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Sustainability Strategies Should Be Top of Mind for Building Managers

Not many people connect building management with healthy environments. That should change.

Over the years, the concept of sustainability has endured a number of transformations. In its infancy, it was all about the building envelope. We watched it grow through the green movement, which largely focused on products and procedures to save the planet, to encompass much more global—and personal—concerns, such as wellness and fitness.

As the concept morphed and grew, an increasing number of corporations jumped on the bandwagon and discovered in the process that establishing a sustainability initiative not only costs, but it also pays. Done wisely, investing in a building’s or portfolio’s sustainability strategy can not only reduce downstream costs, such as in operations and maintenance, but there is also strong evidence that it can serve as a corporate differentiator.

In a fascinating interview with Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, a maker of commercial carpet tile, Gallup tell the following tale. Carpet tile manufacture is heavily dependent on the petrochemical industry, not exactly the go-to industry for green guidance. Nevertheless, according to Gallup:

“Between 1996 and 2008, Interface cut its net greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent…,” while increasing sales by 66 percent and doubling its earnings. It also reduced greenhouse gas intensity by 82 percent, “wastewater stream by 72 percent, landfill-bound scrap waste by 78 percent, total energy usage by 44 percent, smoke stacks by 33 percent and effluent pipes by 71 percent.”

It stands to reason that, if such strides are possible in a waste-heavy industry such as manufacturing, building management’s path to reduced carbon footprints must be infinitely smoother. Which is good news since A) a growing number of institutional investors expect an active green strategy on the part of companies and assets in which they place their bets, and B) despite comparisons with manufacturing, real estate is still a major contributor to pollution.

In fact, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), our schools, offices, grocery stores and other multi-tenant assets are responsible for nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions today.

And this is where you come in. Building managers are on the front lines of building a sustainable strategy. Your operations are elbows deep in the performance of these assets with the knowledge and (we would hope) the commitment to increase that performance at all levels.

IREM is doing its part. For the third year in a row, we have been named ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year, and this year received its highest honor: the Sustained Excellence Award for energy efficiency programs that feature ENERGY STAR tools and resources. We should note here that some of our AMO members are also ENERGY STAR award recipients, including CBRE and Cushman & Wakefield.

In addition, our Certified Sustainable Property Volume Program is growing. The program, which assists members who want to certify portfolios of 10 properties or more, will now also include medical office and seniors housing portfolios.

This is a critical expansion, especially given evidence that not many people—whether they be commercial tenants or multifamily residents—connect our industry with healthy environments. This disturbing fact was brought out by a recent public opinion survey sponsored by the USGBC, which revealed that, “People want to live in a healthy environment, but don’t typically associate green buildings with being part of the solution. When asked which terms most strongly relate to the environment and being green, only 11 percent said green buildings.

“When considering the connection between green buildings and personal health,” the survey revealed, “almost a third (32 percent) indicated they have direct, personal experience with bad health associated with poor environments or living situations. In addition, when ranking how healthy their local environment is on a scale of 1 to 10, 65 percent gave it less than an eight.”

If ever there was one, this a call to action for building managers, but not building managers alone. It is a clarion call for the industry, from designers and developers to building and asset managers. Quite literally, our future depends on it.

Don Wilkerson is 2018/2019 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, he serves as president and CEO of Gaston and Wilkerson Management in Reno, Nev.


 [HD1]What is the building envelope?

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