”

2016 PHOTO-SkanskaManInPPE

Millennials will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025.  Studies emphasize they prize values over compensation at all stages of their careers, including the employers they choose, the assignments they accept and the decisions they make as they take on more senior-level roles.  They want to work for organizations that have purpose beyond profit and that align with their own moral compass.

This is not just a new value – more senior employees can also be driven by that satisfaction of having contributed to something that defines the greater good and leaves a generational legacy worth inheriting.  That should give us all great hope for the future of our collective journey. With a values compass aligned with our peers, it is a path we can embrace, because walking it together will elevate our industry and our world.

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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3 ways to build a strong team

How do you build a strong team? This was the question posed to Skanska Chief Sustainability Officer Beth Heider in a recent Fortune Leadership Insider column, where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute their advice on careers and leadership.  Check out Beth’s response below and stay tuned for more insights from Skanska’s leadership team on Fortune and the blog.

Beth Heider LEED v4

My job as chief sustainability officer requires me to focus on creating sustainable buildings. The decisions my teams make today have an impact for generations, because unlike cell phones and automobiles, buildings and infrastructure last for decades. The teams at Skanska are large and complex, harboring different priorities and multiple perspectives. So my role as a team leader is to clarify the vision and pull all of the individual stars together into a constellation of talent: harnessing the brilliance of different perspectives — owner, designer, engineer, builder, facility manager, etc — and focusing them on a common vision. A vision that is bigger than any one company or person. By working together we can deliver truly great things.

Here are three key concepts that can help achieve harmony in any team:

Empower differences
When I was a young architect, there were very few women in the architecture and construction space. I worked for a man who saw my ability to articulate our architectural vision, allowing me to present our work in client meetings. He often told me, “You are the only woman in the room. They don’t know what you are thinking and that gives you a lot of power.” Instead of seeing convention or bias as a problem, I embraced the power of having a different point of view. Be open to the unique perspective each individual brings to the team and harness that diversity of thought.

Respect the power of collaboration
Early in my career, I was in charge of a major renovation of a 100-year-old federal building in Washington, D.C. I was very young, the only woman on the job and the head architect. According to the male construction superintendent in charge, these three qualifiers were automatic strikes against me– at least initially. During the renovation, we discovered a lot of unforeseen conditions.This meant we would need to work together in order to come up with the best solutions. So when the superintendent realized that I valued his opinion, he was interested in making the project better. It was immediately obvious that two heads were better than one, and we finished the project more quickly than originally planned. I realized that when everyone pulls together toward a common vision that is when the real magic happens. This realization was a tremendous turning point in my career. I learned that if you confront problems or differing opinions with curiosity and include the broader team in coming up with a solution, everyone has ownership.

Build inclusive teams
Every voice is important. It is not enough to have diverse perspectives, they need to be recognized. I find today’s intergenerational, diverse workforce where baby boomers work alongside millennials to be energizing and humbling. We all have a lot to learn from each other regardless of gender, race, age or work experience. When we create a safe space to explore different ideas we unlock multilateral growth and innovation.

So here’s the bottom line: we can’t build teams centered on one person having a big idea that everyone else executes. All of the players have a perspective that is essential to the outcome and every team member’s voice needs to be heard at the table in order to enhance business performance.

This post originally appeared on Fortune.com

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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Building a career as a leader in sustainability

Today in Atlanta, Skanska USA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Beth Heider will be elevated to Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. The fellowship program honors those architects who have made a significant contribution to architecture and society and who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession. Out of a total AIA membership of more than 85,000, there are only roughly 3,200 members distinguished with this honor. Here, Beth reflects on her career as an advocate for sustainability.

When I was in architecture school in the ‘70s, the concept of green buildings was still in its infancy, green buildings looked like the architectural equivalent of a Birkenstock sandal and specifying vinyl asbestos tile was common practice. How many ways is that bad? But we did not know, we just didn’t know.

Before I joined Skanska, I was a consultant to the U.S. General Services Administration. This was back in 1996, when the GSA had the foresight to wrestle with the question of, “What should the cost commitment be to ‘green’ the federal workplace?” I helped design the methodology to put a price tag on that commitment several years before LEED. This study for GSA connected me to a group of green building thought leaders, many of whom remain collaborators and friends. So my entre to green building came through cost analysis – making the business case for green building. Based on this work, the federal government increased budgets for capital projects which impacted billions of dollars in federal work and supported the GSA’s commitment to green the federal workplace.  Thankfully, today that cost premium for most green building has all but disappeared.

Making an economic case for green building

Since joining Skanska, I’ve collaborated – most notably with my preconstruction colleague Steve Clem – on more than a dozen studies exploring the cost and benefits of building more sustainable buildings. This research, supported by the success of real projects, continuously reinforces my belief that building more sustainably means building better. The most elegant solutions come when the entire project team collaborates, when the initial and life-cycle costs of projects are in balance, and when we dare to look at the potential of new materials, new systems and new strategies that question commonly-held beliefs.

