Sustaining Measures

What should be the sustainability movement's top priorities?
Paul Rosta, Executive Editor

Paul Rosta, Executive Editor

Now here’s a phrase you don’t see every day in this business: “hydroponic phytoremediation.” It sounds like a topic that might pop up in a magic potions class at Hogwarts, but the term actually refers to the use of plants to remove toxic chemicals from the air inside a building.

The tongue-twister appeared in an email that arrived this past winter from Hickock Cole Architects, a Washington, D.C.-based design firm. Hydroponic phytoremediation is just one of several innovative techniques being considered for the makeover of the American Geophysical Union’s headquarters, a project Hickock Cole is designing in its hometown. In a first for the capital region, the 62,000-square-foot building is slated for renovation to net-zero standards.

This issue offers many such examples of green-tinted creativity. Nancy Crotti reports in “Platinum Quest” that Delta Americas’ new headquarters in Fremont, Calif., is equipped with a geothermal system capable of cutting HVAC power consumption 60 percent, and with tanks that can store 140,000 gallons of rainwater for irrigation.

In “Green Blueprint,” a roundtable conducted by Amanda Marsh, sustainability leaders offers glimpses of things to come. Accompanying the article is a rendering of T3 Minneapolis, the first in a series of tall buildings Hines plans to build out of sustainable engineered timber.

Our experts also cite plenty of challenges: inconsistent reporting standards, mandatory benchmarking and demonstrating that sustainable investment generates value. As an inexpert yet interested observer, I’ll mention a few more that I’d like to see the industry address with stepped-up efforts.

California’s struggles with drought underscore the urgency of water issues, not only in the arid West but from coast to coast. Better incorporating supply availability into regional planning, upgrading delivery systems and protecting sources should rank high on the industry’s list. Let’s also see more initiatives like the recent 18-month pilot program led by CBRE Group Inc., which saved its participants 1 billion gallons.

On a related note, let me put in a good word for infrastructure advocacy in general. Besides adding to pollution and waste, the subpar state of the nation’s roads, bridges and water systems takes a huge toll on the economy, including its real estate sector.

Finally, it’s easy to forget now that the Great Recession tended to push sustainable investment onto the back burner. Whenever today’s market inevitably cools off, the task of building on the industry’s green gains could pose a challenge as great as any.