By Joshua Richards
First Potomac Realty Trust
In today’s commercial real estate market, “green” is the way to go.
For owners and operators, a green building is a powerful tool, signifying quality and efficiency to tenants while promoting social good.
Once thought too costly or too difficult to achieve, the reality is that green buildings are no longer the Mt. Everest many imagined.
While no endeavor is without its challenges, realizing sustainability in building construction and management is easier than it seems in today’s marketplace, and building professionals and tenants alike are eager to see sustainable solutions implemented more ubiquitously.
What does it mean to go ‘green’? Truthfully, it can mean shelling out some extra green upfront. The incremental cost for the equipment and expertise needed to build and operate a building sustainably can often appear as a roadblock; up-front costs can be a big red flag for owners and investors focused intently on the bottom line.
But like any investment, sustainability provides positive returns over time. In fact, green solutions tend to pay for themselves completely within two to five years.
Where green construction is concerned, one early hurdle to overcome is the assembly of a solid team, one equipped with the necessary technical and regulatory knowledge to streamline project implementation.
It’s essential that all team members – from architect to general contractor – have expertise that supports your building’s sustainability goals.
From an operational standpoint, data availability is crucial. Standard data availability (e.g. monthly utility bills) helps to identify long-term trends, but in order to respond to, and eventually shift, resource use patterns on a shorter time scale, higher data resolution is required.
Sustainability, like all real estate investments, requires the right context and frame of mind. For instance, a shift in focus from short-term to long-term return on investment can make all the difference — with generally short payback periods and a slew of ancillary benefits, the lifetime advantages of green building solutions can vastly outweigh upfront costs.
What’s more, increased market demand in recent years has spurred competition for technology-based sustainability solutions, helping to drive down incremental costs dramatically.
Need proof? Just consider LED lighting and solar photovoltaics, both of which continue to show advancements in quality despite drops in price.
Forming an effective team for a green construction project starts at the beginning. The right designer, for example, can help flesh out your sustainability goals by tapping into his institutional knowledge and can refer other competent green building experts to support other project steps.
If you’re starting from scratch, then consider your competition. Find a successful project with elements you want to capture, and identify the talents used to realize that project.
Where data availability is limiting, the solution might be closer than you think. Building operations and maintenance vendors are increasingly offering more frequent and more detailed reports, and technology- and software-based solutions can provide near-instantaneous interval data of building energy performance.
For most commercial building owners, tenant satisfaction is a number one priority.
Tenants are increasingly recognizing firms with a reputation for social responsibility. On top of lower utility bills and less frequent service interruptions, benefits to operators and tenants alike, a commitment to sustainability by building owners might just be the ticket to ensuring higher tenant retention rates.
Tenants who work in green buildings not only benefit from reduced utility costs, but many see improved indoor air quality and greater access to daylight and public transportation.
Studies have shown that green buildings are linked to healthier, happier tenants, correlating to higher tenant retention rates and better word-of-mouth reputations for building operators.
Communities in which sustainable buildings are located benefit in important ways, too. Green buildings have a lower impact on air quality from lower utility- and transportation-related emissions.
More efficient buildings also help stabilize the local power grid through reduced electricity use, lowering the chance of a power brownout or blackout during high usage periods.
Stricter-than-municipal-code standards for sustainable construction and building maintenance support improved local water quality through stringent erosion controls and onsite chemical use plans that limit pollution of local ground and surface waters.
While no green building project presents the same challenges, here’s some food for thought when getting started on your next project:
Establish buy-in – from tenants, building ownership, and the community. If people are not on board with the project, a successful outcome is tough to achieve. Buy-in helps a project stay on schedule and within budget, and encourages more ambitious sustainability goals down the line.
Dream big, start small – In green building construction and operations, small changes can lead to big rewards. Early, green victories can facilitate even greater innovation and more positive returns on investment.