Successful Commercial Interiors Is a Communication Exchange

March 21, 2011
When pursuing green commercial interiors projects or LEED certification, the way landlords and tenants work together is crucial

It’s been proven that greening your building operations can save you money over time, provide healthier occupant spaces, and safeguard the environment. The path to realizing these achievements relies on relationships as much as it does operational strategies. When pursuing green commercial interiors projects or LEED certification, the way landlords and tenants work together is crucial.

Building owners across the nation are increasingly paying for sustainable building features to improve their building footprint and attract tenants. Recognize that once you’ve prepared your building and provided the path for tenants to build out greener spaces, you’ll get the best return on your investment if you remain involved in the TI (tenant improvement) process.

A Helping Hand
Create an integrated multi-disciplinary team that includes your contractor, who may have helped with prior building retrofits and knows your goals. Provide a structure to the TI project team that includes specific toolkits, specifications and plans, and policies broken out by various disciplines participating on the project. For example, offer indoor air quality and waste management plans that explain the correct procedures and responsibilities to the contractor. Furnish the architect with space plans that indicate the placement of HVAC ducts to help create space layouts that don’t hinder airflow to occupants. Provide documentation to the mechanical engineers on the types of systems and fixtures you’ve installed so their work complements, rather than hinders, efficient operations.

Build clear lines of communication to direct a non-confrontational dialog that meets both the tenants’ and your goals.  Help the tenants understand what a green building is and what your building can offer them. Create green tenant guidelines to ensure that TI build-outs protect the measures you’ve incorporated to benefit their employees and the environment. Some building owners even manage the TI process and offer trainings to help the project team learn and grow together.

Strong Advocacy

Alicia Snyder-Carlson

Alicia Snyder-Carlson is a project consultant at Green Building Services Inc. She facilitates LEED certification and the incorporation of green building strategies to companies throughout the United States.

If tenants are green-building savvy, they will no doubt have their own aspirations for the space. Encourage tenants to appoint or hire a green advocate to spearhead the process so their green TI objectives are met. Likewise, you need to have a green advocate available to respond to tenants’ questions and point them in the right direction. Your green advocate may be someone within your facility’s team, but it doesn’t have to be a building manager or property manager. The new LEED AP requirements mandate that someone be in a green building-related field, program of study, or have project experience in order to take the credentialing exam. There may be people within your organization who would like to become LEED APs but are not directly involved in the green tenant improvements. Working as green building advocates could provide them with that experience. Another idea is to hire an intern as your organization’s green building advocate. This is a low-cost way to offer a resource to tenants and provide someone with green project experience toward LEED AP certification.

In addition to a having an internal green advocate, store information electronically and make it available to tenants via an Intranet. Electronic access can provide easy, quick references on the building features and allow you to offer more detailed data and supporting documentation, such as links to completed LEED documentation for sites credits, evidence based design research that showsincreased outdoor air ventilation reduces absenteeism, or full case studies of other sustainable TIs within you’re building.

Donate a building conference room on a weekly basis to bring the construction, tenant, and owner teams together to address the various aspects of the project in a neutral environment. If your end goal is energy efficiency, it’s in your best interest to have someone review the construction drawings who understands the proposed effects and interrelationships between the proposed systems. For example, the project’s MEP may have ideas about the integration of artificial lighting systems, sunshades and incoming daylight to positively impact the project that may not occur to the architect or that may interfere with design elements needing the architects buy in. With everyone in the same room, you can establish a more collaborative environment to achieve the highest goals.

Look Inside
New tenants aren’t your only allies in creating a better building. Vendors can be a great resource if you are just getting started in green building. Talk to vendors and manufacturers and ask them what they know about sustainable practices. If you see potential turnover on the horizon, work with your plumbing vendors and flooring manufacturers to create a plan to change out systems floor by floor. 

Vendors frequently offer brown bag discussions, which can be a no- or low-cost way to educate your team about green building. Invite them to come and speak to your property management and facilities’ team or consider sponsoring a light lunch where you invite tenants. This is a great way to foster relationships and open dialog on green practices with both your vendors and tenants. Naturally, vendors and manufacturers will include information about the products they offer. To be sure you are getting value for your time, make it clear that you want them to deliver broad-based knowledge about a particular subject. For instance, if you ask a plumbing fixture vendor to speak to the group, tell them you want information on better overall water efficiency and ask them to explain standards such as the EPA Act of 1992 or what EPA WaterSense labels actually mean.

Engage current tenants in better operations to benefit your full building. Let tenants know that if they want to rebuild their spaces to incorporate more environmentally friendly attributes that it can be done in phases. Offer to pay for certain systems if you want to control their energy consumption and appearance. For example, modular carpet tiles are durable and easy to replace if damaged, which keeps material out of the landfill.  If an existing tenant plans to change out carpeting, you may offer to buy modular carpet tiles. This will help protect your bottom line if you reuse the tiles when a future tenant moves in. Seize the opportunity of any change to educate the tenants. If you are replacing their lighting fixtures over a weekend, take them on a tour to show them what’s behind their ceiling tiles. Teach them about what the system can do and how to operate it correctly. Once tenants understand the system, they are more likely to use it to its highest capacity.

Depending on what type of tenants you have in your building, you may find opportunities to create a friendly competition that heightens sustainable practices. If you have several architectural firms in your space, let them compete to design your lobby with green building features. Display all of the entries publicly to give each firm visibility and let all occupants see various approaches to sustainable design. Or create a competition among tenants to see who can recycle the most. You can weigh the recycling and divide it by the number of employees for a fair analysis. Encourage tenants to get creative with it and think outside the bin. Perhaps tenants can find new life for old office furnishings or exchange them with other tenants. Always, have a party to celebrate not only the winner but everyone’s participation. Everyone will learn about the many things that can be recycled and what your ultimate goals are for your building.

Sustainability is about communication and knowledge sharing.  Reach out to new and existing tenants and collaborate with project team members, vendors and manufacturers to exchange ideas about the best green building practices and improve your building in the process.

Alicia Snyder-Carlson is a project consultant at Green Building Services Inc. She facilitates LEED certification and the incorporation of green building strategies to companies throughout the United States. Alicia can be reached at 866-743-4277 or [email protected].

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