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Sustainability in '09 Reflects Robust '08

Even in a Bad Economy, an Enormous Pipeline of Green Building Projects is Positioned to Flood the Market
January 24, 2009
The Dell Children's Hospital in Austin, TX
The Dell Children's Hospital in Austin, TX
Sustainable real estate projects that were set in motion last year or even two years ago are completing in bunches, a trend that is likely to accelerate as the year progresses despite trouble on other fronts.

The projects include prominent office towers, retail stores, hospitals and even a basketball arena and an FBI field office that have achieved LEED certification or the government’s Energy Star label, or implemented other green measures such as solar energy systems or green roofs.

Five large projects in Texas announced LEED certification this month. Two were in Austin, where the 470,000-square-foot Dell Children’s Hospital became the world’s first hospital to achieve LEED Platinum certification, and computer chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) earned LEED Gold certification at its 870,000-square-foot corporate campus that opened last summer.

Fireman’s Fund, the insurance company that offers special coverage for green buildings, achieved LEED Silver certification for the five floors its occupies at Lincoln Plaza, a 45-story office tower in Dallas owned by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).

And Transwestern earned LEED Silver certification for 1800 West Loop, a 21-story tower in Houston that it co-owns, and MacArthur Plaza, a 185,000-square-foot office outside Dallas it manages for Falcon Southwest. Both those buildings were certified under the new LEED EBOM (Existing Buildings: Operations and Management) platform for existing assets.

Philip Capron, president of Falcon Southwest, said in a statement that the certification gives the building a “competitive advantage” in the leasing market, a goal that is shared by many owners who are seeking LEED for their buildings.

Other recent certifications include Lakeshore Plaza, a 160,000-square-foot office that was built on a former Brownfield site in Corona, CA, and the FBI’s 10-story regional headquarters on Chicago’s South Side, which is owned by USAA Real Estate Co. and became the nation’s first LEED EBOM building to earn Platinum certification late in December. Additionally, Office Depot, the office supplies retailer, said last week that it received LEED Gold certification for its new store in Austin, which it is using as a LEED-prototype for future stores.

The number of LEED-certified projects doubled in 2008, and that growth is expected to intensify this year as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) begins outsourcing the certification process to carve down its backlog of LEED-registered projects -- more than 17,400 of them, at the start of this month.

Continued gains are also forecasted for LEED EBOM as the green market shifts from new construction to the built sector, which might help offset what could be a heavy drop in LEED activity associated with struggling construction sector.

More than 715 million square feet is registered for LEED EBOM certification, which is more than three times as much area as was registered at the end of 2007.

Meanwhile, Energy Star, the EPA’s energy efficiency labeling and benchmarking program, has also begun the year on a torrid pace.

Buildings that recently earned the label include the New York Life Insurance Building and Vornado’s Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan; the Eastman Kodak headquarters in Rochester, NY; the CenterPoint Energy building in Houston; and the U.S. Department of Labor complex in Washington, DC, as well as five trophy buildings in Chicago including Hyatt Center, Franklin Center and Tishman Speyer’s 200 Madison tower.

All of those buildings total more than 1 million square feet apiece. Overall, more than 129 million square feet of commercial space was approved for the label since the beginning of December, which includes buildings that earned the distinction in past years (the label is only good for one year).

A handful of other green building projects have also become operational this month.

In Philadelphia, the Exelon Energy subsidiary PECO completed a five-month project to install a green roof at its headquarters building. Up to 8 inches thick, the vegetative covering will reduce rainwater runoff by up to 70 percent and provide better insulation at the 30-story tower, which the utility fully occupies.

And in Los Angeles, three solar energy projects came online last week. The installations include a 1,400-panel system at the parking garage of MGM Tower, the famous high-rise office building off of Santa Monica Blvd., and two systems on the roofs of the Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre downtown.

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