How does the air we breathe affect the work we produce?
It’s not a question I’d pondered very frequently, until I had the opportunity to chat with Ben Wallace for the latest episode of Break Free B2B. But it’s one of many considerations that came to light during his illuminating interview with TopRank Marketing President Susan Misukanis and myself.
As CEO of Link Positive, a clean-energy business development service, and co-founder of soon-to-launch energy optimization implementation startup Minify Energy, Ben consults companies about energy efficiencies, reducing environmental footprint, and creating a more comfortable workspace. As he explains, there are business and marketing implications that go well beyond what is apparent on the surface.
To illustrate this, he urges a focus on the “Triple Bottom Line”: Planet, Productivity, Profit. All three are intertwined, and they are critical to the way B2B organizations present themselves and succeed in the marketplace today and in the critical years ahead, factoring climate change and the values of new generations defining the workforce.
In our wide-ranging conversation with him, Ben explores sustainability from many angles, including how it functions as a marketing tool, practical ways to make improvements, the concrete effects on employees, and what the future holds.
Break Free B2B Interview with Ben Wallace
If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.
- 1:31 – Following in his father’s footsteps
- 3:27 – Moving from consumer goods to B2B
- 10:50 – Shifting to building management
- 12:11 – The influence of air quality on cognitive ability
- 16:56 – Equipping old building to meet new environmental challenges
- 22:27 – Influencing employee health when you don’t own the building
- 26:00 – The value of green buildings
- 28:45 – The ultimate in user-centric building design
- 29:55 – Sustainability as a marketing tool
- 32:55 – The role of compliance programs in sustainability
- 34:20 – Focusing on sustainability as a corporate value
- 37:13 – Have we lost the war against climate change?
- 42:19 – Does your company need a sustainability audit?
Susan: Ben, could you talk a little bit about an “aha” moment which made you think you could help make workplaces more healthy environments?
Ben: The vast majority of buildings out there don’t have smart sensing and controls in them—about 15 to 20% of the buildings have smart controls, and it’s mostly the class A high-rises for those who can afford it. But now, technologies are emerging with low cost sensors [such as] cloud compute—and the technology is there, especially with some of these born in the cloud, born digital, companies, making it accessible and affordable for pretty much everyone. And, also taking into account that usability factor and making it easy and so it’s not as complex to deploy …
I think the biggest aha there … is occupant experience. And, wellness and indoor air quality is one of the factors that has a huge impact on your cognitive ability. And there’s CO 2 levels … outside they’re around 400-500 parts per million, but in a building, they can rise up especially as people are breathing and you get a lot of occupants in a building … You know, you find you might be tired after lunch and blaming it on the pasta lunch you had, but when it’s quite often the CO 2 levels rising to a point where you’re really more lethargic, and have less cognitive ability.
And so one of the big things that we saw there was the correlation of indoor air quality and productivity. And there’s something called the Cog Effect Study that Harvard has been working on for a few years now that has shown 100% cognitive ability improvement for green buildings that have better indoor air quality.
And so the sad irony about that is many schools, for instance, have really poor air circulation … So the place where you need the most cognitive ability in a learning environment is often suffering the most are those with CO 2 levels. And so that was something that really was brought to light. The people in the building that are the ultimate customers—your tenants, your employees and everyone else.
You might be tired after lunch and blaming it on the pasta you had, but it’s quite often the CO 2 levels rising to a point where you’re more lethargic and have less cognitive ability. — @BenWallace #Productivity #BreakFreeB2B Click To Tweet
Susan: How can agencies make more sustainable choices?
Ben: You can take control of your waste stream and you know, give some upward pressure to your property owners … And as well, thinking about just the smart use of scheduling. I mean, there’s a lot of equipment that runs 24/7 out there and lights stay on. Buildings are the second-largest consumer of energy after transportation in the US. HVAC and lighting makes up somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of that typically.
So, there’s quite a bit that can be done with just some smart scheduling and smart controls. … Start looking at some [energy-saving programs]. US GGBC is a great resource for that, which is the Green Building Council. And the Department of Energy, which is where the ENERGY STAR benchmarking program exists—quite a bit of resources available there …
I think you, as marketers, and as an agency, you can do a few things. One, you can choose clients with that factor as well, just as they’re looking at choosing you based on that. Maybe look at those who are in the emerging new energy economy and sustainability-oriented organizations. But I think just bringing that forward as much as possible, knowing the factors from supply chain and renewable waste stream and highlighting what your employees are doing out in their homes and in their communities as well … Recognizing what you do collectively is something that you could just conscientiously keep track of and look at how to improve your energy efficiency and good corporate citizenship from a global climate perspective.
Susan: Can you speak to incorporating your sustainability efforts into company values and brand messaging?
Ben: Absolutely. We’ve seen an even flow of sustainability messaging over the years. There’s a period of kind of heavy greenwashing that was going on in the ‘80s, in the ‘90s. And so you’ve seen recycling programs and you’ve seen a little bit of energy efficiency with ENERGY STAR products and things like that. But the sustainability and corporate citizenship story can get a lot bigger …
It’s really expanded and it’s more and more important, widely recognized as something especially critical for us. They are sometimes considered the triple bottom line benefits. You’ve got profits and it’s definitely good for profits if you’re saving energy, saving on maintenance, getting a better lease. You are creating a more productive environment—there’s a huge set of layers of profit opportunity.
Really what we come back to so much in this is: how is it supporting wellness and reduced absenteeism and, just a happy productive workforce? But then the planet impact is the third “P” of that … There’s a lot of companies and states and cities that are just plowing ahead with a path to 100% renewable or zero carbon footprint. And so it’s a long haul to get there. But there are ways that you can not only save money and reduce your carbon and start measuring … to get to net zero over time—consuming less energy or producing more energy than you consume is actually going to be positive. There’s opportunities around that from a corporate perspective and roadmap that will align more so with what cities and counties are doing.
Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Break Free B2B interviews. Here are a few interviews to whet your appetite: