Now that winter has truly arrived–reminding me once again what 20 degrees with a wind chill feels like–I’ve started thinking about energy efficiency and what it would take to avoid massive heating bills for my apartment from now until April. My monetary concerns are in many ways aligned with the environmental concerns expressed in the guidelines for LEED certification.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, created by the U.S. Green Building Council, has for many years presented a significant challenge to commercial real estate developers. While energy efficiency and sustainable building practices are certainly appealing, developers and the investors they report to also have to consider building/renovation costs and the operating income their project will generate. Many have found that LEED credits don’t necessarily contribute to the almighty Bottom Line.
LEED certification also comes with significant building complications and mountains of paperwork.
Nonetheless, in recent years we’ve seen many buildings throughout the world constructed or renovated in such a way as to earn LEED certification:
- The nine-building FedEx world headquarters in Memphis, TN earned a “Gold” certification. This complex features resource- and energy-conserving HVAC and plumbing systems.
- Also in Tennessee, two of the larger Class A office buildings in Nashville–One and Two American Center–received LEED certification last summer.
- In San Diego, where heating is less of an issue than AC, two office buildings managed by the Irvine Company received the highest LEED certification, Platinum.
- The 58-story Comcast Center, built in Philadelphia under the supervision of Liberty Property Trust (LRY), is the tallest building in America to receive Platinum certification. Construction was mired in controversy, including a conflict with the Philadelphia Plumber’s Union over the lack of plumbing work due to the building’s water-efficient design. Eventually, a compromise was reached.
And these are just examples from the U.S. Considering the added cost and complexity of building/remodeling according to extremely complex guidelines, the practice has become quite common. Despite the daunting short-term cost, the long-term perks of investing in a LEED-certified property (valuation benefits, public image, decreased operating expenses–and of course, being “green”) seem to make it appealing for many developers.
While there are an incredible number of factors to take into account–everything from labor to average electric bills to the amount of sunlight coming through the windows–there are reports that LEED properties are proving, not just green, but economical.
I’m no expert, so I won’t take a position on either side of this debate. I will, however, point out one related trend: the cost of solar energy, according to some analysts, is going down. One day, perhaps, energy-efficient buildings will be the industry standard.