Green Builders Embrace the Three Ps: People, Planet and Profit

Green construction, now a trillion dollar industry that is growing faster than the construction industry overall, offers an opportunity to address the triple bottom line: social, natural and economic capital.
By Taryn Holowka
January 4, 2019

The term “triple bottom line” was coined in 1994, but it has never been more relevant to the trillion-dollar green construction industry—and to the planet—than it is today.

First applied to socially responsible business, triple bottom line can apply to all kinds of projects in the built environment. The concept incorporates a long-term view for assessing potential effects and best practices through three lenses:

  • People (social capital): All the costs and benefits to the people who design, construct, live in, work in, and constitute the local community and are influenced, directly or indirectly, by a project.
  • Planet (natural capital): All the costs and benefits of a project on the natural environment, locally and globally.
  • Profit (economic capital): All the economic costs and benefits of a project for all stakeholders.

In essence, triple bottom line thinking requires that an organization consider how its business efforts influence social justice and environmental impact on the communities it serves. Green construction, now a trillion dollar industry that is growing faster than the construction industry overall, offers an opportunity to address all three Ps of the triple bottom line.

The benefits of following triple bottom line principles have a lasting impact. When employees feel that the organization for which they work cares about them personally, they’re more satisfied at work and more productive, which can result in lower turnover rates saving resources on training new hires.

A recent survey by USGBC found that a majority of office workers want to work for companies that are value-oriented, take stances on important issues such as sustainability and do their part to make a positive difference in the world. In fact, 84 percent of respondents prefer to work for a company that has a strong, concrete mission and positive values. Additionally, socially responsible and environmentally conscious organizations are more effective at attracting talent from a workforce that increasingly expects businesses to commit to these efforts. Expressing these values sets organizations apart from those slower to address environmental and social impacts, and promotes innovation across business units and functions.

Improved indoor air quality means the people in the four walls of a building are healthier, and increased access to green space is tied directly to happiness. Designing structures to consume fewer resources means buildings can interact with the surrounding environment symbiotically, rather than dominating the landscape. And, of course, green buildings save money—reporting almost 20 percent lower maintenance costs than typical commercial buildings.

The business case for green buildings is clear, and now we’re seeing more and more research that points to the impact on human health. USGBC’s employee happiness survey results have been reinforced in recent industry research that points to important social factors driving the decision to build green.

The World Green Buildings Trends 2018 SmartMarket Report from Dodge Data and Analytics found that green building construction is expected to grow between 2018 and 2021, and improving occupant health and wellbeing emerged as the top social reason for building green. The report, conducted in 87 different countries with participation from architects, contractors/builders, consultants, developers, engineering firms, investors and more, shows more than 60 percent of respondents expect a vast majority of their building projects to be green in the future. Two-thirds also report that using a rating system such as LEED allows them to create a better performing building and more than half believe it provides third party verification that ensures buildings are running in a sustainable manner.

Sustainability, human health, employee happiness, environmental impact and economic prosperity are all intertwined issues. Amid a changing environmental landscape and a population with dynamic expectations for the organizations they support and work for, businesses—if they have not already—will likely change the course of their daily operations, and examine the impact they’re having across all aspects of the community: people, planet and profit.

Committing to reporting on the triple bottom line brings transparency to a company’s operations. It demonstrates that business leaders are willing to consider more than whether they’re in the red or black, but the wider societal implications of the choices they make.

Today, there is simply more to the story than the profitability of a business. No organization or nation can solve the challenge that climate change poses alone. But if consumers continue to hold businesses accountable for their impact, companies will take more ownership over their personal responsibility to make a change.

by Taryn Holowka
Taryn Holowka is the senior vice president of marketing, communications and advocacy at the U.S. Green Building Council, heading up all global marketing, communications and public affairs efforts for USGBC and its popular LEED green building program.

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