Randy Thompson doesn’t care why you want a green building, he just wants you to want one.
“Environmentalists advocate green buildings to save the planet, while corporate executives have a bottom line to protect and shareholders to please,” says the managing director at Cushman & Wakefield Inc., a global commercial real estate services company based in Dallas. “They’re coming to the same place on different roads, but in the end it’s good for everyone.”
In the middle, however, are developers and building owners—a far less environmentally enlightened bunch that’s at least equally sensitive to the value of their investments as their corporate tenants, and probably more so.
“Building owners aren’t interested in greening their properties because the return on investment isn’t fast enough,” says Thompson, who manages the transition of corporate tenants from one workplace to another. “Most of them are out of a building in less than seven years,” he says, as opposed to paybacks of up to 25 years for investments in full-scale performance improvements.
But Thompson thinks he holds the key to inspiring a sea change in converting brown (and very brown) buildings into green ones that will attract and retain increasingly eco-conscious tenants, and at higher lease rates.
Inspired by the book, Commercial Real Estate Revolution …, a 2009 title penned by his friend Rex Miller, Thompson is developing a pitch and an online tool to convince commercial building owners to embrace what corporate tenants and enviros have already figured out: that green pays more than it costs--if you do it right.
The heart of Thompson’s plan is to apply a collaborative, nonlinear approach to retrofitting brown buildings, a tact that Miller’s book (among others) cites as critical to designing, developing, and maintaining new sustainable projects.
“There’s as much as 50% of the cost of a building wasted in the process of building it,” says Thompson regarding the conventional linear approach to design and construction—in both commercial and residential—that leads to change orders, errors, and poor installations that not only impact building costs but also ongoing expenses that undermine ROI and overall value.
“A collaborative process with performance and outcome-based standards effectively eliminates that waste,” he says, and can and should be applied to retrofits, as well. “Our models show a return of three to five years, which is competitive with normal capital improvements that building owners routinely make,” with the added benefits of improving building performance and workplace satisfaction while reducing operating costs for tenants.
Hand in hand with this methodology, says Thompson, is applying custom solutions to each existing building instead of simply applying the LEED-EB (Existing Buildings) rating system across the board. That starts with an integrated building management system that tracks energy, water, and other resource demands, ideally down to the device level, if more likely by zones. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says Thompson.
Once trouble spots are identified, he says, pinpoint solutions--from building envelope upgrades to equipment retrofits and control systems--can be affected, and at a far lower cost than a shotgun approach. “In many cases, these are inexpensive fixes that have significant impact,” on reducing demand for energy or water and/or improving indoor air quality, daylight, and comfort.
To attract pilot projects to test his approach, Thompson plans to launch Project Catalyst, an online tool that provides a real-time assessment of the estimated cost, performance impact, and return on investment for what he’s identified as four progressive levels of green retrofits. He’ll present the program at Greenbuild 2012 during an educational seminar with Miller and Jeff Otero of Strategic Dimensions, the software’s developer.
“If just one building owner takes the lead and applies this process to greening their building, they’ll see the value of their portfolio improve,” he says. “Those who wait will see the value of the holdings slide as tenants seek out green buildings, and they’ll miss out on the publicity, good will, and long-term leases those that went ahead of them will enjoy.”