Going Green Requires a Cultural Change
Rob Rafson, P.E., is VP Engineering of Full Circle, a Chicago-based sustainability management solutions firm. He is also co-author, with Harold J. Rafson, of Brownfields: Redeveloping Environmentally Distressed Properties (1999). Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Rafson by phone from his Chicago office. What follows is Part 2 of our four-part interview. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: You mentioned that making changes in the way companies do business isn’t just a matter of changing the equipment, it also requires a cultural change. Tell us more about how that looks to you.
RAFSON: The biggest thing to my mind is that the cultural change has to happen on all levels. Consumers need to look for green businesses, and there need to be watchdog organizations on the alert for “green washing” — companies proclaiming they’re environmentally responsible just for show.
There also needs to be a cultural change in the business community — to take the time to understand the opportunities created by our changing financial, economic, and technological worlds. These changes are happening so rapidly, and they offer opportunities for telecommuting and other cost-saving strategies.
For example, Johnson & Johnson has implemented a lot of wonderful strategies to decrease their carbon footprint. A friend of mine works for them, and because of their no-travel policy, he’s visiting with clients more, spending more time on their accounts, and creating more information for his clients. He can look up more information and actually get more work done, because he’s not transporting himself. He saves money and resources by not traveling. And he’s got more free time for himself, because he’s not spending all his time on the road.
BPGL: How do you see the movement toward sustainability changing?
RAFSON: The interesting thing is that there is a social conscience component to going green. That is not a new thing, but a growing portion of the change in corporate culture. It’s also something that becomes part of this sea change that must happen, a way of thinking that is happening and must happen.
BPGL: Do you believe the change is consumer driven?
RAFSON: Partially. In my opinion, the big improvements and changes need to happen on a higher level, up the corporate chain. These ideas in cultural change have to come from corporate management, in that the driver is on the consumer side to push the corporate managers into understanding that there are economic consequences.
BPGL: What are some of the economic consequences of going green?
RAFSON: Real Estate management company, Jones Lange LaSalle did a study on the economic differences between LEED-certified versus non LEED-certified properties. They estimated that a LEED-certified office building would be able to charge $11 more per square foot, per year, over a non LEED-certified building. That’s a huge economic driver to go green and get LEED certified.
Another study showed that as a company goes green, or starts to move in that direction, employees are happier, work longer hours, and are healthier. Blue Cross Blue Shield [health insurance provider] is starting to look at reduced claims at companies that have gone green. And therefore they’re may reduce pricing for companies that have gone green.
So, as support for going green grows and is sustained, roots of this change start to reach into other industries and feed back to the main corporations that started the process. They’ve planted the seedlings and, as it reaches their suppliers and vendors, they gain benefits because of the strategies they’ve implemented.
BPGL: So companies benefit from the investment they make in being green. If they pay more upfront on renting a green space, for example, they pay less on their insurance plan?
RAFSON: The strategy of deciding to put your business in a LEED building is a component of going green. If the business itself looks more at the LEED certification and the strategies it takes to get there, my belief is you’ll see positive ROI just doing that. Making the building more energy efficient, reducing waste, recycling, and all the stuff that goes into LEED certification have their own paybacks. And, you’ll have additional, subsequent benefits by gaining increased market share and providing increased product and service value to your customers. It’s hard to define those numbers, but there are other opportunities to increase value like the example of decreased sick days and potentially decreased medical insurance costs.
I’m not sure they’ve come to the numbers yet, but there are a lot of health providers that believe companies that do green strategies have healthier employees. Take a look at the idea of bicycle commuting; I’m sure some bike federation is studying now what the health impacts of bike commuting are. This is an obvious one; biking is healthier than driving. How much that affects the premiums of an employee who is healthier and has fewer claims is an interesting question. It’s exciting that the insurance companies are entertaining the idea of figuring it out.
From my perspective, there’s a huge gap in knowledge and understanding of the idea that there is an economic driver to going green, and a quite design-positive one at that.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Part 2: Tax Incentives Boost Green ROI
Part 3: Going Green Requires a Cultural Change (Top of Page)
Part 4: Saving Money By Going Green