‘Bright’ Green Buildings a Growing Trend as ROI Improves

“Bright” green buildings are becoming more popular across North America, and we’re not talking about the paint on the outside. It’s the increasing use of intelligent technologies to take green building practices–and savings–even further. A new research report conducted by the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) aims to show property companies that using intelligent building features along with green building designs can result in a significant return on investment as well as provide a more healthy and productive environment for workers. Ron Zimmer, president & CEO of CABA, an industry association promoting advanced technologies in homes and buildings in North America, notes that the report “reveals how bright green buildings lower operating costs due to more efficient operations and better control, thereby enhancing the value of the buildings themselves.” An intelligent building features a fully networked system integrating data, voice and video with security, HVAC, lighting and other electronic controls on a single Internet Protocol (IP) network platform. It can monitor and control lighting conditions, heating and air conditioning, and water usage. “Their higher operational efficiency and lower operational and energy costs offer a very substantial ROI,” said Brian Dutt, vice president of sales and marketing fort Delta Controls, one of the companies contributing to the report. “IP-based building technologies will become mainstream when the cost-saving benefits become more fully understood in both the IT and building management companies,” added Marybeth Marx, vice president of marketing for Ortronics/Legrand, another study sponsor. The report offers real-life examples of intelligent technology used in buildings around the world, including hospitals, universities, shopping centers, a condominium, the Rogers Centre sports and entertainment complex in Toronto and even the state of Missouri, which is now saving $35.6 million a year operating and maintaining its 32 million-square-foot portfolio by integrating the network system into a common interface level that monitors operational activity. The Rogers Centre is in the process of reducing its electricity usage with a combination of networking technology and advanced control hardware and software. The 1.4 million-square-foot facility used to have an electric bill of more than $3 million a year. The project is not fully completed and the facility is already saving $325,000 a year. It is expected to save up to 76 percent on lighting and energy costs once it is fully implemented, according to the CABA report. While some commercial real estate firms are just beginning or exploring bright green and green buildings in their portfolios, firms like Hines and CB Richard Ellis Inc. have been implementing them for years. As reported by CPN May 31, 2007, CBRE announced plans to become carbon neutral at all of its properties worldwide by 2010 and to help clients enact energy efficient programs at the 1.1 billion square feet of office space it manages in the Americas. On Nov. 16, 2007, CPN reported that CBRE planned to enroll 100 major U.S. office buildings in the U.S. Green Buildings Council’s Portfolio Program, enabling owners to integrate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards into new and existing buildings in a cost-effective way. Earlier this year, CBRE named David Pogue as its first national director of sustainability. He is responsible for managing the development, introduction and implementation of sustainable practices and policies throughout the company’s portfolio in the Americas, according to a March 18, 2008, CPN report. “Leadership felt it was important to take a personal corporate stand on sustainability,” Pogue told CPN. “We have an opportunity–and, we suggest, an obligation and responsibility–to do something about it.” Pogue said he meets with corporate clients every week, assisting them with ways to make their real estate green. He said it is now more important than ever to help companies save on energy costs. “Energy is very expensive. You can make changes and you can get a return on investment,” he said, noting that 25 percent or more of operating costs per square foot goes to pay for energy. Since his appointment, Pogue said that 1,100 buildings in the CBRE portfolio are registered with Energy Star to provide a benchmark and guidelines for energy conservation and environmental improvements. “We are really aggressive on that. Almost 80 percent of those have in-place recycling and are doing good green cleaning methods. For others are we are providing additional training and encouragement,” he said. Pogue noted that enrolling the office buildings in the LEED program has taken a bit longer to implement because it was more complex than initially expected. So far about 30 office buildings managed by CBRE have been registered for LEED-EB (existing building) certification. But the good news is that CBRE will exceed its original plan to register 100 buildings by at least 30, he said. For older buildings to compete with newer product that will likely be LEED-certified, he said it is increasingly important for them to show they follow sustainable practices. As for new construction, Pogue said the trend now is to seek LEED certification, adding that there is less cost difference in seeking Gold, Silver or Platinum certification than there used to be. “It doesn’t make sense, if you are going to build a building, particularly in a CBD in a competitive marketplace, to build anything but a LEED-certified building,” he said. Hines has been at the forefront of green initiatives in developing and managing office buildings for more than a decade. One of its recent examples is the construction of La Jolla Commons, a 13-story, 300,000-square-foot office tower in San Diego that is the first multi-tenant office building in Southern California to achieve LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, according to Paul Twardowski, a Hines vice president. It achieved Gold certification in LEED-CS (Core and Shell) for its construction as well as its state-of-the-art operating systems, including a highly energy-efficient, exterior glass curtain-wall system and a dual water pipe system that reduces the use of fresh water by 87 percent. It also achieved a rating of 92 out of 100 in the Designed to Earn Energy Star rating by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because of its energy savings, including a 50 percent reduction in energy use and CO2 emission; 75 percent lower after-hours heating and cooling costs; and 60 percent more energy-efficient elevators. “We have been implementing new technology on an ongoing basis for years,” said Jerry Lea (pictured), a Hines senior vice president who heads up the company’s green initiatives. Lea said they use control systems that can monitor the HVAC system remotely. “Our property manager–from at home or another building–can get on a computer and adjust the air conditioning. So if a corner of the 33rd floor is hot and needs more air, he can do that remotely,” Lea said. “We’re constantly monitoring all aspects of the building so we can make adjustments at a moment’s notice.” Lea said Hines uses lighting sensors and daylight sensors so that if the sun goes behind a cloud, lights will come on. Occupancy sensors can tell when someone is using an office or has left and can automatically turn off the lights. Lea’s group often tests new technology before deciding whether it is cost effective and energy efficient. “If you go into our offices, we have a different light fixture in each office. We test the latest light fixtures by living under them,” he said, adding they give feedback to the manufacturer and at least in one case recommended changes that were made in the final product. Lea said he is talking to elevator companies about the next generation of elevators–hybrid elevators that capture energy generated by the motion and gravity and harnessing it. The elevators Hines installs now use 50 percent less energy and are contr
olled by smart computers that calculate traffic patterns to determine where the elevators should be at certain times. Some green technologies work well in one region but not another. For example, an outside air economizer can work in San Francisco at certain times of the year for tempering air because the air is fresh, but it doesn’t work in Houston where it is too humid, Lea said. But one technology that works well everywhere is using lots of glass to allow natural light to penetrate as far into the building as possible, Twardowski said. Not only is it economical because it reduces energy costs, but it’s also “important for the health, well being and mindset” of workers.