Building Certifications in CRE: An Environment of Excellence

August 25, 2022 | By: Dusty Muck
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There are many beautiful states in this amazing country, one would be hard pressed to find more diverse and beautiful views than those found in the United States of America. Choppy waves wash along the shores of Maine, to the ancient sequoias grasping at the sun in California, to the serene Blue Ridge Mountains sleeping throughout the south, the USA is full of awe-inspiring sites and wonders.

Keeping our country beautiful is not a passive pursuit, and building an environment of excellence is key in maintaining our beautiful nation.

Building an Environment of Excellence

Part of keeping our country beautiful comes from partnering with excellent product and service providers who can provide sustainable solutions to property managers and building engineers.

“Our vendors have to provide us with the products to meet these certification requirements. If they are green cleaning products; we need to make sure that [the products] follow the checklist of what chemicals are allowed and not allowed within the buildings. Vendors need to be sourcing things from environmentally or sustainable sources that we are looking for the correct recycle products.” Chris Lelle, portfolio chief engineer at Lincoln Properties, explains.

“We need to be assured we are not just grabbing the cheapest stuff off the shelf just to save money. We are finding that mix of what is going to be affective and environmentally friendly across the board. And finally understanding the touch points they are cleaning around the building.” Lelle says.

“Meanwhile the Engineers will as a team, be looking at the sinks, all the flush valves, looking at the entire plumbing set up to understand usage. Are you continuously operating the HVAC systems in an efficient manner? Are you upgrading the lighting?” Says Lelle.

Charlie Cichetti, CEO with Green Building Education Services (GBES) , agrees, “Teamwork is definitely even more than just the facility management of the property management team. And so, I think you should bring in outside vendors and consultants to coach and quarterback. Hey, here’s what we’re going to need to do. We need to do this, and this is to improve our green operation. Then we have to prove it to someone that actually doesn’t come to our building, so we have to have pictures and narratives and documentation.”

“So, to the Engineer: I need you to take weekly water meter readings for this period and to the landscaping vendor, we really need you to button up your monthly reporting. Are you composting the grass clippings? Are you using low decibel leaf blowers?” Cichetti continues.

Best Practices

“[Engineers] are doing many of these best practices and we have to display it to  ownership and certification groups, so we all get credit and that’s going to help you and your company too. I think you have to rally the team, realize that everybody’s going be responsible for a part of a green building or healthy building certification.”

“And then we like to have check-ins every two weeks. We ask how are we doing with those initiatives? And when we do finally submit [for certification] we celebrate as a team. I think that’s part of it. It is one thing to name who’s got what. Who’s being held accountable is another thing.”

Cichetti adds an important reminder. “Don’t forget about the tenants. There’s a lot of optional points if we do recycling audits and we look at a tenant floor and we say, you know what, this tenant is a green champion. You might find another that they’re throwing soda cans in the trash and don’t care. How do we coach them up? Ask them, Are they buying ENERGY STAR rated monitors and computers? And if they are, let’s get credit for it. If they are curious, could they buy some greener office supplies? Show them that there’s a relationship we have with an office supply company. Here’s their green Office supply catalog. You might want to take a look. Education is a major part of this recognition and plays a role in these certifications.”

Many of our properties here in Atlanta have already been through these certification processes, but what if you and your team have not? How do we determine what certification program is right for our building? How does one begin the process of becoming certified? What do we need to know or look at to become certified or get ready for that process?

Energy, Water, and Air

Cichetti answers. “What I tell people is if you are wanting to go for official LEED EB (Existing Buildings) certification, there are three things that hold up most buildings: Energy, Water, and Air. So we want to make sure our ENERGY STAR score is at 75 or higher. You have to be energy efficient at this point, and LEED won’t tell you that you have to switch your lights to LED. I It is up to the team to figure out the right combination to get to that mark.”

“When it comes to water, look at the current infrastructure. You may not need to swap out every toilet and urinal fixture to reduce water consumption, but take a look what is going to get you there. The additional benefit, in Atlanta, where our sewer bill is six to seven times the water bill, is that there is a quick payback for these upgrades. With air, it is not just about installing MERV 13 Air Filters. It is about bringing in fresh air when the building is occupied and doing some testing out on the floor for other contaminants. So if you can get the energy, water and air, the rest of it is green cleaning, green pest control, recycling and the other green best practices.” Says Cichetti.

