Sustainability and Offices: The Chicken and the Egg of our Times (Sort Of)


I have always thought the chicken and egg causality dilemma (OK, I confess that I looked that up) really serves no purpose at all, apart possibly as an exercise in teaching children the futility of pursuing a circular argument. Whichever came first, we have them both today, so let’s all just move along, ladies and gentlemen, there’s nothing to see here.

I feel much the same about sustainability and offices (although I would bet the mortgage on the fact that offices really did come first in this case). I know some real estate professionals who sneer at the concept of sustainability, who argue that it doesn’t make a difference, that price per square meter will always trump the use of rainwater for irrigation, and that if they really thought they could get away with it, developers would not bother with the extra hassle of getting accreditation.

There are plenty of others, quite possibly the majority, who would argue against all of those viewpoints. You will find many of those arguments rehearsed in this issue’s special report. But even if the naysayers were right, I am not sure it would make any difference. The sustainability genie is out of the bottle, and I do not think it will ever be forced back in. Like chickens and eggs, we have both sustainability and offices in our lives today.

Whether they really believed in the concept in their hearts or not, there was a period when sustainability was clearly a differentiator for those developers who were early adopters. As the cost of the technology on which so much of sustainability relies has come down, it has become easier (or at least financially less bothersome) to pursue a green agenda. But no one wants to be the negative outlier, the one developer who does not follow a sustainability path. In a very tight labor market, companies do want to keep their employees happy, and “green offices” are one of the must have items for Millennials (along with a good salary, naturally). That means tenants must look for offices that are sustainable, and investors need to do the same to make sure their buildings are full of tenants and delivering an ROI. That, in turn, means developers must build offices that are sustainable and, oh, look; we are back in another circular argument.

All new office builds (and increasingly the same can be said of warehouses and hotels and residential and retail) have one or more of BREEAM or LEED or WELL accreditation; I am sure someone, somewhere is pursuing the modern day environmental holy trinity of all three. The fact that the owners of older buildings are now increasingly retrofitting to make offices as sustainable as the structures will allow tells you this is no passing fad. The effects of government and EU regulation are also not to be ignored.  

There is always the possibility the means of delivery will change (remember when diesel was the environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline?), but the direction of travel will not. Sustainability is here to stay, and we are all better off for it.  

Robin Marshall


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