Archive for ‘Existing Buildings’

June 7, 2012

Redefining ROI for your Existing Building

Eric Baxter, Brightworks Sustainability Advisorby Eric Baxter, Director of Existing Buildings

A recent article on features six steps to move a building and a team through a LEED for Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance (LEED EBOM) certification process. If you’re a building owner or manager, I encourage you to carefully consider each step when embarking on LEED EBOM. Before you do, however, consider one other critical piece — think of it as “Step Zero.”

As consulting firm that has worked on numerous LEED EBOM projects since the first pilot rating system was introduced in 2002, Brightworks has seen many project teams successfully execute an EBOM program for their facility. We have also seen a few project teams fail. In some cases it was an inability to follow through on the six recommendations in the article.

In other cases, they had overlooked Step Zero: understanding and agreeing on their organization’s motivations and value proposition for undertaking the EBOM journey, implementing this rigorous program and seeking this type of certification.

This step is a critical part of our work with clients, and something we’ll cover at our session at the BOMA Every Building Conference and Expo in Seattle in June. Without a clear, circumspect analysis of this critical piece before starting any kind of existing building sustainability program, the project team will be challenged to focus on the proper critical path items, budget appropriate funds to move forward and get buy-in from essential team members. Falling short in any of these areas can cause a project to lose its way and ultimately fail to earn a certification.

Common LEED EBOM Motivations

Considering Step Zero gets the project on track from the start. There are many motivations for undertaking the LEED EBOM journey and submitting your building for  certification. Here are a few that might point you in the right direction:

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January 10, 2012

“It’s More Difficult to Change a Building Than to Change a Person.”

By Brandon G. Sprague, Brightworks Communications Team

Eric Corey Freed, organicARCHITECTPart One of our interview with architect, innovator, and thought leader Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT explored his thoughts on the green building innovations and critical issues we’ll see in 2012. Here in Part Two, he shares practical steps building owners can take right now at no cost, and where he finds hope and the greatest potential for change.


Brandon G. Sprague: Many readers of this blog are members of the real estate community. When you travel around the country speaking and teaching, you often state, “My vision of why I’m doing this is the basic idea that everything that exists in this world should exist because it makes the world a better place.” In what ways is the design and building community making the world a better place with its current practices? In what ways is it not?

Eric Corey Freed: On a very high level, you can argue that the built environment – any built environment – improves the world by providing human beings with shelter, habitat, places to work, places to live…

But at the same time, practically all of the buildings that exist in the industrialized world – all but a very small percentage – ignore how they use energy, water, and resources. In creating such a built environment over the last 150 to 200 years, we have created a system that that is too expensive for us to maintain, a system that is actually threatening our existence. When we planned and designed this system, energy was cheap and abundant. But in the last 50 years, we’ve realized that energy is neither cheap nor abundant. And we’ve realized that our consumption of energy is actually threatening, if not killing, our way of life.

Now that cheap energy no longer exists and our consumption patterns are forcing us to change our way of life, what do we do? This is where the opportunity comes in for the design and construction industry to transform buildings and thereby transform civilization. We have the technology to do it, we have the ability to do it, we just need the will to do it. In doing so, we will have to look for innovative ways to work in, live in, and operate our buildings.

This Could Be Your Shopping Center

This could be your shopping center. Image via organicARCHITECT

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August 22, 2011

Smart Schools are Engaging Students With Sustainability

Rita Habermanby Rita Haberman

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

Summer days are getting shorter and that “back to school” feeling is in the air. That feeling might be disappointment or dread for some students, but there are innovative environmental programs creating a wave of excitement this fall too. The new Zilowatt program is bringing creative energy-related lessons and classroom signage to San Francisco Bay area schools. After our collaboration with the Hillsboro School District helped Jackson Elementary become the nation’s first Gold certified school under LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, the Jackson students wrapped up their spring by celebrating with an enthusiasm we hope carries into this next academic year.

Why is integrating sustainability into school curricula so exciting to students, teachers, school administrators and parents? Sustainability can make what students learn in school more relevant. Students are more interested when they can work on “real-world” problems that affect them, and come up with solutions using the skills they learn in class.

A shining example of this is the impressive turnaround of Al Kennedy Alternative High School in Cottage Grove, Oregon after its principal Tom Horn and staff very deliberately made Education for Sustainability the foundation of their curriculum. When students engaged in hands-on activities using sustainability concepts and practices to successfully design and build affordable homes, keep bees, plant trees and reduce their school’s operational costs through easy, no-cost behavioral changes, they wanted to do more. Students gained an unforgettable experience in eco-literacy.

