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CoStar Green Report: Our Readers Write

Environmental Business and Economic News for the Property Industry
March 7, 2007
The reader response to The CoStar Green Report, which we introduced Feb. 1, 2007, has frankly surprised us. Three of the columns were among the 25 most read stories for the month out of the 668 articles we published. Even more surprising was the sense of commitment and desire to improve environmental awareness and affect change among the thousands of readers who logged on to read our reports. This issue of the Green Report consists entirely of reader generated columns and responses to our reports.

Color Me Green? Reviewing Shades of Reality

Editors Note: Greg O'Brien, senior vice president of CRESA Partners in Atlanta and a LEED Accredited Professional created CRESA's The Green Team to assist corporate tenants with understanding the value of green in their real estate transactions.

"Having been on the brokerage and development ends of the business for over 20 years, the movement to green has surprised me with its quick move into the mainstream," O'Brien said, but added: "At least, the talk about green is mainstream. We still have a long way to go for acceptance in the market."

O'Brien penned the following article and shared it with CoStar Green Report.

Tenants are now considering the environmental impact of a building during the decision-making process. As a result of the establishment of the United States Green Building Council and its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, environmentally responsible design and construction practices are now becoming a determining factor in the site selection process. But as with many new concepts introduced into a marketplace, there are significant differences between the common perceptions of green developments and the realities.

Let's take a look at a few.

Perception 1: Green buildings cost more to lease or own.

Reality 1: Fundamental green design and construction practices-such as proper orientation of the building, increased day-lighting of the space, reduced irrigation requirements, controlled stormwater runoff, construction waste recycling, and specifying low toxicity materials-are not more costly and can actually reduce ongoing operating expenses.

Perception 2: The quality of office space has very little impact on the productivity of the occupants.

Reality 2: Recent studies by major corporations and universities have determined that improving the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of office space, classroom space, and/or light assembly space improves productivity by 2% - 17%!

Perception 3: LEED certification is a complicated, cumbersome, and costly process that is not worth the time and effort.

Reality 3: The recently released LEED 2.1 version is now streamlined, refined, and online! All LEED-registered projects now submit 100% of the required documentation electronically, thereby reducing certification costs and simplifying the documentation process.

Perception 4: Corporate America and governmental agencies are not committed to supporting sustainable design and construction practices in their owned and leased properties.

Reality 4: "Triple Bottom Line" accountability (economic, social, and environmental) is rapidly evolving as publicly held corporations respond to the demands of socially and environmentally responsible institutional capital.

The time has arrived for the "greening" of the real estate acquisition process.

So what is your organization's green strategy?

Sustainable Systems Implementation: Building a Sustainable Economy and Society

Editor's Note: Frank Dixon, through his firm Global System Change, advises businesses, governments and other organizations on sustainability, system change and enhancing financial performance through increased corporate responsibility. He was quoted in the Feb. 21st CoStar Green Report article: Wal-Mart Finds It's Not Easy Being Green.

"I've been in the sustainability field for many years. I believe we're on the verge of a major shift in focus from the company level to the system level," Dixon said. "In overseeing the analysis of many firms, it became clear that companies can only mitigate some of their impacts. Attempting to mitigate anywhere near all impacts would put a company out of business."

"Probably 80% or more of the sustainability problem resides at the system level. But that gets very little attention," he added. "If we wish to make real progress, we must improve our systems. I've developed a sustainability approach focused on system change. I'm helping to implement it at a Wal-Mart subsidiary in the UK."

Dixon shared a paper he penned in January with CoStar Green Report. It goes into detail about why system change is needed and how business can work with others to bring it about. We have excerpted a portion of that article. To read the entire article go to Dixon's Web site

Business has done great work, but its greatest work lies ahead. Responding to rising environmental and social problems, Wal-Mart, General Electric and many other firms have implemented aggressive corporate responsibility strategies. Done well, these strategies enhance profitability and competitive position, while improving environmental and social performance.

