Buildings 10 years ago may have undergone voluntary certification programs such as LEED, whereas now, several cities, counties, and states are mandating building-efficiency standards, Carrie Gillis, LEED AP O+M, senior project manager for JLL, tells SoCal Real Estate. The firm recently released a report that showed improved environmental performance is an important factor in the real estate industry as it can reduce operating expenses, increase tenant demand, lead to more efficient management of natural resources, and increase property value.
Lighting technologies is one area in which commercial properties all around the world are investing heavily, according to the report. The most recent report from the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Greenprint Center for Building Performance shows that lighting, accounting for $124 billion in spending, is the largest segment of the building-efficiency market, accounting for 46 percent of the capital spent on building efficiency when tallied by type of technology. This is no surprise given that the largest end use of electricity for U.S. commercial buildings is for lighting, totaling to 17 percent of all electricity consumption, according to the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey.
In addition, Across Orange County, sustainable architecture has been spreading steadily for the last few decades, says JLL. Currently, there are nearly 250 office and industrial properties with LEED and/or Energy Star certification. With recent developments attaining LEED certification at the Gold level, new buildings in the county maintain a focus on achieving heightened environmental performance.
We spoke with Gillis about how energy efficiency in buildings has changed over the last decade, how CRE’s views on the topic have shifted during that time, and what new attitudes and strategies are emerging in this sector.
SoCal Real Estate: How has energy efficiency in buildings changed over the last 10 years?
Carrie Gillis: Based on our experience and having worked on numerous LEED projects over the years, we’ve seen a large increase in the number of standards, codes, and rating systems driving the way we design and build projects. CALGreen is what our California commercial real estate industry would be most familiar with. There is a common theme in our industry (at least my experience in SoCal) that green building standards would simply become “code.” There are more than 500 green product certifications globally with approximately 100 in use here in the U.S. (Energy Star is one of many examples.) The energy and sustainability movement has been evolving over the last 10 years and will only continue to become more refined, embedded in our planning and permitting process, and simply a normal part of how we construct and operate buildings.
How has the commercial real estate industry as a whole changed its view of energy efficiency in buildings during that time?
Opinions vary on this, but we would argue that the “skepticism” of energy efficiency in buildings is becoming less and less. We hear more of, “This is a real business; it’s profitable; it’s a necessity,” especially for owners and building operators. Who doesn’t want to improve the overall life and performance of their building while making money and benefitting the environment? We know in this industry there are simple solutions, small capital improvements that require low to no cost investment. Technology and more sophisticated ways to monitor a building’s energy consumption are making the practice easier. Facility managers have the ability to monitor lighting and HVAC from their smartphones. Gone are the days of pneumatic controls. We have third-party commissioning agents to ensure building equipment is running at optimum and per design. Statistics have shown building owners tend to lease more space if they maintain a “green” building. Tenants reap lower utility costs and overall operating expenses are reduced. The key is making energy efficiency practices more accessible and simple to achieve.
What new attitudes and strategies are emerging in this arena?
We have reached a turning point in the industry where many building owners are building to LEED standards without going through the certification process. Given tighter codes and regulations, most new construction projects are required to build to these standards. There is an additional layer, health and wellness, that is gaining wider adoption within the industry. Going beyond the building itself, many owners are shifting focus to the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard and opting for this certification to achieve healthier buildings and spaces. Sources state on average that we spend more than 90 percent of our time inside buildings. Creating tracks to walk around between offices, circadian lighting design that works with our biological responses, and accessibility to amenities all contribute to a more efficient, high-performing building, which as sources have cited lead to a more productive workplace.
What else should our readers know about this topic?
We think the commercial real estate industry has a much clearer, more defined roadmap to design and build smarter. Both voluntary certification programs and green building codes, have paved the way. We are seeing more high-performing buildings, certified buildings, and commitments and buy-in from owners and operators that owning and maintaining an energy efficient building is not a set-back, but rather a step forward.