gb&d: Tell me about your path to sustainability.
Barbara Ciesla: I come from the design side. I’m trained as an interior designer. I designed restaurants for the first eight years of my career and loved it. But, I got to a point where I wanted to make more of a difference.
I thought I was going to have to leave and become a doctor or lawyer, and then I heard about this thing called sustainable design. I heard someone from HOK speaking about it, and I just became fixated on joining HOK and learning more about sustainability. That’s really where my move into sustainability happened.
I worked for some wonderful leadership at HOK who gave me the chance. I was doing work in LEED EB certifications. In that work I had the opportunity to meet with tenants, and every time I did they kept saying, “If the landlord gave us the (sustainability) tools, we’d use them.”
I was reading about behavioral science and had this idea for an engagement program to help improve the performance of a green building. We know we can design and build a green building, but as soon as you occupy and operate those buildings you can lose those savings. There are really good studies that have shown that. So (while at HOK) I kicked off an occupant engagement program with Cadillac Fairview’s TD Centre property. We’re now in our 6th year of running the occupant engagement program there, and have rolled it out to many more properties. It’s phenomenal!
gb&d: Could you explain the business case for your initiatives?
Ciesla: In terms of business case, it’s the same as everyone else. I’ve got my P&L, I’ve got my revenue targets for the year, and I’ve got to manage to that. I think where sustainability professionals get challenged is when they’re viewed as overhead and then constantly have to prove their value internally.
What I see with some of my sustainability colleagues is they get pushed into this position of being the subject matter expert on sustainability to support the business, but also having to generate revenue. That’s the same as going to your HR department and saying, “hey HR, you’ve got to serve our needs, but you also need to bring in some consulting work to pay for your own labor.” That doesn’t make sense. Nor does it make good business sense.
So while the shift in companies has been happening, it needs to continue. They have to understand that this is no longer a differentiator but a part of doing business. That said, when you’re running a sustainable consulting practice, you are running a business. So you do have to have wear, and understand, both hats.
gb&d: The discussion on sustainability now includes employee productivity. Is there a way you connect sustainability and productivity to defend value?
Ciesla: The tool I was brought in to operationalize was built on the principle of 3/30/300. It’s an illustrative principle that says if rent costs are thirty dollars a square foot, your utility costs are about three dollars a square foot, but your people costs can be three hundred dollars, or more, a square foot. So rather than just working on getting a dollar or two off that thirty dollars a square foot in rent, let’s look at how we can put people in great real estate to enhance the three hundred cost.
From a real estate perspective, when we’re looking at improving energy efficiency, we’re looking at 10, 20, maybe 30 percent off that three dollar a square foot utility bill. So, that’s what, 30-90 cents? But we can get 10 percent more productivity out of their people, that’s thirty dollars per square foot of savings. That’s your total cost of rent! When our Brokers speak to tenants about this they get it. One of my clients has said, “real estate is a very human experience. If our buildings don’t serve the human experience, they are worthless.” That’s pretty profound for a real estate owner to say!
gb&d: Is health and wellness just a trend? How are building owners and tenants connecting that with sustainability?
Ciesla: Health and wellness is not a trend. It’s the way we should have always been doing business. Somehow, over time, we lost our way, just like we did with sustainability.
Health and wellness has a way of engaging people that is far greater than the sustainability messaging. When we talk about sustainability we’ve made the mistake about talking about things like the melting ice shelves and stranded polar bears, and while that’s very important it’s just so distant for us as an individual. Now, the built environment is really starting to get exciting for an individual, for the occupier. At the TD Centre, the property I first started rolling out occupant engagement, we have rolled out two energy campaigns, a waste campaign, and an environmental air quality campaign. We have now completed our second health and wellness campaign, getting ready to roll out our third, and the adoption rate is huge! It’s really exciting times. I don’t think it’s a trend. The commercial real estate industry has done amazing work towards greater efficiency and minimizing environmental impact, but at the end of the day, our buildings are built for human occupation.
Active in sustainable initiatives throughout her career, Barbara Ciesla, LEED AP, ARIDO, NCIDQ, is focused on helping clients assess and manage their environmental impacts, and providing innovative solutions that support and add value to achieving business objectives tied to environmental and human capital objectives. Barbara’s work includes providing strategic direction on sustainable practices and health + wellness initiatives including WELL certification. By combining her understanding of tenant’s organizational needs, building operations & behavioural science, she developed an industry leading and award winning program for occupant engagement. Outside of the industry, Barbara serves as a board member for Eva’s Initiatives, a non-profit organization whose mission it is to work with homeless and at-risk youth to help them reach their potential to lead productive, self-sufficient and healthy lives by providing safe shelter and a range of services that create long term solutions for homeless youth.
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