Yet in spite of this great work, environmental and social conditions are declining rapidly in many areas, indicating humanity is becoming more unsustainable, not less. To reverse this situation, ensure ongoing business prosperity and secure the well being of future generations, a higher level of work is needed.

A sustainability approach called Total Corporate Responsibility (TCR®) combines traditional corporate responsibility efforts with system change efforts at the mid-level (sector-focused) and high-level (whole system-focused). Sustainable Systems Implementation (SSITM) is the high-level system change component of TCR.

Through SSI, committed leaders and system change experts work together with larger society to find practical, reasonable ways to evolve human systems into sustainable forms. Many good system change ideas and programs already have been developed. Most have low implementation rates. A key focus of SSI is taking these to much higher levels of implementation. The overall goal is to help build a more prosperous and sustainable economy and society.

Business leaders operate in fixed systems and structures.

Contemplating how these systems might be improved then working to improve them involves a high degree of uncertainty. It is far easier to remain safely within existing systems. It takes courage to step back, look at the big picture and evaluate how overarching systems create problems for business and society. Business can benefit society greatly by leading the effort to practically and reasonably improve human systems. But it will only happen if business leaders have the courage and vision to make it happen.

Initial SSI efforts will focus on the national level since overarching economic and political systems largely are created and maintained at this level. However, as groups of stakeholders within a given country consider how they might evolve their systems into sustainable forms, they'll be confronted with the reality that they must operate and compete in larger global systems. As a result, once several national and multi-national SSI efforts are underway, these groups would spend part of their time working together on a global SSI effort that seeks to improve the highest-level economic and political systems.

The SSI is intended to be a long-term collaborative effort involving many different high-level system change activities organized by a unifying vision. The founding participants will begin to chart the course and build momentum for this most important work.

Developing a vision of a sustainable world (or country, depending on the level of focus) may be a small part of the overall SSI effort. But it is a critical component. All strategies need a clear focus. Without one, the strategy usually fails. A major issue for the sustainability movement is the lack of a clear vision.

Having a clear vision of where we'd like to go clarifies major barriers to success and helps to prioritize necessary actions. Focusing on the end point, for example prosperity for future generations, facilitates finding common ground, overcoming differences, building consensus and dealing with complexity.

While working on system improvement, one could easily get lost in overwhelming complexity and details. The vision serves as a constant reference point throughout the process. One often can find clarity when mired in complexity by stepping back and asking, what's the overall purpose here.

The vision also facilitates systems thinking by helping people see the big picture of human society over time. From this perspective, it's clear that things are not as complex as we might have imagined. We see that human ideas and systems are always evolving. From the human perspective, things can seem to be stuck. But they never are. They are always in a process of changing, regardless of how it might seem to the individual. This helps us to let go of the idea that things will stay the same. It allows us to think more creatively about what will come next and how we might shape that change.

Having a clear vision of a sustainable world that many, if not nearly all, agree on will build strong commitment to sustained action. While a sustainable world could take an infinite number of forms, there are many factors that most would agree on. For example, there should be clean air, land and water, now and ten thousand years from now. Basic rights should be protected and basic needs met. Most importantly, our children and those after them should prosper on every level.

Finally, having a clear vision of where we'd like to be helps to clarify the limitations and inaccuracies of our current ideas. Human systems are the fruit of ideas. We probably won't be able to evolve our systems into sustainable forms unless we are willing to question our beliefs and find the courage to adopt new ideas. The ultimate driver of humanity's unsustainability is our individual and collective beliefs and worldviews. Recognizing this, we can begin the large and possibly long process of developing more realistic and sustainable worldviews, ones that address the appropriate rights and role of humanity on this planet.

There are few quick wins in the system change area because most of the changes needed are very complex. Probably the most important requirement for achieving system change is moving from the discussion to the action phase. Experts have been discussing and developing good system improvement ideas for many years. The work required now is practical implementation. Just beginning to take action that has the potential to achieve broad system improvement could be seen as a quick win. Along these lines, examples of Quick Wins that might be developed by an SSI group include:

  • Identify one or more products used in large volumes by all or most of the group, then agree to buy them only in sustainable forms.

