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Net-Zero-Energy Buildings Attract ‘Knowledge Workers’

Linda Hardesty

Energy Manage YudelsonGreen building consultant Jerry Yudelson says the business case for investment in net-zero-energy buildings is about more than energy savings.

Yudelson, who will address the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) annual meeting this week in Hawaii, says energy, as a cost of operations, is small compared to the costs associated with employees. Businesses pay as much as 100 times more per square foot for employee expenses compared to energy expenses, he says.

Typically, building owners and developers that aspire to net-zero-energy goals do so for a combination of reasons, including financial gain, public relations and responsiveness to stakeholder concerns. Most net-zero-energy buildings employ on-site or off-site solar power systems together with other energy savings technologies.

Yudelson gave some examples of motivations for going net-zero:

  • “Universities live and die on their rankings,” he said. “If you’re a university, attracting the faculty and students you want may mean you need to be more green.”
  • “If you’re an non-government organization (NGO), your donors are your drivers. If you have a green mission you need to demonstrate that in your own building.”
  • Genzyme, a biotechnology company in Cambridge, Mass., built a LEED Platinum corporate headquarters and documented they had reduced staff turnover by 5 percent. “That value to them of not having to replace key staff on an annual basis was twice their energy cost,” said Yudelson. “In a place like Cambridge, you can change jobs easily if you’re a knowledge worker in certain industries.”

Asked about the struggles of some early net-zero-energy projects, namely The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies on the campus of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, Yudelson said, “That project was way ahead of its time. For the business case, you have to look at an organization’s goals and objections. A lot of large corporations are doing net-zero to attract and keep key staff of the millennial generation.”



One comment on “Net-Zero-Energy Buildings Attract ‘Knowledge Workers’

  1. I am involved in helping several of our clients with a Zero Net Energy strategy and agree with Jerry’s observations. Many of our clients are busy running their own core business in a highly competitive world with many competing priorities. Energy is just one of many priorities. At a recent Emerging Technologies symposium the panelists said it was lack of enough people, competing priorities, and cost of capital that interfered with the ability to implement energy efficiency in their organization. The panelists where high enough in their organization, one reporting to their CEO’s office, that comments were backed with real life experience. I work at the ground floor and would agree. Many are interested and eager to do the right thing but have many responsibilities in addition to just sustainability. The next observation I have at the ground floor is there are now many new entrants in the clean and green industries calling on this potential customers. What is a potential customer to do? How do you evaluate the best product? What is the best business case? There are business decisions behind the green decisions in with limited time, capital and good people.

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