Lelle, from an engineer’s perspective, adds, “LEED is really certifying what we are already doing in our buildings, you have to have a good preventive maintenance program in place, good filtration, such as MERV 13 Air Filters, cleaning the equipment, and make sure that your sensors and equipment are calibrated properly. Ask questions. Are you bringing in the right amount of outside air in the building? If you set up pressurization controls in the building, make sure the building is operating efficiently.  Engineers play a large part throughout the certification.”

“We are going through and physically counting the number of faucets throughout the building.” Explains Lelle. “We take note of the flow rate of the aerators on all of those faucets and take note of the gallons per flush on all of the toilets. We look at all of the water sources we are consuming.”

Lelle continued, “We take a look at design criteria on all of the design plans and look up what is my outside air filtration rate that I’m supposed to. We look to see the design parameters for the chillers, for the air handlers, for the cooling towers, so we can look at parts from an optimization standpoint. We have to be able to dedicate the time to locating all of the information and learning and applying it to make sure all of the building systems and equipment are operating as they’re intended to or better.”

“One of the things I would do if your company has multiple properties,” adds Michael Knox, chief engineer at Portman Management. “If you’ve got other properties that have gone for LEED certifications, look at their application, what they submitted, see what they did and then look at your property and see if you can duplicate what they did to earn those same points.”

“No cost, low-cost solutions are always great. But there’s a lot of low hanging fruit in LEED certification, and a good option is to look at other projects that your company may have already accomplished and use that as a guide.”

Finding the Right Certification

But how does one know which certification is right for their building? It takes preparation in deciding what direction you will want to take your building such as BOMA360, WELL or LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum. It takes research to investigate current practices and the improvements that will need to occur to get a certification at a particular level.

“You have to ask the question to the ownership. What are the ownership goals? I’m currently in conversation with an owner about what certifications they may wish to have on their building. I had to submit pricing for LEED certification. The owners in turn are talking to the tenants and understanding their level of interest. The tenants are then seeing if this fits their business models of what they need.” Lelle stated.

“In addition to owners and tenants, the others you will need buy in from are the leasing teams. Leasing agents will know if that is something that is being asked for in the market. If your market does not attach value these certifications, it may not be worthwhile to certify. However, you can still follow all the steps and best practices for the certification itself. These sustainability measures will save money and investing in tenant and staff health through WELL certification will help retain those tenants.  It’s give and take based on the market. You still don’t give up your quality of what you’re doing, you just don’t do the certification in that case.” Says Lelle.

Over the last few years, our industry has gone through unprecedented times, so in a post pandemic world, one must wonder what role certifications play now? Charlie answered this for me:

The Value of Building Certifications

“On the talent side, right, it is a competitive job market right now. If people are being asked to come in to work, at least a few days a week, in this post-pandemic Zoom world, folks are going to be a little more picky. They can find a career where their building is a green office. They want it to be a healthy place to work. They want their office to be incredible. They are asking themselves; why would I come in and go sit in a cubicle?”  Explains Cichetti.

“From a talent perspective, if I am an employer, I’ve got to shout out: “Hey, we’re going to have a hybrid work policy. Here are our amenities. This is a green office. This is a healthy office. Here is the proof.” As far as rent, there is a lot of things colliding on that front. In general, you know some of the premier league properties can still get pretty nice rent premiums. Between the valuation of the building and the rent formula, I think it is still clear LEED buildings drive a premium for real estate investors.”

Finding the certification that is right for your building helps create a more sustainable and healthier built environment. Certifications, and the best practices that go into them, are a great way to keep Georgia, and your own state, beautiful. LEED, ENERGY STAR, BOMA 360, Fitwell, and WELL all have their benefits. Getting tenants, engineers, managers, and ownership engaged and onboard for these improvements and changes will help ensure these certifications are put to good use so the next generation can experience the shining daffodils, old dogwoods, exploding azaleas, and the rest of the stately American landscape we all know and love.

Sources

  • Insights from Chris Lelle, Portfolio Chief Engineer with Lincoln Properties
  • Insights from Michael Knox, Chief Engineer with Portman Management
  • Insights from Charlie Cichetti, CEO with Green Building Education Services (GBES)

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