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Office Buildings Are Becoming Greener Post-Coronavirus, Experts Say

Before the coronavirus crisis, Hudson Pacific Properties was preparing to roll out a new mobile app for its office tenants within the next year and a half.

Hudson Pacific had been piloting the digital community bulletin board, which would allow tenants to communicate with property managers in real time, and wanted to make sure it worked properly in a few buildings before introducing it across the company’s portfolio.  

Hudson Pacific Properties building in San Jose, Calif.

But as soon as the coronavirus hit, Hudson Pacific changed gears and fast-tracked the rollout period for the app from 18 months to 22 days.

“It was pedal to the metal,” Hudson Pacific Properties Vice President of Sustainability & Social Impact Natalie Allan Teear said during a Bisnow webinar

The crisis caused by the coronavirus has had a huge impact on the office sector.

With many workers working remotely, office developers and property managers and service providers are leveraging tech to make buildings safer, more efficient, more sustainable and more environmentally friendly. Experts said they are hoping to apply those lessons both during and after the global health pandemic, so tenants and their workers can come back safely.  

Teear joined USGBC LA's Ben Stapleton, Green EconoME's Marika Erdely and UCLA's Nurit Katz last week at a Bisnow-hosted webinar moderated by Bisnow's Matt Seukunian called Sustainability and Urbanism in Los Angeles: How Coronavirus Is Accelerating CRE Sustainability Trends Across Los Angeles. More than 275 people registered for the webinar.

“COVID-19,” Teear said. “The main impact it is having is it’s accelerating existing trends. It’s true in many areas and it is certainly true in the convergence of technology and buildings and the evolution of the smart building. Much of that technology has huge sustainability implications.”

UCLA Chief Sustainability Officer Katz said UCLA has used new tech to monitor indoor air quality and energy efficiency.

"The increased use of technology has helped give us that transparency and the ability to modulate control environments better," Katz said. 

Clockwise from left: Hudson Pacific Properties' Natalie Allan Teear, USGBC LA's Ben Stapleton, Bisnow's Matt Seukunia, Green EconoME's Marika Erdely and UCLA's Nurit Katz discuss sustainability during a Bisnow webinar.

USGBC LA Executive Director Stapleton said that during the pandemic, people have taken a greater interest in their own home and work environment.

For years, office building owners have cared less about sustainability and how green their buildings are, he said. Stapleton estimates 98% to 99% of owners didn't care about such topics or green labels on their buildings. 

But things have changed over the years and especially now with the coronavirus, he said. 

People are paying more attention to a building's impact on the environment, a room's indoor air quality, HVAC system and energy efficiency

The change in favor of green building thinking over the years by office owners, "speaks to the fact that we've been able to prove out that there is a return on investment in looking at how to make your building more sustainable and green."

But more work needs to be done. He estimates about 80% of office owners still don't care about making their building green.

"When you look at green building practices, those create a more resilient building and healthier for those that occupy them," Stapleton said, adding that there needs to be a greater push from individuals that there is a return on investment component for making buildings green.

Green EconoME founder and CEO Erdely said she always pushes the net operating income and increase in valuation to owners on the fence about retrofitting their building. 

"You're going to be saving all this money in operating costs, your NOI is going to go up and you're going to have a more favorable market valuation on your property," Erdely said. "Many people get that. But I think a lot of people still aren't sure if it's going to happen."

Stapleton said these days with the advent of new tech, the prices on installing technology and air monitoring have dropped and have made it easier for building owner's to implement.

Still, more needs to be done on this front.

The goal is not only to have a green and healthy building but it can also pave the way toward a healthier city, Teear said.