Sustainable Design for Nonprofit Organizations: Why 'Green' Is Good for You

Sustainable Design for Nonprofit Organizations: Why 'Green' Is Good for You

This is the first article in our series on "green design" for the nonprofit sector. In the second article we look at the LEED certification system and explained how green design is also smart design. In the third article we outline ten ways you can go green in your office space. In the fourth article we look at the value — economic and otherwise — of a collaborative LEED design methodology. In the fifth and final article, we provide an overview of funding sources and mechanisms for your sustainable design project.

Your mother was right. Green, especially "green" design, is good for you — particularly if you happen to lead a nonprofit organization or association that is tax-exempt under the Internal Revenue Code. Like broccoli, it can take a while to develop a taste for the green approach, but once you do, the benefits will accrue to you and your organization for years to come.

Articles in the Sustainable Design series:

Unless you've been marooned on a tropical island, you probably know that green, or sustainable, design is no longer an "out-there" concept championed by tree-huggers and gadflies, but instead is a sensible and cost-effective approach to building and living in an increasingly crowded and environmentally stressed world. In fact, by the end of the decade it surely will be the way we design most of our commercial buildings and work spaces.

The good news is that nonprofit organizations faced with a major move or renovation project are particularly well suited to the sustainable approach: With their "mission critical" mindset and long-term view, nonprofits often own the buildings they occupy or hold long-term leases on the space they occupy; they can take advantage of special tax exemptions, grants, and financing vehicles unavailable to for-profit companies; and, typically, they are not afraid to turn to outside experts when dealing with real estate issues.

Over the years we have seen many associations and nonprofits move from leased space to buildings they have purchased for their own use. Some build their own buildings, some buy existing buildings, and some join with like-minded organizations to create co-ops. Each of these possibilities provides an opportunity to incorporate sustainable design principles into the new space in a way that also provides long-term cost benefits to your organization.

But even if your organization doesn't own its building, there are a number of things you can do in your office space to support sustainable design practices and create a more comfortable and productive environment for your employees.

A Green Primer

In a six-part series to be published in PND over the next few months, various LEED professionals at Hickok Cole Architects in Washington, D.C., will explain the principles and benefits of sustainable design, show you how you can apply these principles to your own building or office space, point you to funding sources that can help underwrite the costs of your sustainable design efforts, and detail how you can get started on the process by forming a team of qualified professionals.

In "How Big Is Your Footprint?", the next article in the series, we'll show you how to calculate the size of your ecological "footprint" and introduce you to a holistic approach to the concept of sustainable design. Once you realize how much space is actually required to accommodate your organization's operations, you'll begin to appreciate why it makes sense to consider and evaluate the life-cycle costs of new energy-saving technologies for your building or office space.

Articles three and four, "How Do You Make Your Building Green?" and "Ten Ways to Go Green in Your Office Space," address practical design concepts and materials that can be integrated into the design of a building or office space. They will also show you how site orientation, landscaping, and natural light and ventilation sources can be incorporated into the design of a building to economize on energy costs, and how recycling, non-toxic cleaning supplies, energy-efficient equipment, and employee awareness can reduce the costs of maintaining your office space while providing a clean, healthy environment for your employees.

All this may sound pretty straightforward, but funding the implementation of some of these concepts can be a trickier matter. In "Finding Funding to Support Sustainability," we'll point you to a variety of grant sources and other funding and financial incentive mechanisms that can help pay for some of the up-front costs associated with your sustainable design efforts, allowing you to save a bundle in the long run.

Finally, in "The Value of a Collaborative LEED Design Methodology" we'll explain why it takes a team of professionals, working together from the start of the project, to design a sustainable project that is cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. While this might seem daunting to those of you who have never been involved in the construction of a new building or the renovation of office space, there are plenty of experienced professionals out there who'll be happy to guide you through the process.

What You Can Do...Now

Even if you are a few years away from the end of your lease term, or if you have simply decided that your space no longer meets the requirements of your organization, there are a number of things you can do now to lay the groundwork for a building or renovation project that incorporates sustainable design principles and materials.

Let's say you are coming up on the end of your lease in two to three years (yes, you need to start that soon). Your organization has been growing steadily over the past several years, your employees are squeezed into every available nook and cranny, and you expect to grow staff by 10 percent in a few key departments over the next five years and have also decided that you need to provide new training rooms for one of your key constituencies. What to do?

You should begin by forming a design team that has specific experience working with nonprofit organizations. Note, however, that it is critical you hire seasoned professionals who know how your organization thinks, breathes, and works. The team, which should consist of an architect, a real estate broker, and a tax and finance attorney, will help you determine your space requirements, prepare a financial analysis of your options, investigate the funding and tax mechanisms available to your organization, and prepare documents for review by senior management and your board of directors.

It is the job of the architect to prepare a program, which should include things like the number of current employees sorted by group or department and their personal space needs; shared space needs such as copy rooms, workrooms, and conference rooms; and growth projections over the next five to ten years (or whatever time horizon you choose). The architect will calculate square-footage requirements for general circulation purposes and more specific needs to arrive at the total square footage you'll need five (or ten) years hence. He/she will also help you to outline your sustainability goals and prepare a budget for design and construction costs.

The broker will take this information and plug it into a financial model that projects the costs associated with expanding and/or renovating in place, leasing a larger space in a new location, sharing a building with a like-minded organization, or even building your own building. In doing so, he/she will not only look at the up-front costs of these options, but the long-term operational and maintenance costs associated with each one going forward. It is critical at this stage to consider your goals for the sustainable design component of the project so that the costs and savings of such an approach can be incorporated into all financials models and considered when valuating alternative approaches. The broker should also be able to advise you on financing mechanisms that can help you fund the design and construction of the option that's best for your organization.

With this information in hand, it's the attorney's job to advise you of the ways in which your organization can take advantage of its 501(c)(3) status as well as point you to funding sources and mechanisms designed specifically for sustainable projects undertaken by nonprofit organizations.

And It Tastes Good, Too

Once you have your design team in place, you can begin to evaluate your organization's needs and determine the best solution for moving forward. We believe that the more you explore the benefits of green design, the more you'll see why it makes sense for your employees and your organization. Who knows, you might even acquire a taste for it and begin to urge colleagues at other organizations to try it. In doing so, you'll be helping to reduce the collective footprint of the nonprofit sector and contributing to the long-term betterment of your community. Your mother would be proud!

The sustainable nonprofit

July 23, 2018