Sustainable Solutions: Syska Hennessy’s Co-Presidents Evaluate Green Efficiency Measures

Syska Hennessy Group co-presidents Gary Brennen and Cyrus Izzo discuss effective sustainability, or “high-performance,” methods.

Syska Hennessy Group co-presidents Gary Brennen and Cyrus Izzo spoke with CPE editorial director Suzann D. Silverman about high-efficiency building design and development solutions. The first part of the discussion, “Building Evolution,” appeared in the February issue of Commercial Property Executive. What follows is additional discussion about effective sustainability, or “high-performance,” methods.

CPE: How effective do you find most green—or as you call them, “high performance”—elements that are tending to be incorporated into buildings?

IZZO: I think the reason we embrace, at Syska, the term “high performance” probably more so than just “green” or “LEED” (is) it feels like not all but some are very focused on the point system to achieve LEED. And they’re missing the point. They’re focused on the wrong point. The point is to have a high-performance environment, and the outcome is a LEED score rating that gets you to Silver, Gold, Platinum even, and have a strategy around the design, the construction and the operations to deliver a high-performance environment—for the tenants, for the occupants. I think some people work backwards: How do I get to that point? Oh, I need to do X, Y and Z. That’s not really a holistic solution. That’s probably not giving the ultimate owner or occupant the benefit that we’re talking about today. The people who are going to be very successful … really embrace the overall concept and then tune the systems to behave, not just focus on, “What decision do I need to make today to get that point in the future, when we fill out the paperwork?”

CPE: What specific kinds of green characteristics are you most recommending to clients?

IZZO: We’ve definitely done a lot of work around water and how to reuse water, and I think it is wonderful to watch many of the owners really be focused on that and figure out creative ways of being able to redeploy water usage.

BRENNEN: And which probably doesn’t get enough market recognition just yet. … Green kind of gets back to (a) holistic process (whereby) first you’ve got to reduce the load, so that when you add something green or renewable it has a bigger impact. How do I shrink my load? First, through good design, and engineer the architecture, and then begin to do things we’ve seen work really well. Displacement ventilation, (where) you bring in air down low, at a higher temperature, and because you do that, you actually get more hours of free cooling from the outside air in most environments you’re in around the country. …

Certainly, photovoltaics are becoming more and more cost effective. You still need the government rebates to help that, but the price is coming down. But, again, you want to put those at kind of step five. You want to go through four steps of reduce, reduce, reduce, reduce and then add photovoltaics, and then do things like displacement ventilation.

We also see use of under-floor air, although it kind of got a bit of a black mark, because people didn’t know how to detail it. GSA even started backing away from putting in under-floor air, because they forgot how to seal the floor. Contractors didn’t know. Little details matter when you’re doing these kinds of things. So, under-floor air is a great strategy, but if you execute it wrong, it’s really bad. There have been some cases where that hasn’t gone well for people.

IZZO: I think the last piece is raising the set point temperatures. … These temperatures are written right into leases. And these are long-term leases. People have to evolve with these changes. Seventy-two degrees and a wet bulb of this or that—I think those are almost archaic. But if you look at a lease today, I guarantee you it’ll have the same specs.

BRENNEN: The other technology we see (is) geoexchange, which is a way of using the earth as a heat sink. … You’re not pumping. You’re not using chillers. You’re using the earth as a heat exchanger. But you also save water, because you’re not using cooling towers, which actually blow off and evaporate millions of gallons of water a year. So geoexchange, we think, has some significant upside. It’s not happening on a lot of projects just yet, because it is costly. So you have to do the lifecycle, and you have to be in it for the long run. But over time I think you’ll see more and more opportunity for geoexchange … probably not an urban environment like New York City. But when you get out where you have a little more land, that could be an interesting opportunity for clients.

IZZO: Interestingly enough, even here in New York, there are some pretty well-known installations that have had some high levels of success.

CPE: What do you see the next generation of high-performance or sustainable design looking like?

IZZO: These tools that continue to evolve and need to get refined will continue to help push the envelope. But I do think the next generation of system types really will be dependent on—and I hate to go back to it—but will be dependent on where we end up or what path we start heading down with the energy discussion. I think that’s really going to be a key driver in the next generation of these systems, how they start to take shape. … To get to the next plateau, it’s a different conversation. And energy will be a key part of that conversation.

BRENNEN: The other thing I’d say about the future of high performance is one of the words might be “transparency,” which is, I think, this idea of energy and impact on the environment. Your tenants will know and everybody will know; it’ll be transparent, through energy labeling or EnergyStar, or the building design might be transparent, where you can see in and see out. I don’t think there’ll be any more secrets. You’re going to know exactly how your building performs. And your tenants will know how your building performs. And you’ll be held to kind of a higher standard, almost, in the future because of that transparency.

CPE: Is there anything else that you see coming?

IZZO: I think the only other thing—and I’m far from an expert on this—it’ll be interesting, in the future, how projects get financed. … A lot of our owners today—government owners, corporate entities, educational facilities—continue to struggle in raising capital. So I think that conversation is evolving as well, with regard to P3 opportunities versus private equity versus foreign investment. With the current state of the economy, I think that will become more of a topic than ever before.

BRENNEN: I think P3 is really interesting. … We’re doing Long Beach Courthouse, which is the first P3 building of its kind in the U.S. We’ve seen P3 in infrastructure, like toll roads, but this is the first building being financed and built and operated by the—call it “developer”; it’s really an investor partnership.

IZZO: Even here in New York, I think the first half a dozen or so P3—and mostly around transportation—projects have been released, and it’ll be intriguing to see the response.