By Josh Richards
For many, green building certification represents the next frontier in commercial real estate. Whether LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Energy Star, or another designation, these certifications relate sustainability in construction, design, and operation to tenants and the broader marketplace. Given growing demand in the market, facility owners are looking to green certifications to underscore their commitment to the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.
What’s more, sustainability is far from unachievable. Advances in technology, alongside increasing affordability of efficiency solutions and public incentives, have enabled access to sustainability in a way that was improbable a mere decade ago.
Building The Business Case
There’s no question that the demand for green building certification is growing. Largely, tenants are driving this demand, continuing to emphasize efficiency and social responsibility in the workplace. What’s more, a green building signifies product quality; on top of lower operating costs, tenants tend to draw a connection between “green” and “well-managed”.
Growing demand breeds competition, which in turn breeds innovation. Advancements in LED technology and HVAC efficiency are at the forefront of sustainable building initiatives. A lighting and HVAC retrofit can lead to sizeable energy savings coupled with a quick payback period, and steady market demand has tempered incremental costs. Also, advancements in energy management software are a game changer for building managers. Real-time electricity monitoring, for example, offers a live view into building electricity usage and can help staff address maintenance needs and energy inefficiencies quickly.
Third parties, such as utility companies, promote efficiency and green building certification through rebates for energy efficient building improvements, while some local jurisdictions offer property tax credits to owners that obtain green building certifications. In Montgomery County, MD, for example, tax credit ranges from 10-75% for LEED certified buildings.
Getting Down to the BASICs
Don’t be overwhelmed by a green building certification. Just remember the BASICs:
Benchmarking: This is all about knowing where you stand. Begin by checking your property’s utility bills to determine how much water and energy is being consumed. Energy use includes all sources; be sure to capture sources like natural gas, fuel oil, or renewable energy, too.
Assessment: Identify where the property is weakest in terms of energy efficiency. Consider inspecting the building’s lighting and HVAC systems, which typically offer easy opportunities for efficiency improvements. Next, examine building operations. Note building schedules and behaviors of tenants and staff that could lead to unnecessary energy consumption. Where possible, open up a dialogue with tenants to encourage them to operate more sustainably.
Strategy: Design a roadmap that lays out how sustainability weaknesses will be addressed. Identify priorities that match the business’s objectives, as well as the budget.
Implementation: Get to work and follow the roadmap! Action items may include new construction, equipment upgrades, and/or operational improvements. Outreach and education are crucial here. Make sure everyone—tenants and employees alike—understands the changes and the benefits these will provide.
Certification: Prepare the application and submit. For those new to green building certifications, particularly LEED, consider hiring a firm with strong experience completing these projects. They can offer helpful tips and take some of the confusion out of the process.
Bust Through Barriers
The most obvious obstacle? Upfront cost. Building owners and tenants alike are reluctant to pay high upfront costs for energy improvements. The owner has a responsibility to keep tenant expenses low, and it can be hard to recuperate the cost of sustainability upgrades through rent increases or pass-through expenses. Identifying opportunities for shared success and maintaining clear communication with tenants throughout the process can help grease the wheels to a successful certification.
Owners should be sure to emphasize cross-departmental communication. Everybody—from construction to operations and leasing—needs a seat at the table from day one. Buy-in not only makes the process more efficient, but it also encourages people to find additional opportunities for sustainability.
BASIC provides a framework for the green building certification process. While every building will provide distinct obstacles and require distinct solutions, this framework, alongside a strong team of building and sustainability professionals, can help get started. The key is to envision big, but start small. Often, simple changes can have significant impacts. In the long run, green building certifications are good news for building owners. By running a building sustainably, ownership can position itself to increase revenue and stay competitive in today’s marketplace.
Richards oversees sustainability at First Potomac Realty Trust, managing the company’s sustainability initiatives from green building certification to projects in recycling, energy management, transportation, marketing, and reporting. Headquartered in Bethesda, MD, First Potomac Realty Trust is a self-managed real estate investment trust (REIT) that focuses on owning, operating, developing, and redeveloping office and business park properties in the greater Washington, DC region.