  • Agree to provide sustainability awareness and training to employees.

  • Support and publicize broader, more accurate measures of social well being than GNP.

  • Support a coordinated media campaign focused on raising public awareness about the need for and benefits of system change.

  • Agree to instruct lobbyists to request/support practical regulatory changes that hold firms more responsible over time, thus making further impact mitigation profitable.

  • Support reforms that publicly fund political campaigns and eliminate the ability of any person or group to financially influence the political process.

  • Seek practical tax code and regulatory changes that internalize the costs of environmentally and socially damaging products, thus making responsible products more competitive.

  • Support the launch of TCR investment funds that provide superior returns by shifting investments toward well-managed system change leaders, and thus engage the capital markets in driving system change.

Business is in the best position to lead the effort to address complex issues. Perhaps a main reason these issues remain unresolved is that business has not been adequately involved. The SSI is intended to create a vessel out of which effective solutions to these complex challenges can emerge. It is based on the idea that no person or group has the answer. But society, led by business, can develop ways of living on this planet that improve the economy while protecting future generations.

It's Not Just the Light, It's the Heat

Reader Kimberly Abate wrote in regarding a story we published Feb. 15 headlined: Raleigh Experimenting with LED Lighting.

The implications of LED adoption in Raleigh, NC are certainly compelling. As you already know, LEDs are one of the world's most energy efficient light sources, using approximately 17% and 50% of the energy consumption of incandescent and compact fluorescent [CFL] lamps respectively. However, another factor to consider is how heat consumption affects the longevity and efficiency of LEDs, which need to be kept cool for brightness, long life and color consistency.

One company, Celsia Technologies ( is using thermofludic micro technology to dissipate heat in almost any application (LED lighting, displays and more) using distilled water. By leveraging a nano scale environment, its technology is thinner and lighter, and has significantly higher thermal conductivity than other cooling technologies.

Celsia's technology can reduce lighting costs even further than by just moving to LEDs alone. Adding the Celsia technology can cut input/output energy by 10% to 50%, and improve the life of LEDs by 10% to 15%. It can even save on labor costs since the light bulbs need to be changed less often!

Celsia is currently working with companies like Lumileds to make LED lighting even more efficient in streetlights, residential lighting and lighting in commercial buildings, where energy for lighting can account for 30% to 40% of the total electrical load.

CoStar Makes It Easy To Find Green Buildings

Reader James F. Finlay, vice president of Wells Fargo Real Estate Technical Services in Los Angeles, wrote in to ask if there is a way to search the CoStar database for LEED office building that are all or partially leased.

We responded that that this can done through CoStar's Search For Sale link available to subscribers of Property Professional.

Just enter the percentage leased in Step 1 and then check the feature/amenity under the "Property Type" tab of Step 3 - Detail.

Energy consumption from the operation of commercial buildings accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In a typical office building, energy represents 30% of operating costs -- its single largest and most manageable operating expense.

And that is one of the major reasons why CoStar Group will also begin adding the Energy Star rating -- the most recognized national metric for evaluating building energy efficiency -- to properties in its online database, which currently contains more than 2 million researched and verified commercial properties of all classes and types.

On average, Energy Star partners experience a 10% to 30% reduction in their operating costs through changes in building management strategies and capital investments with acceptable rates of return.

"I can't think of a more efficient, unbiased way of bringing easy-to-interpret data on energy performance, financial value and climate stewardship to the commercial real estate market," said Stuart Brodsky, EPA program manager for Energy Star commercial property markets. "CoStar's integration of the Energy Star rating into its database will give industry professionals direct access to the nation's leading system for evaluating the environmental efficiency of commercial properties. Continuous improvement in energy performance is a key indicator of superior asset management practices, and tracking a property's rating on an ongoing basis through CoStar will bring this information to the broadest possible market."
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