Sustainability efforts are increasingly common in the commercial real estate industry, with property owners and managers – along with their tenants – placing increased focus on incorporating design features that are environmentally sound while reducing energy consumption over the lifespan of a building.
Sustainable building has rapidly evolved in the last 20 years.
The 2000 launch of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program — developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) – changed the way buildings are designed, constructed, operated and maintained, more importantly, it changed people’s perception about green building.
Today, about 33 percent of building projects in the US have green features, and by 2018 that number is expected to grow to about 50 percent.
While many property owners recognize the advantages of seeking LEED certification — including state/local incentives and marketing benefits – the application process is expensive and time-consuming which deters many people from pursuing this certification despite having buildings that would meet LEED criteria.
But, sustainable design goes beyond achieving LEED certification. Employees feel good about working in high-performing, healthy and cost-effective buildings; design features that save energy and money while enhancing tenant comfort are increasingly common.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, by 2035 about 75 percent of all commercial buildings will be new or renovated. This presents a tremendous opportunity for architecture and design firms to ensure that buildings are more efficient than ever before.
While creating an energy-efficient building does require upfront costs, the long-term payback makes these projects cost effective.
For example, major areas of a building’s energy consumption are its heating and cooling systems. But replacing outdated equipment with newer energy-saving models lowers annual utility bills and increases tenant comfort. Using “Zero-VOC” (volatile organic compound) or “low-VOC” paint is a simple way to minimize indoor air pollution.
Another trend gaining momentum is zero-energy buildings (ZEB) or buildings with “zero net energy consumption.”
Simply put, the energy used annually by these buildings is about the same as the amount of energy generated through renewable resources. One way this is achieved is using solar, wind power or geothermal to produce energy.
At Kimmerle Group’s corporate headquarters in Harding, an example of successful adaptive reuse design, the building’s geothermal heating and cooling system draws on the site for building operation; a solar hot water system provides the building’s hot water supply.
Though difficult to achieve ZEB, it’s becoming increasingly attainable and is the direction in which many sustainable commercial projects are heading, particularly as the cost of solar panels and other equipment becomes more affordable.