Are Owners Broadening Their Greener Horizons?

Jan. 30, 2007
Although the term “greener facilities” carries a variety of definitions – from the more-specific health or environmental impact of materials and processes on the world’s building stock to the broad viewpoint of anything out of sync with our planet’s ecosystem

Although the term “greener facilities” carries a variety of definitions – from the more-specific health or environmental impact of materials and processes on the world’s building stock to the broad viewpoint of anything out of sync with our planet’s ecosystem – a lot of professionals believe it is still more of an alternative exercise than an established practice. However, with the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) committing to a goal of 100,000 LEED-certified commercial buildings and 1 million LEED-certified homes by 2010, it’s clear that the industry (and the nation) has built on what was once a grassroots momentum.

This past fall, the editorial staff of Buildings conducted a survey among subscribers of the in-print publication. Among the following topics that were of greatest interest to these senior- and middle-level professionals, the top nine had some connection to greener facilities: energy management; environmental issues such as mold, IAQ, lead, etc.; project management; trends in products and technology; preventive maintenance; benchmarking and best practices; professional development; new construction; and sustainability/green. Furthermore, when asked about their critical issues, survey respondents pointed to sustainable concerns that “kept them up on Sunday night”…

  • Achieving LEED credits.
  • Energy issues, green building, sustainability – all on limited budgets.
  • Environmental health issues.
  • Environmental impacts.
  • Environmental issues/pandemic readiness.
  • Sustainability and energy savings.
  • The lag by architects and engineers to adopt sustainable building trends.
  • The perception that sustainability and green are merely trends.
  • While generalities such as these are important, the Buildings editorial staff wanted answers to more precise questions – particularly with respect to constraints or unrealized expectations in adopting sustainability practices within specific organizations. We turned to members of our Advisory Board; here, we share their insight with each of you in the following Q&A format.
  • Q: How big of a role does sustainability play in your company? Compared to 5 years ago? Compared to 2 years ago? What are your long-range strategies or philosophies?
  • A1: We have always focused on energy-efficient designs with our building envelope and MEP systems. So, the industry movement toward sustainable design has been an easy step for us. An example of this is the high percentage of ENERGY STAR® buildings we have in our portfolio. We engaged the LEED program in 2001 and have senior members of our organization participating on steering committees and advisory boards for the USGBC. Each year, we see more and more interest from our clients. Our leadership has tasked us with a minimum goal of LEED certification on all new projects.
  • A2: There has been an ever-increasing awareness and attention to issues of energy, green, sustainability, etc. over the past 5 years. It started within our operations group and was focused mainly on the operating-expense savings through energy reduction, but the overall issues of sustainability and green have migrated through our leasing and development functions over the last 2 years. Our long-range strategies include a more-integrated approach to design, development, construction, commissioning, operations, and leasing of our commercial properties with consideration to environmental and energy issues.
  • A3: We have always tried to balance the increased cost and good business propositions in our model. Examples: We tracked and minimized refrigerant use as a business process before it was regulated. We do so even though the economics were not as obvious as they are today. When compared to 5 years ago, we have seen a substantial increase in our clients’ interest that allows us to do more in this area.
  • A4: Five years ago, we started to consider the LEED program and implemented it on a trial bias for an educational engineering building. This building was completed 18 months ago and was awarded a Silver rating. Since then, the university president has ruled that all new buildings should strive to attain this level, if financially viable. We are looking at being environmentally responsible for renovations as well.
  • Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest constraint your company and your colleagues – and the industry, in general – faces when embracing sustainability and “greener” facilities?
  • A1: I think it is the realization that sustainable design can be achieved for marginal increased costs: That a building can be designed to operate effectively and efficiently while being sensitive to the impact on the environment – and not break the bank. Though some sustainable technologies are still out of reach (not economically feasible), many fall within most owner/developer cost models.
  • A2: I believe that one of the biggest constraints to faster and more-complete adoption of greener practices throughout the industry is the historical belief that greener practices cost more and require large capital investment to obtain savings. I believe that the industry is starting to understand that there are many “no-cost” and “low-cost” strategies that can have significant savings and impact on the built environment and the operating budgets for commercial properties. The industry will be better served through government or utility company incentives, inclusive of tax advantages to accelerate the acceptance of energy savings vs. mandated programs that require monitoring and enforcement.
  • A3: Continuing to find better, more cost-effective solutions and the ability to sell the benefits to the entity that is paying the bill when all is said and done; also, finding really top-notch resources that are up to the task. For us, it has to not only be nice to do, but also make good financial business sense.
  • A4: Getting everybody to buy into a valuable concept and making them understand the commitment that is involved in implementing the values embodied in the concept. Look at the same issue with car manufacturing and our current lagging position in the marketplace. This is duplicated by the State of the Union address: a lot of rhetoric … commitment, not rhetoric, is needed with tangible results.
  • Q: And, finally, are building ownership and management professionals realistic about their expectations or attitudes regarding sustainability and greener facilities? Is there a collaborative movement between owners and the A&D community?
  • A1: There are several professionals out on the fringe or leading edge of sustainable design constantly pushing the movement. Such types are needed to keep raising the bar on what makes sense and what doesn’t. Most of the firms we employ to consult on our projects have come to understand our owner/developer goals and are more mainstream in their expectations. We try to position our projects somewhere between mainstream and “bleeding edge.”
  • A2: There is still a wide range of attitudes and acceptance levels that exist through the industry, but I believe that the design industry has reacted quicker than owners, investors, and managers. Many design professionals have been trained and have received LEED certifications, and will be better positioned to educate the developers, tenants, and contractors about products and techniques that are sustainable, energy efficient, and healthier for building occupants.
  • A3: I think owners are realistic, but it depends on who it is and their role. The key is that it has to make sense from their vantage point and business objectives. [Regarding the collaboration between owners and the A&D community]: Yes, but not necessarily in the mainstream, and it seems to be fueled by the project objectives more so than the industry.
  • A4: We appear to be more knowledgeable about mechanical systems and how they operate in our environment than our consultants. We find we have to educate our consultants. Realistic expectations have to be measured against cost. You need to look outside the box as well; we have committed to purchase 20 percent of our energy needs from wind power as part of our greening process. This has nothing to do with our design professionals; rather, this is part of our commitment.

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