How do you sell the idea of green buildings in a recession? The only way, says Pascal Mittermaier, is to prove to clients that sustainability will create a commercial advantage


Enormous change has taken place across the construction sector since 2007 when the building of the infrastructure around the Olympic project began. How owners and occupiers view sustainability is no exception to that change - indeed, this period has represented a watershed for sustainability.

As the economy has flat-lined, some say that sustainability should slip down the agenda. But I would argue that the perspective is simply altering. Sustainability can no longer afford to be a box ticking CSR exercise. Rather than a cost, it can, and should, now be seen as an active line of business profit.

This claim isn’t new, but often it is discussed in vague terms. The real question is, how can profit linked to sustainability be proven? In other words, can owners and occupiers measure the extent of the positive financial impact of delivering high levels of sustainability on a building?

As the economy has flat-lined, some say that sustainability should slip down the agenda. But I would argue that the perspective is simply altering

It is not enough to claim that, from a developer’s point of view, a building is worth more if it achieves high levels of sustainability because it is more attractive to occupiers. Why is it more attractive to occupiers? And how does that translate into measurable value? Yes, occupiers want value for money and if that comes with a sustainable “tick in the box”, then all the better.

But while a building’s BREEAM rating might be an element of some occupiers’ expectations, generally speaking it does not by itself drive a decision to buy or rent. What will drive that decision is knowing the value the occupier will get from a sustainable building.

Our ability to demonstrate value has improved, primarily because measurement has become more sophisticated over time. In many cases, measurement of resource efficiencies has contributed to a deeper understanding of sustainability as well as the value that savings can generate. This is the traditional foundation of sustainability. In addition sustainability now has a much broader reach compared with five years ago, specifically affecting areas such as occupier and customer comfort, quality of life and productivity.

To put it another way, sustainability is no longer a question of what can be reduced, it’s about what can be added. A number of academic studies have proven this value:

  • Office productivity: the changing of offices to a more sustainable building by law firm Oakley Thompson in Melbourne led to 39% less sick leave, secretary typing speed up 9% and higher staff satisfaction levels.
  • Hospital in-patient recovery time: building case study of Inha University Hospital in Korea identified a 41% reduction in average length of stay among gynaecology patients in bright (sunlit) rooms.
  • Education: 21,000 students across the US showed 20% faster progression in maths and 26% faster progression in reading by providing fresh air, day lighting and views.

This body of emerging academic evidence shows that sustainable initiatives can be a “profit centre” for developers and occupiers, and a profit centre that can be measured. What CEO wouldn’t want to be a part of that? While there is a culture of innovation in the world of sustainability, its impact on occupiers will continue to show an ever growing value. Sustainability will come to be seen as vital to the bottom line.

A perfect example is the International Quarter in Stratford - the commercial centrepiece of the Olympic legacy. Not only will it be competitive financially, but Lend Lease will design and develop it on the basis that it will benefit the bottom line of the businesses located there because the workers will perform better in an environment which sets a new benchmark for sustainability. It is just one more reason why I believe that forward-looking businesses should be looking at sustainability through the prism of commercial advantage.

Pascal Mittermaier is head of sustainability at Lend Lease EMEA and a member of its executive committee