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Boulder's New Net-Zero Lab Highlights Life Sciences’ Sustainability Gap

Healthier, more sustainable and cheaper to operate: The forthcoming Ridgeway Science & Tech project in Boulder, Colorado, seeks to be a pioneer in all-electric, net-zero life sciences construction.

The 112K SF building will be powered by a combination of geothermal wells and on- and off-site solar power. Daniel Aizenman, director of development and design at Conscience Bay Co., the firm behind the project, said it will be sought after because of its lower operating costs, although there will be a 5% development premium for the added sustainability features.

“There's a sense of urgency on climate change, and every time we invest in properties, we try to do it with the goal of cultivating healthy places,” Aizenman said. 

The Ridgeway Science & Tech project in Boulder, Colorado, seeks to be an early pioneer in all-electric, net-zero life sciences construction.

He said companies and investors seeking to meet their climate goals will find this kind of space especially attractive. It will also meet Boulder’s 2030 net-zero new building requirement early

Stantec senior associate Shannon Jones, who helped design the building, said the project will feature a high-efficiency envelope. It has been entitled and approved by the city, with plans to break ground in 2024 and open two years later.

The life sciences industry needs to be more effective and transparent in tackling its substantive energy use, especially as more cities across the country adopt regulations meant to reduce building emissions, said Matthew Fickett, a managing principal at HDR Boston and an expert in sustainable lab construction.

Some lab buildings can use 10 times the energy of a similarly sized office space. Industry leaders like BioMed Realty, Alexandria Real Estate Equities and Longfellow Real Estate Partners have announced plans to pursue energy savings and certifications. But overall, the industry still needs to be more consistent and transparent around its total carbon footprint, emissions per SF and plans to retrofit older buildings. 

Much of the energy use of these buildings comes from the need to power specialized machines and constantly circulate air. With that in mind, Taconic Partners has begun installing heat pumps and other new HVAC gear. Taconic Executive Vice President of Commercial Asset Management Matthew Weir told Bisnow these efforts and their energy savings have created “an advantage in leasing, and we’re seeing that in real time.”

Amid increasing supply — nationally, there was 1M SF of negative net absorption of lab space in the second quarter, per CBRE, and 40.8M SF of lab and research and development space under construction — any feature that allows an owner’s property to stand out can be particularly valuable.

Ridgeway seeks to tap into the booming Colorado and Denver biotech markets, which have seen significant growth in the last year after BioMed Realty’s April 2022 purchase of a 1M SF campus in Boulder proved to be a catalyst for development. Conscience Bay has owned the site, which previously held a warehouse, for a decade.