Employers Find 'Green' Buildings
Can Boost Worker Productivity
By Rebecca Shannonhouse
NEW YORK -- In New York, a city accustomed to claiming engineering and architectural superlatives but not always the healthiest work surroundings, an environmentally tuned building is emerging in Times Square.
Now only a six-story steel skeleton, the multi-tenanted building at 4 Times Square will offer 1.6 million square feet of "environmentally responsible" office space by its projected occupancy date of spring 1999, says New York City real estate developer Douglas Durst, president of the Durst Organization. Retail tenants will move in by Christmas of next year.
The movement to construct so-called green office buildings is attracting interest across the United States. "It's something that should have been done years ago," Durst said. "We hope our building will bring it to the forefront."
Increased productivity and lower absenteeism, a problem often associated with so-called sick-building syndrome, are two of the draws of green office buildings for employers. "Although exact statistics typically vary from business to business, most people intuitively know that environmentally responsible buildings increase employee productivity," said building scientist Asher Derman, Ph.D., a consultant to Fox & Fowle. "But everyone's business is different from everyone else's, so it's difficult to cut a common measure."
Distinguishing the building at 4 Times Square, Durst said, are energy efficiency, high indoor air quality and the use of nontoxic materials. The design calls for enlarged windows to let in more daylight, which reduces energy use and creates a more pleasant work environment for tenants. Building waste will be sorted with separate disposal routes for paper, bottles and wet refuse.
"Generally when you think of green offices, it's for businesses or organizations," said Dan Kaplan, a principal at the New York City architectural firm of Fox & Fowle, which worked on the Times Square office design. "We've delved into brand new turf by bringing it to a large speculative development."
The publishing company Conde Nast has signed up as a tenant at 4 Times Square and likes the idea of occupying an environmentally responsible building, said Conde Nast spokesperson Andrea Kaplan (no relation to Dan Kaplan).
"We're doing it for us, for the health, well-being and environment of our company," said Kaplan. She said a study will be undertaken at a future point to analyze employee productivity and response to working in an environmentally responsible building. "We obviously hope it will encourage others but there's no way of predicting that," she said.
The New York City law firm Skadden Arps, Slate Meagher, & Flom will also occupy offices at 4 Times Square, said Durst.
A few blocks across town at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme, officials say that renovating their offices will increase productivity and save money. The environmentally responsible changes in UNEP's existing offices at 2 UN Plaza are being designed by a task force of firms engaged in the search for environmental solutions, including EcoSmart Healthy Properties LLC.
"We really looked to run a pilot or showcase project of what a green office looks like in action," said Joanne Fox-Przeworski, UNEP Regional Director of North America. "It's not simply a do-good philosophical exercise, but a sensible, economical exercise." The actual renovations are pending during fund-raising for materials and labor. Currently, UNEP has collected $70,000 in donations from various manufacturers to fund an estimated $200,000 worth of renovations, Fox-Przeworski said.
According to Barry Dimson, president of EcoSmart Healthy Properties, the United States lags behind European countries such as Germany and Sweden in creating environmental standards for buildings. The proposed green design changes at UNEP offices show that the UN needs and wants to lead by example, Dimson added.
The design calls for many of the same features that are used in newly constructed green buildings, such as nontoxic paint, nonflaking ceiling tiles and recycled carpeting. Rather than redesign the entire ventilation system at UNEP, special filters will be used to eliminate tiny air particles, Dimson said.
Dimson hopes to create an environmentally responsible model and resource center of his own next year by opening a 23,500-square-foot high-tech green office space at 40 Wall Street.
The EcoSmart Building Center will include state-of-the-art air filters and air-monitoring devices, nonglare light filters and low to zero emission paint, finishes and furniture. The size of the conference room and other spaces at the center can be changed with modular movable walls, and a raised floor houses all electrical components, air conditioning and data feeds.
"Little by little we're accepting that being environmental and being technological are one and the same," said Vince Tiso, executive vice president of EcoSmart Healthy Properties.
Controlling costs for design, construction and maintenance of green offices also will be part of the EcoSmart Building Center agenda, added Dimson. Some environmentally responsible features may cost more initially, he said, but the payback is relatively quick.
However, many developers are not yet convinced, according to Gerry Lederer, vice president of government and industry affairs at the Building Owners and Managers Association International in Washington, D.C. The green building is a niche marketing idea, according to Lederer. But people are asking for documentation that doing these kinds of programs is cost-effective, he said.
"In the end, good information, education and due diligence are the best watchwords," cautioned Dr. Derman, the building scientist. "The green building has entered the marketplace. Free enterprise has hit, so the best advice is caveat emptor (buyer beware)."
Posted October 22, 1997