Class G-The New Class A: The Push to Build Environmentally Friendly "Green" Commercial Real Estate Has Certainly Been Gaining Steam. Building Owners, Developers, Lenders and Tenants Have All Jumped on Board

By Woodwell, Jamie | Mortgage Banking, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Class G-The New Class A: The Push to Build Environmentally Friendly "Green" Commercial Real Estate Has Certainly Been Gaining Steam. Building Owners, Developers, Lenders and Tenants Have All Jumped on Board


Woodwell, Jamie, Mortgage Banking


In 1882, the U.S. government began construction of the "new" U.S. Pension Building in Washington, D.C., which now houses the National Building Museum. The General Services Administration's (GSA's) description of this now-125-year-old building could stand as a model for many of the modern goals of "green" building. The GSA's description went like this: [??] "Numerous technological innovations were incorporated into the building's design. A fresh-air ventilation system was based on the premise that the central atrium could act as a giant flue. The exposed roof structure, ornate fenestration, and the full height of the great hall acted as a chimney to exhaust unwanted heat. Air was automatically drawn from the perimeter of the building through the clerestory windows, which were opened by a mechanical system. The large central hall with perimeter offices ensured there were no dark corridors, with daylight and air permeating every space." [??] Clearly, green building is not new. Equally clearly, green building is not a passing fad.

What is green?

There are many shades of green in commercial/multifamily properties. And increasingly, being green comes with a grade.

The most frequently cited contemporary certification of a building's "green-ness" is based on the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC's) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System[TM]. The LEED system certifies buildings that have met certain environmental criteria as being at the Certified, Silver, Gold, or--for the highest-achieving properties--Platinum level. According to the USGBC, as of February 2008, 1,283 commercial projects had received LEED certification.

But LEED is not alone. Other certifications include ENERGY STAR by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy; the Portland, Oregon-based Green Building Initiative's Green Globes rating system; the California Energy Commission's Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings; and other federal, state and local regulatory, certification and best-practices programs.

But even these certifications don't capture the full range of how green U.S. buildings have become. Innovations in everything from insulation to windows to heating and cooling systems to water-control devices in restrooms mean that virtually every building is greener today than was its predecessor. A July 2007 report by London-based Davis Langdon LLP, The Cost of Green Revisited, found that most contemporary buildings that are not LEED-certified would earn 10 to 20 points toward LEED certification based solely on their baseline designs.

Why green?

A key driver of green development, as evidenced by the U.S. Pension Building in 1882 and certified green buildings today, is a motivated owner.

In 1881, it was Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who, as quartermaster of the U.S. Army, pushed for green elements to be incorporated into the U.S. Pension Building design. Today it is property developers, owners and tenants looking to build space that will attract and retain workers, decrease property operating expenses, increase the property's value and--quite often--make a statement about the company or companies associated with it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, more than three-quarters of the Gold and Platinum LEED-certified buildings are owner-occupied. A review of these buildings shows that the corporate headquarters for the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) in Sacramento, California; RAND Worldwide in Santa Monica, California; Armstrong World Industries Inc. in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; the Chicago Transit Authority in Chicago; and the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., all have attained Gold or Platinum LEED certification.

These companies are certainly not alone. Bank of America, Charlotte, North Carolina; HSBC Finance Corporation, Prospect Heights, Illinois; LaSalle Bank Corporation, Chicago; Navy Federal Credit Union, Vienna, Virginia; PNC Financial Services Group Inc. …

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