Heider and Ferguson 1

At Climate Week 2014, Beth joined George Ferguson, mayor of the city of Bristol, UK, a 2015 European Green Capital, to advocate for net zero buildings.

As an industry, we have come a long way in terms of connecting the dots between the bottom line and the impact of sustainability, but we can – and must – continue to do better. Just this past year, Skanska partnered with the World Green Building Council on a major global research effort to establish common ways of measuring health and productivity benefits arising from green buildings, and to provide best practice guidance on the types of green building features that enhance them. We found that a range of factors – from air quality and lighting, to views of nature and interior layout – can affect the health, satisfaction and job performance of office workers, and in turn, the bottom line of a business. It’s this kind of quantitative advocacy that has changed the conversation about not only what, but the way, we build.

1_Bi1399_rgb_Omslag_5Beth led the push for Skanska to pursue LEED Platinum certification at our offices in the Empire State Building, demonstrating that green retrofits can both save money and reduce a space’s environmental impact. 

In 2008, Skanska decided to refurbish our flagship offices in the Empire State Building to LEED Platinum. We wanted to show that environmentally responsible and energy efficient renovation is possible even in a historic skyscraper. Our 32nd-floor office is the first in the Empire State Building to obtain LEED Platinum certification. Skanska now benefits from a 58 percent reduction in electricity costs compared to our prior office, and we are on track to save over half a million dollars in operational costs over the life of our lease. We also tracked sick leave as an indicator of health and workplace productivity. In our first two years of occupancy, our sick leave dropped between 15 percent and 18 percent over our previous offices. This was by design.

Learning from other green leaders

One of the highlights of my career was serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Green Building Council. Two great chairwomen preceded me: Gail Vittori and Rebecca Flora, each with different skillsets. This was also the first time in my entire 30-plus-year career I worked with female leaders. Collaborating with the amazing and talented USGBC staff on a variety of committees and work groups during that first term I learned the power of USGBC’s engine and I saw that strength multiply under CEO Rick Fedrizzi and COO Mahesh Ramanujam. That preparation and collaboration emboldened me to lead according to my own compass.

Today, as chief sustainability officer, my job is to translate into action Skanska’s commitment to sustainability and constantly seek out pragmatic and useful ways to impact and measure the triple bottom line.

In talking about sustainability, it’s not just thinking about better buildings but how we build those buildings that matters. I was drawn to Skanska because of the company’s commitments to ethics, and because Skanska provided an opportunity to take the important green work I had done with the federal government into the field. This emphasis on ethics expanded to embrace the concept of the triple bottom line: maximizing positive effects on humans, the planet and the economy.

Looking ahead 

What’s the future look like? It is projects like the Bertschi School Science Classroom and the Brock Environmental Center that not only look to achieve net-zero energy or water but also serve as a model for living responsibly with nature and each other.

Beth’s insights helped the Chesapeake Bay Foundation position its Brock Environmental Center project in Virginia Beach, Va., for Living Building Challenge certification

The biggest challenge in my career as a green advocate has been confronting honestly held but incompletely informed beliefs and complacency. What a shame it would be if we saved billions of dollars in energy costs and health care costs and enhanced productivity, only to find out that human activity had less of an impact on global climate change than we had thought! Regardless of your position on climate change, enhancing energy and water efficiency and enhancing human wellness and productivity through better buildings represent one of the greatest economic opportunities of our lifetime. And if you believe the vast majority of the scientific community, we need to get busy and embrace this opportunity now. If climate change and unhealthy materials were perceived to be as much of a threat to humanity as World War II, I believe that we would find a way to address the threat and create economic prosperity. Population projections alone are reason enough to encourage conservation. If we are going to ensure that our planet can support a burgeoning population, sustainability must be our priority.

 

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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Empire State Building: The Big Apple Turns Green

Case Study: Lifecycle planning

Location: Empire State Building, New York City

Challenge: Transform a floor of the iconic building into a flexible space that will meet high environmental standards throughout a 15-year lease.

Empire State Building

photo credit: aturkus via photopin cc

 Empire State Building Skanska's office

When Skanska secured a 15-year lease on the 32nd floor of the Empire State Building for our U.S. flagship office, we wanted to show that environmentally responsible renovation, leading to reduced energy use and environmental impact, is possible even 330 feet up in a 75-year-old skyscraper.

We initiated the project through a planning session with all key project partners – designers, subcontractors and the building owner, Tony Malkin. This way we could draw on the expertise of the entire project team. Our vision was for the nearly 25,000-square-foot office to accommodate a variety of needs, without requiring extensive redevelopment work to adjust to our future needs. A largely open-plan configuration was chosen.

