More than four decades ago, Rachel Carson's best-selling book Silent Spring launched the environmental movement in the western part of the United States.

While detailing the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, Carson accused the chemical industry of spreading misinformation and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically. Testifying before Congress, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and environment.

It was a wake-up call back then when she wrote: "The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction." But was it heard?

Today, the warnings about the effects of global warming have become the hottest cause celebre, with films and benefit concerts trying desperately to raise the world's awareness, even while others are putting their heads in the sand disputing these claims. Politics aside, if we don't heed this latest call and take it seriously enough, the ramifications will reverberate around the globe and what we will hear are the sounds of a dying planet.

Undoubtedly, corporate America and commercial builders have heard the call and have begun doing their part by fostering green buildings and office environments. Even residential builders are giving new, positive meanings to the term "green house."

Every day, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the environmental impact of the country's office buildings alone is daunting:
  • 42 percent of total energy consumption
  • 65 percent of electricity consumption
  • 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions
  • 30 percent of raw materials use (i.e., 136 million tons annually)
  • 50 percent of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons
  • Five billion gallons -- or 12 percent of potable water -- used daily
  • 12 percent of the land use
In contrast, the average green building saves 30-70 percent in energy savings, 35-50 percent each in carbon dioxide emissions and water use, and 50-90 percent in waste costs.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates [PDF] that if each building owner took on the challenge to become green, by 2015, Americans would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by amounts equal to the emissions from 15 million vehicles, while saving $10 billion.

What It takes to become "green" are design and construction practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of commercial buildings on the environment and its occupants in five key areas: sustainable site planning; safeguarding water and water efficiency; energy efficiency and renewable energy; conservation of materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality.

SAP Americas has joined other Fortune 500 companies in acknowledging that the nation is facing a critical energy crisis and the onus is on Corporate America to step up to the plate. As a result, SAP Americas, in expanding its headquarters in Newtown, Pa., is committed to making a positive contribution to the environment while providing an innovative, state-of-the-art green facility for its workforce, aiming to be the first corporate-owned building in the mid-Atlantic region to achieve the USGBC's LEED Platinum rating.

Among the special features of the building will be sophisticated, automated control systems and sensors to maximize energy conservation such as:
  • Geothermal wells that will use the constant ground temperature to both heat and cool.
  • An ice storage plant that will produce ice during overnight hours when electric rates are lower. The chilled water will then cool the building during the day.
  • An underfloor air distribution system that will allow lower velocity air movement to save energy and also will give employees full control at each individual workstation and office.
  • Green roofs with no exposed mechanical systems that will not only weave the old into the landscape, but also reduce rain water runoff. Rain water will be collected in cisterns and used in the existing cooling towers and as irrigation water for the site and green roofs.
  • Rolling daylight or lighting systems that will be controlled by daylight sensors which will both dim lighting levels and rise or lower window shades based on the light provided through a floor-to-ceiling glass exterior wall.
All of these green design features not only will improve the building's energy performance and reduce any detrimental impact on the environment, but it will also improve the comfort of its employees, and as a result, improve the health of SAP's workforce and help retain their highly engaged and productive work force.

According to a study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, in the United States alone, the estimated potential annual savings and productivity gains from better indoor environments are $6 billion -- $14 billion from reduced respiratory disease, $1 billion-$4 billion from reduced allergies and asthma, $10 billion -- $30 billion from reduced "sick building" syndrome symptoms, and $20 billion -- $160 billion from direct improvements in worker performance unrelated to health.

The Canada Green Building Council, in its reports, states that [PDF] other North American studies completed in the last several years concluded that good daylighting increases productivity by 13 percent, can increase retail sales by 40 percent, and can increase school test scores by five percent. In addition, the studies found that increased ventilation spiked productivity up to 17 percent, better quality ventilation reduced sickness by up to 50 percent, and increased ventilation control increased productivity up to 11 percent.

For example, in a USGBC white paper prepared for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Verifone, a division of Hewlett-Packard in Southern California, renovated its global distribution headquarters and reduced energy consumption by 59 percent, decreased employee absenteeism by 47 percent, and increased employee productivity by five percent.

The paper also cited that even a modest investment in soft features, such as access to pleasant view, increased daylight, fresh air, and personal environment controls, can quickly translate into significant bottom-line savings. A case in point is Lockheed's engineering development and design facility in Sunnyvale, California, which reported a 15-percent drop in employee absenteeism -- a savings that paid for the incremental costs of the company's new high-performance facility in the first years alone.

And a simple lighting retrofit at the Postal Sorting Facility in Reno, Nevada, enhanced visibility for workers and, as a result, the number of mail pieces sorted per hour increased six percent -- a productivity gain worth more than the cost of the project.

Therefore, according to the USGBC, "going green" has a triple ripple effect to the bottom line -- environment, economics, and people. Better buildings not only add up to an improved effect on the surrounding environment, but also lower operating costs and enhanced employee productivity in terms of higher attendance and recruitment rates, lower turnover, and a seven-percent increase in overall productivity.

But it is not Corporate America's responsibility alone. We must each do our part and be proactive about curtailing waste and saving the Earth's resources. For example, if we rode a bike to work or drove a hybrid car; if we used multi-function machines to fax, copy, print, and scan; if we increased home office and desk-sharing; if we transformed to a paperless work environment; or if we simply turned off the lights, we would be making a difference. Consider this, for example: If we turned off all office equipment on standby power, it would save enough energy for one nuclear power plant!

One by one, the effects would be astounding. In our work and home lives, we at SAP believe that it is best to be part of the solution and not part of the problem in making this a better world for our children and grandchildren -- the workers of today and those of tomorrow.

Terry Laudal is Senior Vice President, Human Resources, SAP Americas, headquartered in Newtown Square, Pa.