The US Green Building Council turned 20 last year and, at GreenBuild in Philadelphia, celebrated the nearly 200,000 LEED projects that comprise 10.4 billion square feet of construction space in 140 nations. The growth of LEED is a proxy showing that green building has matured into the mainstream. In a mature market however, consumers are more savvy and expect more from their products. Many of the public and private entities that O’Brien & Company works with are aware that some early green buildings did not deliver the predicted performance and want verifiable, measurable results as they integrate the benefits of green building into their financial models and critical organizational missions, i.e. they want assurances of long lasting value from green building.
How can the green building industry provide assurances of that value? There are three areas that O’Brien & Company recommends for all green building projects to provide real triple bottom line benefits.
High Performance Rating Systems
The first is leveraging a parallel maturation of green building rating systems. It is not time to abandon them, as the Living Building Challenge (LBC), LEEDv4, Passive House and other systems are powerful tools to hold owners and project teams accountable to and provide guidance in achieving project goals. See O’Brien & Company’s recent article in the Daily Journal of Commerce’s Green Building special section for more on the future of LEED and performance.
The second area is transparent tracking of building performance that provides actionable information to correct course during design, construction, or operation of a built project, and to allow for ongoing improvement on the next project, across a portfolio, or in developing of policy.
One of the most significant policy tools to promote this kind of data sharing is the energy performance benchmarking policies. According to the Institute of Market Transformation, nine cities and two states, including the City of Seattle and Washington State have policies requiring disclosure of building energy performance to government agencies, to the public, during sales, or to tenants. Seattle just released results from the first year of energy benchmarking in the city showing that 41% of the buildings reporting earned an Energy Star score of 75 or greater but that over $55 million in energy could be saved if the worst performing buildings were upgraded to the median performance for their class.
On a project level, there are many tools owners and property managers can use to measure, verify, and improve building performance from retro commissioning, LEED for Existing Buildings ongoing certification, and Energy Star Portfolio Manager (the basis of most energy disclosure ordinances and energy performance reporting for LEED EB: O+M), to sophisticated building dashboards that provide both public facing and back of house reporting. This article won’t delve into the details of applying these “performance enhancing” tools here (stay tuned for a future blog on the topic) but will move onto one of the most interesting and powerful ways to create enduring value on a project, post occupancy engagement with building users.
Post Occupancy Engagement
According to an article in Environmental Building News (EBN) real estate experts at Jones Lang LaSalle said that in the properties they manage, an average of 50%–60% of energy use is directly related to how commercial building tenants use their space. We’ve found similar splits on commercial projects in Seattle. EBN states that “Plug loads alone—everything that people plug in, from desk lamps and computers to refrigerators and copy machines—account for at least 20% of energy consumption in both homes and office buildings, and this number is rising as mechanical systems and building envelopes become more efficient and people start plugging in more electronic devices.”
The EBN article addresses designing in features that provide feedback to users like the public side of building dashboards – see an example from the first LEED for Healthcare project in the country, Group Health Puyallup – but, more importantly, how changing social norms to create ownership makes that feedback valuable and actionable for building users.
A case study of Seattle’s Horizon House featured by the Seattle 2030 District links energy benchmarking and the idea of “conservation coaches” as key in turning the information provided by benchmarking into better building performance. O’Brien & Company is collaborating with Catalyst 2030 to provide similar building efficiency coaching to our clients, particularly multi-family projects, to create value long after the LEED Plaque is awarded.
It takes both people and tools to create a culture of conservation in a building or community. For the last few years, Enterprise Communities has focused on resident led engagement strategies to achieve their Green Communities program goals. Their website provides a number of free resources for affordable housing projects (but that can be useful for other multi-family projects) including a series of customizable Resident Engagement cards created by O’Brien & Company, a “Training in a Box” tool and a “Green Leader” Toolkit.
All of this may sound like just more expense but tenant engagement has one of the biggest paybacks per dollar invested as a building can generate significant savings without entering into a retrofit. It is also a key part of a robust tenant acquisition and retention legacy that builds both brand and community, particularly in sophisticated markets like the Northwest. To be effective however, a tenant engagement program needs to be tailored to the project and the market; and include a broad set of complimentary engagement tools, trainings, and communication vehicles.
In fact, use of high performance rating systems, incorporating tools to track building performance in actionable ways, and a targeted tenant engagement program all link together from the beginning of design through building operation to make a healthier, better performing built environment for us all.