“We broke open the floor plan by letting in light through glass internal walls,” said Beth Heider, Skanska USA senior vice president. “Ninety percent of the space has full daylight access, and all full-time occupants have an exterior view.”

The daylight – in combination with smart lighting and ventilation, as well as other energy-saving measures – has resulted in this office having an energy consumption that’s 35 percent lower than baseline standard. Those efficient systems include an under-floor ventilation system that is individually controlled, and operable windows that allow natural ventilation. Additionally, the space reduces water usage 40 percent below Energy Policy Act standards.

Our 32nd floor office is the first in the Empire State Building to obtain LEED certification (LEED Platinum). Moreover, the renovation means our 15-year contract will save significantly on energy costs. Now, the building owner is adopting the same thinking on other floors.

With this new office, we demonstrated that you can radically lower energy use and adopt flexible solutions in older buildings – even those built as far back as the 1930s. Skanska now benefits from a 58 percent reduction in electricity costs compared to its prior office, which is projected to save the company approximately $680,000 in energy costs over the life of its 15-year lease. Imagine if similar efforts were made in buildings of the same age nationwide.

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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Top 10 green building tips

Green building tips

Photo credit: pjan vandaele via photopin cc

To really change society, we all need to push green development forward. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Ask yourself if there’s any reason not to build green.

2. Involve affected parties early in the process so you can incorporate their opinions and concerns into the solution, rather than try to find remedies afterwards. Turn suppliers into partners so you can best utilize their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm.

3. Take the entire lifecycle of the building or structure into account during planning. The operational cost of a building over time has traditionally been much more than the initial cost of construction. And look at new financial planning models that support long-term value rather than the lowest cost in the short term.

4. Consider the financial and social benefits of how building green can improve human health, wellness, productivity, social equity, diversity and inclusion. These attributes have the potential to dwarf the beneficial impacts of saving carbon, energy and water, and are relatively easy to quantify.

5. Think long-term flexibility to avoid the high costs and environmental impact generated by rebuilding when having to respond to evolving space needs.

6. Be open to innovative and elegant solutions. Consider the local conditions, local materials and utilize leading technologies. State-of-the-shelf technologies elegantly deployed can transform building today.

7. In the planning and design process, keep the four R’s in mind: reduce, reuse, recycle and recover.

8. Define your own plan for the Deep Green journey and make it visible. Start now. Communicate the strategy and operations so everyone involved understands their necessity, and what they need to do. Consider the impact that the occupant and facilities management team has on building performance and inspire all of your building stakeholders to think greener.

9. Consider the positive effects of green building on the brand equity of your company.

10. Again, ask yourself if there’s any reason not to build green.

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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12 aspects of a green city

As the desire and impetus for green building grows, the green city will become a reality. Here are 12 key aspects to achieving the green city of the not-too-distant future:

1. Infrastructure promoting transit, walking, cycling and other alternatives to car use.

This would be a city with an extensive system of public transportation, bike lanes and other infrastructure supporting car-free mobility, while also having places to work, live and socialize  in close proximity.

2. Highly energy-efficient buildings.

Buildings will use little energy, thanks to very good insulation levels in walls, ceilings and floors, and with high-efficiency windows and an optimized building orientation to minimize heating and cooling needs

3. On-site energy generation from such renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy.

Buildings will capture solar, wind and geothermal energy to satisfy the demands for electric power, heating and cooling. Energy piles – foundation piles laced with tubing to extract geothermal energy – will provide an innovative source of renewable energy achieved by combining the latest piling and geothermal technologies.

4. Renewable off-site energy supply, including low-impact hydropower, wind power and solar power.

Energy will be generated from renewable natural resources, such as sunlight, wind, rain and tides – sources that need not cost anything to the planet, and will be distributed through national and local grids to end users.

5.  Waste recycling.

Waste products will be recovered and put to use.

6.  Green roofs.

Roofing systems will  use vegetation to absorb rainwater and reduce heat reflection.

7.  Rainwater harvesting.

Rainwater will be collected, stored and used for irrigation – perhaps even for livestock drinking water.

8.  Water recycling.

Wastewater will be partially treated and reused. For example, in buildings for flushing toilets, or for agricultural and landscape irrigation.

9.   Regional materials and resources.

Buildings will be constructed with  locally sourced materials, preferably with recycled content and produced with minimal effect on the environment. These should last the entire lifecycle of the building and be easily recyclable afterwards.

10.  Locally processed materials.

To contribute  zero waste, locally-sourced materials will be  produced to consistent quality standards and tagged for inventory control and just-in-time delivery to the construction site.

11.  Healthy indoor air quality.

No harmful compounds will be allowed in, including particulates, combustion gases, outdoor pollution, mold, microbial contaminants and compounds released by materials.

12.  Old buildings made energy efficient.

Through renovation and by using updated green technology, old buildings will be retrofitted to reduce their impacts on the environment.

 

 

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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