Building a Vision of Sustainable Excellence

October 3, 2023 | By: Ashley Simien, CMCP, BOMI-HP, and Blair Powell

Integrating sustainability into commercial real estate (CRE) has become imperative for property managers, owners, and operators. With tenants emphasizing net-zero policies and needing to lower operational costs, sustainability has become a fundamental consideration for both tenants and managers.

NCR Global Headquarters (NCR GHQ), managed by Cousins Properties, stands as a shining example of successfully implementing sustainability programs and technologies. Through our efforts, we have achieved environmental benefits, realized significant cost savings, and garnered prestigious recognition. We invite you to join us as we shed light on how similar sustainability programs can be established at other properties. By embracing sustainability practices and fostering collaborative relationships, we can create thriving properties that benefit both the environment and the bottom line. Let us explore the possibilities and unlock the potential of sustainable CRE together.

Building a Vision

Our approach to sustainability is holistic, covering energy conservation, water conservation, water reclamation, recycling, and tenant engagement. Our journey began with a commitment to creating a conservation culture by encouraging staff and tenants to participate actively in sustainability efforts. We firmly believe that everyone has a role in reducing environmental impact. Sustainability efforts benefit the environment and contribute to lower operational costs and improved tenant satisfaction, making it a win-win for both property managers and tenants.

Our program’s centerpiece is conservation, achieved through deploying innovative technologies and rigorous monitoring of equipment and building systems efficiency. Our efforts have resulted in a 40-percent reduction in energy consumption compared to traditional buildings through a combination of technologies and a robust preventative maintenance program, a testament to the power of deliberate, targeted action.

From the outset, we prioritized the integration of energy-efficient technologies such as a Dedicated Outside Air Supply (DOAS) system, minimizing the need for larger air handling units by providing conditioned outside air. We have also installed over 400 solar panels, generating 120kVA AC power, reducing reliance on fossil fuel-generated power and producing 164.22 MWh in 2022 alone, which is 10 percent of the building’s energy needs.

Our energy-efficient air-cooled chillers utilize advanced compressor technology and variable speed drives to optimize energy efficiency. By drawing in ambient air and cooling it using refrigerant, the chillers eliminate the need for a separate cooling tower and water circulation system, reducing water consumption and maintenance costs. Additionally, air-cooled chillers offer improved reliability and ease of maintenance compared to traditional water-cooled systems, requiring fewer components and mitigating water quality and treatment issues.

We also prioritize water management. Our state-of-the-art reclaimed water system converts wastewater into a valuable resource for irrigation and non-potable uses, reducing reliance on freshwater sources and minimizing our environmental impact. Additionally, we implement advanced groundwater management practices, including responsible pumping and active monitoring, to preserve local groundwater resources. These initiatives reflect our commitment to sustainable water usage and a greener future for our community, tenants, and owners.

The building features water-efficient landscaping, carefully chosen to minimize water usage while maintaining an attractive outdoor environment. Native and drought-tolerant plant species are incorporated to reduce the need for excessive watering, promoting biodiversity and supporting the local ecosystem. Moreover, incorporating smart irrigation systems takes water conservation to the next level.

These advanced systems utilize cutting-edge sensors and real-time weather data to adapt watering schedules and quantities dynamically. By leveraging this technology, the landscape receives precisely the water required, eliminating wasteful overwatering and fostering optimal plant growth. This intelligent irrigation approach minimizes water usage and promotes healthier and more resilient plant life, contributing to the property’s overall sustainability and aesthetic appeal.

Inside the building, water-saving measures continue with the installation of low-flow faucets and toilets in the bathrooms. These fixtures are designed to significantly reduce water consumption without compromising performance. Low-flow faucets use aerators to mix air with the water flow, creating a satisfying stream while using less water. Likewise, low-flow toilets utilize innovative flushing mechanisms that effectively remove waste while consuming less water per flush. These water-saving features exemplify a commitment to responsible resource management and set an example for sustainable practices in commercial real estate.

Sustainable Technologies

Implementing sustainable technologies is central to any successful sustainability program. These technologies span various categories, including energy, water, waste, etc. In addition to energy-efficient systems, water conservation is a core focus. Our water reclamation program, which collects rainwater, condensation from rooftop air handling units, and nuisance groundwater, has decreased potable water usage by 85 percent.

Emerging technologies offer exciting opportunities for further enhancing sustainability. For instance, Building Automation Systems (BAS) paired with Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) can drastically reduce HVAC costs. At the same time, the Internet of Things (IoT) can provide real-time data on building operations, facilitating more precise and proactive management and maintenance.

Staying on top of these advancements requires a commitment to continuous learning and exploration. Attending industry conferences, engaging with sustainability-focused organizations, and collaborating with vendors prioritizing sustainability are all valuable strategies for discovering and evaluating emerging technologies.

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