In honor of Earth Day this week, I’m taking a quick look at green buildings and sustainability trends in office buildings. Wait! Before you yawn and move on, I have to tell you about the ultra-cool Bullitt Center in Seattle that is declared the “greenest commercial building in the world” by World Architecture News. This building uses 75% LESS energy than a normal new Seattle office building and it is actually producing more energy than it uses, so it’s selling power back to the grid.
But let’s first talk about the macro view of sustainability. The tide is turning and there are industry drivers that are positioning sustainable retrofits as the next big commercial real estate industry movement. Real estate managers are pursuing energy efficiency retrofits to directly lower their operating expenses and mitigate the risk associated with rising energy costs. Due to lessons learned during the recession, these managers are increasingly turning toward operational efficiencies to drive down costs which in turn increase net operating income. They are also pursuing energy efficiency projects to keep their office buildings competitive in order to attract high quality tenants who are requiring more efficient, greener space.
Here’s one example. According to the US Dept of Energy, commercial buildings account for 35% of the U.S. electricity consumption and accounts for 20% of global carbon emissions. Lighting makes up 30% of a building’s energy usage, so real estate managers are deploying several strategies to cut lighting costs.
First, they are designing buildings to make use of natural light whenever possible. If it’s an existing building, oftentimes significant savings can be achieved by replacing lighting fixtures. Lighting fixtures are extremely sophisticated today (I won’t bore you with the details) and when tied to a building’s energy management system, they can substantially reduce the electric bill. Another way to save money is to simply switch to daytime janitorial service.
Green lease clauses are also a new trend. Sophisticated global tenants are asking more of their landlords in terms of benchmarking their sustainability and improving upon it. This brings me back to the ultra-cool Bullitt Center. Their lease actually includes energy and water budgets for tenants, which are pro-rated for the amount of square footage they rent. When a Tenants does not exceed its budget, it is given cash rebates at the end of the year. What? Give money back? How often has your Landlord done that?
The Bullitt Center is a 50,000 sq foot Seattle urban infill project that was designed for net zero energy consumption, net zero water usage and net zero carbon emissions. I won’t go into details about its composting toilet system (it’s the world’s only 6-story composting toilet system). Have you ever tried a composting toilet? I have — enough said (I initially had written more about my experience, but TMI). This building is beautiful and if you have 5 minutes, please visit their website ( http://www.bullittcenter.org) It is truly a beautiful , working, living laboratory of sustainability. We need one of these in Miami to inspire us. Happy Earth Day!