An eco-literate citizenry is essential. Without it, the prospects are slim for solving our planet’s complex and interrelated ecological, economic and social challenges. Inspiring examples of schools embracing sustainability abound, but they are still the exception – not the norm. It’s time to engage our students in integrated sustainability education, so they can become the essential players—and leaders—of the sustainability movement.

July 25, 2011

Changing Behavior Versus Changing Technology

Max Temkin Poster

Image: Max Temkin via

Grist featured this great print by Max Temkin recently which really resonates with some conversations we’ve had with clients lately. It turns out there are problems that are better solved by influencing behavior than by upgrading technology. We’ve spoken before about how to operate a building for high performance instead of just designing for efficiency and calling it a day.  Our upcoming free webinar; “Why Isn’t My LEED Plaque Performing?” dives further into how to improve the aspects of performance that are driven by people more than equipment. After all, it isn’t the plaque that performs, it’s the people working and living in the building every day.  If people are opening windows when the air conditioning is on, or turn on the lights for an entire floor because one workspace is too dark, a building designed to have low energy bills and a healthy indoor experience can easily be thrown off track.

Starbucks threw its weight behind the behavior change idea last year when they held a contest to design a better disposable coffee cup. The winner they chose wasn’t a cup at all, it was a clever incentive system that encouraged patrons to bring reusable mugs. “What people really need is an incentive to make the behavior change – a free cup of coffee and a bit of peer pressure,” argued contest winning team Karma Cup. You can make a lot of progress by working with human behavior alone, whether through subtle influence or active education. This is great news since if you wait for technology alone to solve all of our environmental challenges, you’ll waiting for a long time.

March 15, 2011

Client Corner: Cate Millar of the Leftbank Annex

Josh Hatch, Climate Services Group Director, Brightworks

by Josh Hatch

Climate Services Group Director

How green do you want your business to be, and how do you know if you measure up to your own standards? The Leftbank Annex, a flexible event space in Portland, Oregon, requested an independent, third party sustainability audit to answer those questions for their business. We analyzed their operational practices and the preferred vendor list that they suggest to all of their clients to give them an accurate picture of their sustainability successes and opportunities for improvement. I sat down with Leftbank Managing Director Cate Millar to talk about what prompted the project for them, and how they’re planning on using the findings as they move their business forward.

Oregon Environmental Council 2011 Annual Event at the Leftbank Annex

Oregon Environmental Council 2011 Annual Event at the Leftbank Annex

Josh: You’ve said you want to be the most sustainable event space you can be. Where did that goal come from?

Cate: Our goal came from within – from our ownership really believing this is the right thing to do. Sustainability is the primary concern of very few of our clients. It’s somewhere on the list of concerns for many, but it’s not on the radar at all for the majority. It’s a pressure that’s just nascent in this market. But we know that if you look at the trends nationally, things are going that way. It’s there, it’s just not “the thing.”

Part of it for us is a role model mindset. If we can do it, anyone can do it. And we want to attract businesses and clients that want to put on green events, but we also want the events of people who don’t care to be as green as possible.

Josh: The “We’ve done our research so you don’t have to” model.

Cate: Right. It’s a nice exclamation point at the end of a tour with a prospective client. “By the way, this is how our space works. It’s green.” We’re giving them everything they want, and then some. This audit process provides independent corroboration that we’re doing what we set out to do. When I spoke with your CEO, he put it this way: “We walk the walk, so you can talk the talk.” We want to be sure we have the walk before we talk. There’s the issue of greenwashing, and we’re hypersensitive to it.

Josh: When you renovated the building, you installed high efficiency water fixtures, but also added plumbing for a future rainwater capture system. The high efficiency fixtures make a big dent in your water usage, but something the report turned up is that one of the biggest changes you can realistically make to be more resource efficient is capturing rainwater to flush toilets. You’ve actually already plumbed for it, but it’s still an investment – it’s a tank, and a system…

Cate: But that’s good to know, and we’ll use that information to help prioritize future capital decisions. And the vendor reviews you put together are something we can use right away. The great thing about this project is that you’ve confirmed what we believed – that we created the space we intended – and given us the tools to make incremental and major improvements that will keep us on track. In fact, having you do an annual review, or asking for your advice before making a major investment, would probably be a very smart thing to do. Every decision we make needs to build off this foundation.

