Meeting the Carbon Challenge: How a San Diego Standout Cut Its Footprint

Upgrades to EMMES Realty Services' 30-year-old office property place it in the upper ranks of energy-efficient assets nationally.
Energy upgrades earned 2 Columbia Place in San Diego a top Energy Star certification of 90. Image courtesy of EMMES

Inspired in large part by environmental, social and governance standards, investors and tenants are taking an unprecedented interest in the environmental scorecard of a commercial property. That was the primary driver behind EMMES Realty Services of California’s move to reduce energy consumption at 2 Columbia Place in downtown San Diego.

EMMES has owned and operated the 12-story office building in since purchasing it from LaeRoc Partners in 2013. Located at 1230 Columbia St., the 143,574-square-foot property was built in 1990 by Koll Development with architect Tucker, Sadler & Associates.

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In December, energy upgrades earned 2 Columbia Place a top Energy Star certification of 90 indicating that 2 Columbia Place is more energy efficient than 90 percent of comparable properties nationwide. Certified buildings must perform better than at least 75 percent of similar buildings under standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Performance must be tracked in EPA’s Portfolio Manager Tool, which compares performance to the national average, and this is verified by a third-party licensed professional architect or engineer.


At 2 Columbia Place, an Energy Star-certified mechanical schedule saves on energy consumption during work-from-home mandates. Image courtesy of EMMES

To earn recognition, EMMES Realty Services of installed a number of features to make 2 Columbia Place more energy efficient. A complete Direct Digital Controls (DDC) backbone was installed in 2018,  with upgrades to DDC and HVAC in half the building.

Advanced lighting control systems with occupancy and daylight harvesting sensors are incorporated throughout 65 percent of the building. Variable frequency drives reduce energy consumption of mechanical equipment, and parking and tower elevators have been modernized in the last two years. In addition, an Energy Star -certified mechanical schedule saves on energy consumption during work-from-home mandates.

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Operating features include a green cleaning program, green construction standards, a recycling program and electric vehicle charging stations. EMMES is in the process of implementing a cloud-based software system to control after-hours HVAC. That will allow tenants to submit HVAC requests on their smartphones.

EMMES also monitors daily energy consumption and evaluates  consumption changes after project upgrades or year over year,” noted Christine Takara, the firm’s director of customer experience.  “We can compare energy consumption savings after installing light sensors,” she told Commercial Property Executive

Greening the Inventory

Buildings account for almost 40 percent of global energy-related CO2 and will play a major role in a sustainable transformation, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Today, about 60 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are caused by commercial, residential and industrial buildings—and these emissions contribute to climate change. For these reasons, commercial building owners and managers are expected to invest $960 billion globally between now and 2023 on greening their existing built infrastructure.

Energy Star-certified buildings save energy and money, and generate 35 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than typical buildings. According to Energy Star, if all U.S. buildings achieved that level of efficiency, total national emissions would drop by about 20 percent.

EMMES owns three other Energy Star-rated office high-rises in downtown San Diego: 1 Columbia Place at 401 W. A St., 707 Broadway and 701B at 701 B St.

Real estate properties both contribute to and be affected by sustainability challenges, Taraka noted.

“Therefore, we believe that consideration of environmental, social and governance factors are a key component in being a responsible investor,” she said. “ESG factors have the potential to influence the long-term financial performance of our real estate investments and are also a matter of good corporate citizenship.”