The case has been made many times for environmentally friendly buildings; many pundits have discussed the green trend until they’re blue in the face.
It’s now common knowledge that a green facility will be more energy efficient when compared to a traditional facility, and that these buildings have the potential to generate lasting business value.
It’s also true that the tendency toward green construction is an enduring trend. The demand for green buildings will continue to increase as more and more building owners realize financial returns from energy-efficient facilities. In recent studies conducted by McGraw-Hill and CoStar, LEED-certified buildings have shown evidence of garnering higher rents and selling at larger profit margins.
Today’s challenge in continuing the green trend is the global economy. New construction starts are tapering off significantly; this year, they‘re expected to decline to 30 to 35 million square feet in the top 30 U.S. markets from 81 million square feet last year, and 146 million square feet in 2007. The current environment isn’t one that encourages new development, so the question becomes: What can owners/managers do to continue the green trend during slow development times?
It’s prudent for building owners and facility managers to shift their current focus to center on best practices for converting existing facilities into environmentally friendly spaces. There’s close to 6 billion square feet of existing industrial warehouse space today in the top 30 U.S. markets – much of which could be upgraded with green-design elements. Plus, there’s no better way to practice environmental sustainability than to make the best, most proficient use of current resources.
Industrial Building Improvements
buildings not originally built to green standards, there are many improvements that can be made to bring them to a darker shade of green.
- Energy-efficient lighting systems. Warehouses traditionally use metal-halide lighting, but commercially available T5 and T8 fluorescents last longer and significantly reduce electricity usage, especially when used in combination with photoelectric cells and motion sensors.
- Roof systems. Traditionally, warehouses have black EPDM rubber roofing membranes or gray built-up roofs, which absorb heat from sunlight. White thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofing offers the same performance while reducing urban heat island effect and providing a comfortable work environment. When the time comes for roof replacement, owners should consider substituting a building’s roof with white TPO material.
- Water-conservation measures. Motion-activated faucets, low-flow toilets, waterless urinals, and captured rainwater for irrigation reduce the use of fresh water. Replacing older components with newer, energy-efficient models carries a low upfront cost with a long-term impact.
- Landscape maintenance. When appropriate, replacing dying or struggling landscaping with native plants or shrubbery can minimize water consumption and mitigate overall net carbon emissions. It can also be prudent to re-analyze watering systems to ensure optimal efficiency. For example, installing rain sensors that shut off a watering system when it’s raining can drastically cut down on unnecessary water usage.
- Bicycle, hybrid, and carpool vehicle parking. Offering space for alternative modes of transportation encourages employees to make lifestyle choices that reduce carbon emissions. Typically, all this requires is posting signs and restriping the parking lot.
All of the above improvements are components that can be added or integrated into an existing facility, and all have the potential to greatly improve operational design.
Encouraging Green Operational Practices
Building managers have the unique ability to encourage green practices within their own operations, as well as their customers’ operations. This can be done in a host of different avenues.
- Dedicated staff. On-staff maintenance technicians are tasked with the regular inspection and maintenance of roofs, parking lots, landscaping, fire-suppression systems, etc. Employing dedicated staff for this purpose and creating a regular maintenance schedule ensures that buildings are performing at the highest possible levels.
- On-site recycling. Creating a defined area for on-site recycling encourages building occupants to integrate green practices into their waste-management programs. Every measure used to make it easier for employees and customers to participate in recycling does that much more to reduce landfill waste and the use of virgin resources. In addition, it may be possible to generate revenue from recycling since some companies will purchase materials like used plastics.
- Reminders. Most often, a simple reminder is all it takes. One way to do this is by creating signs and placards that prompt customers and employees to turn off lights, check that all doors are secure, and use non-disposable water bottles and utensils. While this may seem like a simple step, the energy savings can be tremendous.
All building owners and managers should take a new look at business operations. Practicing new or improved operational methods sends a positive message to all constituents, and the impact resonates throughout all extensions of an organization.
The effort to create green industrial properties does not need to be put on hold during the current economic downturn. There are still many simple ways to improve efficiencies and increase a building’s operational performance. In fact, now is a better time than ever to tighten up on green practices and secure programs that can continue many years down the road.
Sarah Martinez is sustainability analyst at Denver-based ProLogis.