The Leftbank Annex
The Leftbank Annex event space, photo from Benefit Auctions 360

Josh: Food is a really tough nut to crack when you’re talking about sustainability, and we know that. But your exclusive vendor is in the pack of leaders.

Cate: Our goal is to be the greenest possible event space we can be. After how we manage our facility, the caterer has the biggest impact on operations. We were very cognizant of that when we selected Bon Appetit. Sustainability is at the heart of their corporate DNA and we knew they would carry that part of the business.

Josh: Your vendors were very open about their sustainability challenges.

Cate: We wanted to offer our customers a list of “preferred vendors” that share our business and sustainability goals. We went through a rigorous process to vet our selections and are confident recommending any of our partners. When you speak to someone about sustainability, you can tell if they’re really committed or just talking the talk. When you ask someone what they do to be green you hope for a more thoughtful answer than “Well, I drive a Prius.” Our vendors had real answers; they gang deliveries to reduce travel, use local and organic food, natural cleansers and seasonal flowers. They compost and use recycled water to clean rentals. You know they’ve really thought about it.

Josh: You have to ask about specifics. If I ask a caterer where they get their tomatoes in winter, I know they’ve been deliberate when they have an answer like “This is something we struggled with for a long time, but eventually we found a vendor who does thus and so, and here’s why we think that’s best.” When they have a static policy like, “We only buy organic tomatoes,” it almost seems too cut and dry.

Cate: If we’re committing to continual improvement , our vendors have to be too. If you’re at the head of the pack and do nothing, everyone else passes you by after a few years. This assessment is only a beginning. That’s what’s exciting to me. It’s never done.

September 21, 2010

From Green Design to Green Operations

Eric Baxter, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorBy Eric Baxter

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

It’s been more than 10 years since the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out the LEED® rating system.   Now that LEED certified buildings have been operating in the real world for several years, researchers and the media are analyzing whether these buildings are living up to expectations.  One aspect of LEED projects is that they carefully model the environmental and financial savings that greener buildings should create for owners and tenants.  The question is, what happens when these buildings move from concept to reality, and how can we best manage the transition when reality presents unexpected but unavoidable challenges?

Brian Libby from the Sustainable Industries Journal recently dove into this subject, using various examples of the gap between expectations and actual performance for green buildings.  One of his data points was the LEED Platinum Certified OHSU Center for Health and Healing (OSHU CCH), which as Libby points out, hasn’t met all of the performance targets the building was designed to achieve. Brightworks CEO contributed a guest column to SIJ that gave a fuller picture of the unanticipated challenges the building faced when trying to meet its performance projections (Bridging The Gap).   Such challenges can happen with any building.  All you have to do is increase your tenant population or install some energy-intensive equipment, and the building you walk into every day is no longer the building you modeled.

So how do you keep a green building performing in the face of changing conditions?  With ongoing operational plans and policies that continue to take resource efficiency and healthy environments into consideration.

I want to expand on the discussion of  OHSU CHH as a prime example of a building that was designed to be high performance making a successful transition into a building with high performance operations.

The Lobby of the OHSU Center for Health and Healing

photo courtesy of benshead on flickr

Certainly the building was groundbreaking.  It utilized best-in-class features in its construction, from photovoltaic (PV) enabled sun shades on its south face to collecting all of its stormwater and treating 100% of its wastewater on site using a membrane bioreactor.  You can learn more about the design of OHSU CHH here. It was the first large-scale highrise healthcare facility to earn a LEED Platinum certification, and has established itself as a focal point for the University’s expansion off the main Marquam Hill campus and into the redevelopment of Portland’s South Waterfront district.

As a Sustainability Advisor, I worked with the development, design, and construction team on the project, and am now working with the building operations team in the certification effort for LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O&M).  It has been exciting for me to watch a building designed for high performance evolve to be even more efficient and extremely well-run. When OHSU/RIMCO first approached this project, they admitted that they were looking for a different model; one that would allow for experimentation in how to manage and maintain the building. Knowing CBRE’s expertise in that area, the owners contracted with them to operate and maintain the building . Since tenant understanding and use of building systems is crucial to the performance of any building, the building management team has been active in educating tenants. That education included what the building can do, how a green building might feel or act differently from other buildings they have previously worked in, and how their understanding and use of these different attributes contributes to its performance.

