Generating Juice, Re-Using Water

As World Green Building Council CEO Jane Henley told CPE, more enlightened public policies and private practices could quickly narrow the gap between the U.S. and more sustainability-minded nations. The renowned advocate cited numerous strategies embraced abroad that are ripe for broader adoption in U.S. markets, among them integration of newfangled on-site energy generation technologies; “district-scale” heating and cooling mechanisms; and modern water retention and re-use systems.

While more and more U.S. commercial and residential properties are generating photovoltaic and other sustainable energy sources on site, European nations in particular are leading innovation of truly integrated renewables, Henley observed.

“For instance, micro turbines are being incorporated into building facades, and roofs are being installed with integrated photovoltaic systems.” Through these innovations, distributed generation of renewables is “integrated into the building fabric, rather than just bolted on” as is typically the case with American PV and wind systems, she elaborated.

Likewise, Henley continued, our neighbors to the north have made greater progress with respect to district-scale heating and cooling technologies—more particularly tapping nearby bodies of water to cool building interiors on a mass scale. “Both Vancouver and downtown Toronto have district-wide cooling,” she noted.

U.S. property operators could also learn some key lessons about water retention, conservation and use efficiency from their counterparts offshore—especially those in arid nations such as Australia and South Africa. “The focus is as much on conserving water as it is with energy” in these nations, Henley related.

Routinely integrated into buildings in those markets are features such as rainwater capture and storage systems, graywater and even blackwater treatment systems, vacuum toilets and low- or no-irrigation xeriscape landscaping.

In fact, compared to the mature U.S. building sector, even a few emerging economies are demonstrating more enlightened adoption of some of the simplest sustainable practices—namely, siting and configuration strategies that maximize natural heating, lighting and ventilation, Henley continued.

“The starting point for green building is good design that maximizes solar orientation and makes use of ventilation and natural light,” she added. “These low-tech elements are creating more efficient buildings—and particularly in developing countries, where people are least likely to be able to afford high technology.” But Henley said she is also encouraged that seasoned developers in mild climates including mega-state California are likewise embracing designs facilitating natural ventilation.

When it comes to engaging tenants on energy efficiency and other sustainability matters, North American landlords (primarily those in the U.S.) remain a bit behind Europeans—and about even with Asian counterparts, according to the recently released annual Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) survey of mostly institutional-grade commercial property investment managers. As for structuring green elements into lease agreements, Americans likewise run moderately behind European operators but significantly ahead of Asian landlords.

Interestingly, the Australia/New Zealand region comes out well ahead of others in terms of tenant engagement and green leases. Ditto for sustainability practices generally, as the Down Under set posted an overall GRESB score of 64, compared to Europe’s 43, North America’s 39 and Asia’s 37.

 This article accompanies “Follow the (Mostly European) Leaders,” a more extensive discussion in the October 2013 issue of CPE discussing U.S. properties’ position in the global green real estate sector and foreign accomplishments from which these properties could benefit.