Friday, March 6, 2009

Green Building for Nonprofits

Jeff Carroll is conducting workshops in Maryland on green building for nonprofits. Often, nonprofits feel compelled to be good natural resouce stewards. Many social mission driven organizations are assessing their operations and writing green policy. Jeff gives us food for thought, not just for the how, but for the why of going green. Bunnie

Green Building for Nonprofits

by Jeff Carroll
Business Development Officer/Preconstruction Project Manager
Gardiner & Gardiner, General Contractors LLC

Finally, it’s cool to be an environmentalist. What was once relegated to the “nut and berry” crowd is finally moving into the mainstream. While it may be in to be green, there remains a significant level of mystery and misunderstanding around the popular subject. I’d like to spend a little virtual paper and ink and provide a definition for green thinking, especially as it pertains to capital improvements and why NPO’s should care…maybe even more than most.

Taking a lead from the US Green Building Coucil, being green is not just about the environment. There is a triple bottom line to green: social responsibility, financial responsibility and environmental responsibility. The Baltimore Sustainability Commission captures it as People, Planet and Prosperity in their vision for a sustainable city. When you think about it, nothing is truly sustainable if it is not simultaneously socially, financially and environmentally sustainable.

If our practice is socially undermining then that practice cannot continue unchecked. Government, or market forces or social hostility will ultimately discontinue the practice. Look at the general abuse of labor through the industrial age. It was not sustainable.

The same argument can be made for financial sustainability. My perspective may be decidedly American, but the basic premise is transferable. If it cannot be profitable, the venture cannot be sustained. One of the great myths shrouding the green building industry concerns the economic feasibility of green practice. The fact is, if it is not financially sustainable, it won’t be around for long.

The final output is environmental. If you spend more than you make, eventually you will run out of money. The same is true of our environment. If we render useless or consume resources faster than they can be renewed, we will eventually run out of resources. If we become dependent on resources that are not renewable then eventually we will exhaust that resource and cripple our operational capacity. That’s not rocket science, but it does require an honest level of concern for our own and future generations to take purposeful action.

For some of you, a commitment to green practice is a given. The tough part comes when NPO’s on limited budget (and that is almost always the case) have to pay a premium to be green. In another blog I could make the case for green based on economics, but is there an equally if not more compelling reason? Why should every NPO care about green practices as it impacts their next capital project? Here’s what makes sense to me.

Why do NPO’s exist? They exist to fulfill a mission. Why would an NPO build a building or engage is a major capital improvement? To advance the mission of the organization in a way that requires a building. If the NPO could execute its program without the expense of a building it would do it and put the money into program. So, the building is for the advancement of the mission. A building can fulfill that demand functionally but it can also fulfill it intrinsically.

The very nature of an NPO is to achieve efficiencies beyond the reach of government. The NPO’s maintain social responsibility beyond the scope of private industry. Perhaps most important, the nonprofit sector is the active conscience of society. Within the ranks of NPO’s we find people committed to human services, the environment, the arts, education, economic development, and religous programs. Each is to some degree inclusive of the other and committed to bringing good to the society it inhabits. How can organizations committed to social, economic, and environmental responsibility, build buildings that are counter productive to that message and vision?

Making sure that the NPO’s next capital improvement is green is consistent with efficiency and social responsibility. It will strengthen the NPO’s message, and add to the NPO’s credibility. Maybe one for the nicest side benefits in the current atmosphere is a green capital project creates opportunity for additional funding. A green building intrinsically advances the mission of the organization.There’s a lot more to say, but maybe this is a good place to begin the discussion.


  1. Jeff,

    Do you want to create a We, The World nonprofit program and collaborate? WE can help you create a nonprofit program for free.

    Contact Arlan (818) 517-1007

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