by: John Dobroski, Sr. Communications Specialist
Leading up to Earth Day, messaging in the news and on social media has reminded us to think more about the environment and how our individual actions affect the planet. Corporations are no different, with both Apple and Rockwell Automations releasing corporate reports on sustainability this week.
To find out more about how a global commercial real estate firm assists companies achieve sustainability goals, we interviewed Laci Wilkes, Director–CBRE Global Energy & Sustainability, whose team created the GreenWays platform.
What is GreenWays and where did the idea for the program originate?
GreenWays is CBRE’s branded sustainability consulting package. It encompasses a menu of options intended to be flexible and focused on what the client’s priorities are. The idea grew from a couple of clients who didn’t meet the LEED Minimum Program Requirements, which eliminated their projects from pursuing LEED Certification. They were still committed to building a sustainable, energy efficient space, so we identified key metrics that were important to their individual companies and tracked those. At the end of their projects they had data to support their Corporate Social Responsibility program and sustainability commitments.
What are the benefits of a sustainability program to a building’s owner? Do these benefits differ by building size or type (office, retail, industrial)?
There are two main benefits for an owner: reduced operating expenses and higher rent. By incorporating a sustainability program with energy and water efficiency targets, the building owner can save money on expenses. Building on that, the owner can pass those operating savings on to their tenants and potentially ask a higher rental rate. CBRE has researched this over the past four years and found that buildings that have sustainable features are more desirable to tenants. The specific benefits, such as percent saved, will vary based on use of building, but in general, the benefits are the same across the board.
What about benefits to the tenant? Can a sustainability program be useful in attracting top level talent?
Yes! Most Fortune 500 companies have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments that include environmental or sustainability performance. Those tenants need to be in buildings that will support their efforts.
Are there tenant types that express interest in sustainability programs more often than others?
The larger companies are definitely looking for sustainability programs that will support their CSR objectives, however, those specific objectives do vary from industry to industry. A professional services firm may focus more on what I like to call the “softer side of sustainability” which could include amenities that support their wellness programs, waste reduction targets, or overall environmental impact with green cleaning programs or similar initiatives. A retail or manufacturing or warehouse type tenant may focus more on the cost savings of energy and water use reduction.
What are some challenges with sustainability programs in older buildings or even historic buildings?
With any existing building, the biggest challenge is that there’s only so much that can be done with existing infrastructure. Tweaking the schedule of operations, making minor modifications, retro-commissioning and educating tenants on how to more efficiently operate their own spaces will have a big impact. At some point, there may be a need to consider a capital investment to see further benefits. Finding the right balance of cost vs. return on investment is key. Checking out local or federal incentives and also the work plan or scheduling of the work reduce the cost impact. With historic buildings there is a similar process, just with the added complexity of making sure that the integrity of the building is maintained with any modifications.
How does your team operate within CBRE? Is the team regionally focused, national, or global?
Our team is part of CBRE’s Global Energy & Sustainability group. We work with all CBRE services lines as well as outside clients with no other CBRE connection. Clients can use CBRE’s GreenWays program regardless of engagement with Project Management, Facility Management, etc. We have team members across the U.S., Europe & Asia!
Do any assignments involve only GreenWays without any inclusion of a traditional project management team?
Yes. In some cases, the chosen GreenWays path doesn’t involve an actual construction project. We’ve helped a couple of clients develop sustainable design and construction guidelines or sustainable real estate policies to roll out to their portfolios.
What are a few GreenWays success stories that you are particularly proud of?
I’ll always be proud of our very first project that went through the program. It was small 5,000-SF data center expansion for a financial services firm. They have strict CSR metrics they have to report for all of their construction projects. Through the GreenWays program we were able to streamline the tracking process for them, taking a load of their internal resources, and providing them with the data and backup to show their waste and energy reduction for this project.
Another project that has turned out to be a big success for our client was the creation of sustainable design and construction guidelines and real estate policy. This client has multiple property types that they lease–from medical to warehouse to office. They initially approached us to help develop a guideline for their office construction projects, but we both quickly realized that they needed a more comprehensive overarching strategy. What we put together for them is detailed enough to provide specific data but flexible enough to apply to all their property types. The deliverables included the policy, specification guidelines and roles/responsibilities that got incorporated into their PJM Playbook.
Does GreenWays work with any other sustainability programs? If so, which ones and in what capacity?
GreenWays is intended to be flexible and was initially created as a way to track sustainability project metrics if the project didn’t qualify for LEED. However, with the emergence and growing popularity of other green building rating systems like Living Building Challenge (LBC) and Well Certification, GreenWays could be a supplement to a project pursuing those. Well Certification doesn’t track water or energy efficiency, so that’s something GreenWays could cover. LBC has what they call a Petal Certification, which is essentially a partial certification under their program. Depending on the petals chosen to pursue, GreenWays could also supplement LBC.
What do you see in the future for sustainability practices in commercial spaces (office, retail, industrial)?
Smart building technology is growing at a rapid pace in every property type. Having a system in place that allows a facility manager to see potential problems before they become major issues is a huge time and cost saver. We advise our clients when building new facilities or conducting upgrades to existing buildings to install a building management system that will help them more efficiently manage the building. CBRE recently acquired ESI, which enhances our smart building system expertise and integration capabilities.
Serving as Director, CBRE Global Energy & Sustainability, Laci Wilkes works with project managers and clients globally on the delivery of Sustainability Consulting Services. Combining industry best practices, her experience as a LEED Consultant and CBRE Platform processes and deliverables, her collaboration with other CBRE service lines ensures cohesive service delivery customized to the needs of each client. When acting as a LEED Consultant, Laci works with clients directly and engages with their project teams to develop a scope of work that will meet the client’s goals for Sustainability, and then manages the entire certification process to confirm that those goals are met by all consultants involved.
CBRE/New England’s Property Management group is on the forefront of sustainability, assisting One Beacon Street in earning the first LEED certification for Existing Buildings in all of CBRE, and assisting One Boston Place in being the first building in the world to earn a Gold level of certification through the USGBC’s LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED EB O&M) rating system. Contact Shay Sims for more information.