This gets to the crux of the change: Even the most high-tech, energy-efficient building might perform no better than a code-built building if it is poorly operated. Efficient operations in a green framework are critical to maximizing a building’s potential, as well as minimizing expenditures and resource uses for energy and water.  This ultimately provides operational cost savings on an ongoing basis. Since the building was turned over to CBRE’s operations team, they have worked to continually improve the operation of the building.  Their goal is to reach the operations target that the developer, Gerding Edlen, sought from the outset of the project: 50% operational energy cost savings over a standard, code compliant building.

Because of its intended use, the building faced inherent challenges in meeting this goal. Key challenges included higher medical equipment energy loads than originally anticipated, as well as a complex system design that required extensive tuning during commissioning in order to optimize performance. In the process of optimizing the building’s systems and developing a high performance operations program, the operations team has also successfully implemented an array of other green practices, from green cleaning and procurement to a building-wide recycling program.  OHSU is interested in formally adopting and receiving third-party recognition for these and other new strategies through a LEED EB O&M certification in order to cement these operational practices.  To this end, Brightworks is again working with the OHSU CHH team to develop these practices into the LEED EB O&M framework and prepare the building for this certification.

The building was also recently honored by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) with The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) Award. The CCH competed against buildings from around the world to become the first winner in Oregon.  Given the tenant-friendly and operator-friendly nature of LEED, particularly the EB O&M requirements, it should come as no surprise that five of the fourteen TOBY Award winners are LEED certified, including two LEED EB O&M certified projects. I expect to see continued interest and growth in EB O&M certifications, and I’m excited because these programs create buildings that are not only healthier for the people who occupy them,  but which reduce operating expenses for building owners and managers, and minimize their environmental impacts.

May 19, 2010

The Coming Revolution – LEED-EB Comes to the Midwest

Laura Steinbrink, Cleveland, Ohio, Brightworks Sustainability Advisor, LEED Consultantby Laura Steinbrink
Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

On the eve of the Heartland Chapter’s Greening the Heartland USGBC Regional Conference, I wanted to take a look at how green building has taken root in the  Midwest.   We have pulled together some data provided by the USGBC to get a picture of the latest trends in the region.

Popularity of LEED for Existing Buildings, building efficiency, energy savings, green retrofits, Brightworks Sustainability Advisors

Green building continues to grow throughout the country, indicating that developers and owners recognize that there is a better, more sustainable and efficient way to build and operate their buildings.   The graph above shows the nationwide rise in adoption of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance projects.   The chart below shows that the west coast as a region is leading the way in numbers for LEED-EB, with a 3:1 ratio of New Construction to Existing Building project registrations.  The midwest is beginning to take a serious look at the LEED-EB as well, and none to soon.

LEED-EB and LEED-NC Project Registration Comparison

LEED-EB certification provides a terrific way for property owners and managers to systematically improve their buildings’ energy and water efficiencies, track waste reduction and gain healthier living, learning and work spaces. What is striking in the data is that the percentage of EB certifications is dramatically lower than new construction certifications in the Midwest. More mature markets see one EB project registration for every 3 new construction registration.   In states such as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa the ratio is around 10:1, or less.  This means the majority of buildings – and their property owners and tenants – are leaving substantial energy savings on the table.  In fact, according to the EPA, the average building can save up to 30% in energy costs through energy efficiency retrofits.  How can they afford to do nothing?

Chances are, they can’t, but they simply have no idea how to achieve the savings.  In some cases, modest investments are required to achieve cost savings – but not always.  One of our clients saved $68,000 in energy costs from the installation of a $150 device that changes cycles on an exhaust fan.  The small steps are often obvious to the people who operate the systems, but less obvious to management.  That is why engaging people in the pursuit of savings is critical to success.

A good bargain is a good bargain – whether it’s shoes, purses or a gallon of milk. When presented with the opportunity to save 30%, what shopper doesn’t jump for joy? When considering the opportunity to save 30% in rising energy costs, I just scratch my head to understand why not everyone is running to act. Engaging people in achieving energy savings makes for a more profitable building, a more environmentally friendly facility and a stronger organization.

I’ll be at the Greening the Heartland along with a couple of other folks from Brightworks, and we’ll also be at 3 Monkeys Pub and Grub on Thursday evening. We’ll give a brief presentation entitled “Envisioning Fully Sustainable Buildings – Taking green building to the next level” and offering advice on all your questions about sustainability and LEED. It’s exciting to be on the verge of these changes in the heartland and I hope to see you there!

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