ULI’s Greenprint Center Finds Year of Strides

The Greenprint Center for Building Performance tracked significant sustainability gains across a 2.4 billion-square-foot global real estate portfolio.
Marta Schantz, Senior Vice President, ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance
Marta Schantz, Senior Vice President, ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. Image courtesy of ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance

The Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance is reporting that their global portfolio of properties saw declines in the 3 percent range for carbon emissions, energy consumption, and water consumption between 2018 and 2019.

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Volume 11, the most recent version of the annual Greenprint Performance Report, measured and tracked the functioning of member-owned properties totaling nearly 2.4 billion square feet and spanning 32 countries. The portfolio of 10,190 properties includes office buildings (the largest segment), industrial, multifamily and retail assets, and a small sampling of self storage and hotel properties. In 2019, Greenprint members executed just over 6,100 sustainability projects—including high-efficiency equipment installation, building envelope upgrades, metering, smart-building upgrades and tenant engagement—with roughly 2,600 of those projects having required an aggregate investment of $50.1 million.

The massive collection of properties logged desirable reductions at practically every checkpoint. Carbon emissions in the portfolio decreased by 3.1 percent year-over-year. “It takes significant investment to achieve the carbon reductions that the collective Greenprint members accomplished; a 3.1 percent reduction across more than 10,000 buildings is huge,” Marta Schantz, senior vice president with ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance, told Commercial Property Executive. “So, we look at the energy-related projects report to see where those savings are coming from; this year the data shows increased investment in deeper energy retrofits as opposed to only implementing the simpler projects.”

Water consumption at the Greenprint members’ properties decreased an average 3.3 percent from 2018, while energy consumption and electricity use declined a respective 2.7 percent and 2.3 percent year-over-year. Natural gas use dropped 1.3 percent and landfill waste declined 0.9 percent, while waste diversion increased, growing 1.6 percent. “Sustainability can be really exciting and high-tech like Hudson Pacific Properties’ solar panels on the façade of their new (EPIC office building in Los Angeles)—the sides, not the roof—and they can also be less glamorous and human-centric like LaSalle Investment Managers’ occupant engagement efforts for waste sorting and recycling across 88 separate tenants,” said Schantz. “It takes a mix of both to reach the environmental performance goals set by Greenprint, and real estate members are putting in the work to make it happen.”

The green road ahead

It’s too soon to know just how the global health crisis will impact Greenprint members’ commitment, or ability to commit, to improving environmental performance. The COVID-19 pandemic has touched practically every industry and every group pursuit in some way, but its impact hasn’t been entirely negative for the advancement of building performance. For starters, at properties left largely unoccupied due to remote work or staff eliminations, normal plug-load energy usage (e.g. computers, task lights, copiers) has substantially diminished.

And there are other benefits to these temporarily vacant properties. “We’re seeing building owners and managers take advantage of empty office buildings to implement major sustainability improvements sooner than they would have otherwise done, and during business hours, no less,” Schantz noted. “We’re seeing facilities engineers identify equipment optimization improvements and flag major building system setpoint errors that were left unknown or otherwise blamed on tenant usage. These operational and capital improvements are a great way to make lemonade out of the lemons that COVID-19 has left us.”

For all the advantages that the pandemic indirectly presents for the advancement of environmental performance, there are disadvantages as well. Certain healthy building upgrades, including higher quality air filters and increased outside air percentages, are requiring greater energy for the operation of mechanical equipment. As Schantz pointed out, “The struggle to balance increased healthy aspects of the space and increased energy usage may make it harder to achieve the environmental performance goals of years prior.” Regardless, she added, Greenprint members remain committed to reducing carbon emissions as best they can.