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6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

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When CBRE global director of energy & sustainability Pete Scarpelli joined CBRE five years ago, a colleague asked him if he would have worked himself out of a job when he was finished implementing sustainability initiatives at the firm. But luckily, building technologies and operations are changing at such a rapid pace that Pete and other green industry pros will unlikely ever be bored. We asked what’s exciting them the most these days.

1. Greater LED Implementation

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

LED lighting is one of the best examples, Pete says—the technology changes every nine months. (Above, he poses with some bulbs.) And the cost to swap out to the upgraded technology is decreasing. “A year ago, maybe one or two buildings out of five would have LEDs,” he says. “Now LEDs are in all five.” Pete even revamped his own condo, switching out halogens for LEDs and ultimately saving 22% in energy. Commercial clients spend an average of $1/SF for lighting, he says, and LED implementation can cut costs by 20% or more.

2. Smarter Building Management Systems

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

The industry has really begun to embrace technologies that standardize and automate data, says Scot Horst, chief product offer at the US Green Building Council. “Control companies are becoming technology companies and tech companies are trying to get into controls,” he says, pointing to Google’s $3.2B purchase of Nest Labs earlier this year. While Nest—which Scot uses at home—is residential, similar technologies are appearing on the commercial side. Examples include Honeywell’s Attune, Scot says, which pairs technology with energy and automation experts to help reduce a building’s energy and operations costs and create an ongoing strategy for the facility, and Silicon Valley-based Building Robotics’ Comfy, app-based software that enables tenants to adjust the temperature in their office space. These are only two of many companies focusing on BMS, he says.

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

In October, USGBC and Honeywell announced they were working together by integrating USGBC’s new LEED Dynamic Plaque—a building performance monitoring and scoring platform—with Honeywell’s Enterprise Buildings Integrator and Attune to help optimize operations. As new data (such as energy use, water use and waste reduction) is reported in the system, the Dynamic Plaque automatically generates an up-to-the-minute LEED performance score tied to its well-known certification levels. For instance, USGBC’s HQ at 2101 L St in DC is Platinum, but if energy consumption goes up, the Dynamic Plaque might clock the space as Gold instead—letting the org know it has to take action. Transwestern, Gerding Edlen, JBG Cos, Akridge, Franklin Street Properties, Boston Properties, DPR Construction and Integral Group are among the early adopters of the platform.

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

Utilizing data from these smart systems by automatically extracting information and sending them into an analysis engine has made owners and building managers more efficient, Pete says. “You can instantly discover if heating and cooling systems are running at the same time, fighting each other to keep a building’s temperature at 72 degrees,” he says, then be able to tackle the problem immediately. You don’t have to wait for energy audits or re-commissioning anymore—which typically only happened every three to five years—to figure out if you have operational issues, he says. A smart BMS that CBRE installed at a client’s office campus cost $250k, and it’s generating $300k in savings for that client annually, an immediate ROI.

3. LEED in Bulk

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

More owners are also jumping on the LEED Volume program, which, through the use of prototype standards, allows organizations to simplify LEED documentation for multiple buildings or spaces of a similar type, Pete says. (Kohl's, above, is one such corporation that's been involved, according to the USGBC.) Thus, certification is faster and cheaper versus individual building reviews. One of CBRE's clients, a national financial services firm, completed the program at several hundred bank branches in 2014. Last summer, CBRE's own volume certification program—which will oversee nearly 600 small-format client retail stores gain LEED certification by 2020—was a finalist in CoreNet Global's Annual Global Innovators Award.

4. Green Financing Structures

Another trend Pete sees picking up steam is financing structures to help owners implement energy efficiency programs in buildings. An energy services agreement is signed with a third party, he says, which provides the initial funding for a project. Then an owner only makes a monthly payment if savings materialize, allowing owners to pay off services over three to five years. Clients are starting to use this tool to complete needed efficiency upgrades and free up internal capital for business growth needs (e.g. R&D), Pete says.

5. Better Air Controls

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

Another creative technology Scot sees becoming more mainstream is natural ventilation systems like the one GSA has installed at the San Francisco Federal Building (above, which is LEED Platinum and a national TOBY winner). Its sophisticated control system works with nature by using sensors to open and close windows as building temperature requires, he says. A LEED-certified home improvement store Scot recently visited in in Bogotá, Colombia—akin to our Home Depot—is also using a similar ventilation system.

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

Parmenter Realty Partners has installed outdoor CO2 monitors on some of its buildings, like Westchase Park Plaza in Houston. They signal to the HVAC system when fresh air is needed, only kicking in when necessary, says Steve Harrison, the firm’s managing director of facilities and sustainability. (He's snapped above, second from left, with USGBC COO Mahesh Ramanujam, Parmenter's Steve Bronner, Dallas Mayor Rawlings and Parmenter's Josh Hedderich at the LEED ceremony for Parmenter's Rambler Park in Dallas last August.) It also means greater comfort for tenants, which is paramount for owners, he says; the firm is also beginning to remove fountain spaces within its buildings and replacing them with planting areas to increase oxygen.

6. Easier Tenant Adaptability

6 Exciting Ways Sustainability Is Transforming

Tenants are more likely to get on board with sustainability if you make it more convenient, especially since recent college graduates are joining companies with the expectation of sustainable practices, Steve says. At buildings like Rambler Park (above, the first LEED Platinum EBOM certified building in Dallas and North Texas), Parmenter encourages using glassware for eating and drinking, providing dishwashers that tenants load and turn on before they leave. This has reduced the amount of Styrofoam, plastic, paper and wet trash being produced at buildings, he says. Single-stream recycling also makes it easier for tenants to recycle; at the end of the day, the bins are sent to a sorting center to separate what’s been thrown out. Parmenter has also installed electrical strips with motion detectors, which will switch off lights and appliances when tenants leave their desk areas.