The Truth About Green Offices

As a San Francisco-based commercial real estate broker who specializes in helping office tenants create healthier, more energy-efficient work environments, it’s exciting to see the progress we’ve made in moving these issues to the forefront of the discussion.  The moniker “green” has gone from being “hippy”, to trendy, to en vogue, to cliché and now it’s the standard.  Call it what you will, but this framework of thinking is here to stay and will benefit not only us, but generations to follow.

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Having said that, and for lack of a better phrase, we need to keep it real and constantly remind ourselves that it’s not the perception of sustainability that matters, but the reality and implementation of it.  To the corporate decision makers that are reading this post, place the health of your employees and the sustenance of our earth first. Healthy employees are intrinsically happy, productive employees, and energy and waste reduction both on-site and within your supply chain directly and positively affects a company’s bottom line; these are facts.  Everyone wins.

I want to share what I feel are the most important decisions you can make when locating and operating your business, from a sustainability perspective.  It doesn’t matter the line of business you’re in, these are principles that can benefit us all.

Location, location, location.

Where you do business is just as important as how you do business.  If an option, give preference to high-density locations where your employees can commute to work via mass transit while eliminating their need to drive somewhere to get lunch or grab a coffee with a client.  Encourage and reward employees who bike or take a bus to work.  There are federal incentives available that can benefit you and your employees such as the Commuter Check program that can save companies up to 10% on their payroll tax expenses while saving their employees up to 40% on their commute costs.

Reduce, reuse, and yes, recycle.

Tearing down the construction of an entire floor in an office tower and building it back up with sustainable materials doesn’t make you “green”.  Too often I see perfectly useful tenant improvements demo’d and sent to a landfill while new resources are acquired and constructed.  Not only does this translate into unnecessary additional expenses for the office tenant, but it puts an unnecessary burden on our earth.  Identify spaces that more closely match your desired configuration, and you’ll reduce construction waste and monetary spending.  They’re out there, it just takes a little more effort.

Think beyond your company.

In addition to making better informed purchasing decisions within your office, are the values and mission of the vendors in your supply chain congruent with your own?  We vote with our purchasing dollars each time we place an order.  You, NOT the supplier, create demand.  Give preference to companies that are also taking pro-active steps to reduce their consumption and waste, such as your office supply vendor.  The market will punish companies that don’t, and reward those that do.  Change starts with you.

Reduce toxicity in the workplace.

Typical office environments have the potential to be highly toxic and can negatively affect the performance, happiness and productivity of your employees.  If you’re a decision maker, you have a responsibility to provide a safe, healthy workplace.  Give preference to properties with operable windows, abundant natural daylight and landlords that use low-voc paints and carpeting.  Segregate copiers in enclosed rooms with adequate ventilation.  Decorate your office with plants that are known to cleanse the air and remove chemical vapors while absorbing carbon dioxide.  Consider purchasing used or refurbished office furniture, as it has already off-gassed harmful chemicals and vapors.

Engage your employees.

The greenest tenant improvements in the world will be ineffective if the building’s occupants aren’t engaged, and whose sustainability goals aren’t aligned with the company’s. How the office is occupied is just as important as how it was built out.   Engage your employees by more than just openly sharing your sustainability plan, but also explaining why certain measures were implemented (i.e. the waterless urinals will save 250k gallons of water this year).  If new technologies have been implemented, explain how to use them.  Reward employees who are proactive in helping the company achieve their sustainability goals.  Make it convenient and easy for employees to recycle.    Provide filtered tap water for employees rather than purchasing water bottles.

Developing a sustainable real estate strategy is really nothing more than developing a smart real estate strategy.  Don’t just “go green” for show, but be sincere in your approach and you will reap the benefits.  The truth is, a green office will yield happier employees while positively impacting your bottom line, so do it right.

Energy Management Apps Any Organization Can Afford

Ashley

By Ashley Halligan, an analyst at Software Advice

As environmental policy, benchmark reporting laws, and a general social awareness become more common practice in day-to-day business practice, new technologies are being designed and implemented by slews of organizations to measure their environmental performance and overall impact. Software developers are designing entire suites centered around benchmarking performance, suggesting upgrades, identifying operational inefficiencies, and even gamifying occupant behavior to encourage compliance with an organization’s goals.

Some organizations may not have the capital to immediately invest in such systems, but still want to get on board with responsible consumption–and identify inefficiencies before they become too problematic or expensive to overcome. For those organizations able to implement full suites dedicated to such features, that’s fantastic. For others, however, there’s a slew of applications seaping into the market, making similar tools available to literally any organization. Addressing everything from holistic energy audits, to measuring air quality, and even providing ENERGY STAR benchmarking, here are two affordable–and one free–application, all organizations should know about.

Recently awarded second place in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Apps for Energy contest, Melon Power was designed following the White House’s Green Button initiative–encouraging energy providers to make consumption data widely available–both residential and commercial–to their customers. At $500 per building, this Web-based application takes Green Button distributed data covering a 12-month benchmarking period, calculates an ENERGY STAR score, then reports that data to the EPA’s Portfolio Manager, in compliance with state laws that have been rolled out thus far.

Another powerful app–ecoInsight Mobile Audit for iPad–performs full energy audits of a building’s performance following user-inputted data collected while doing a thorough walk through. This free application is a powerful tool allowing operators to input operational measurements such as area, space, light wattage, etc. Once a walkthrough is complete, data is uploaded to ecoInsight’s site–where upgrades are suggested and customer proposals can be drafted.

Lastly, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning’s (ASHRAE) offers their HVAC ASHRAE 62.1-2010 for $19.99 which performs ventilation calculations based on user-entered data. This app distinguishes whether a building meets the industry-accepted ASHRAE standard for indoor air quality (IAQ) in commercial spaces. Additionally, given that IAQ is of importance in achieving certain LEED credits, this application can help an operator understand their current benchmark and if improvements need to be made to achieve the necessary credits.

These applications provide a great launching point for organizations wishing to assess and improve performance–whether for legal compliance, LEED certification–or simply, to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and a commitment to environmental performance. Read more about the applications and their features on the Software Advice blog: 3 Energy Management & Environmental Performance Apps Any Organization Can Afford. Feel free to reach out to me via ashley@softwareadvice.com with any suggestions or comments, or leave them below.


A Costly Time Bomb Could Be Hiding in Your Office Lease

The Restoration Clause is a seemingly harmless, fluffy little kitty that sleeps tucked away within an office lease… until you reach out to pet it and it jumps on your neck and claws your eyes out.

It is a legal obligation for a tenant to restore, at the landlord’s request, the premises back to the condition it was in before you moved in, and could be a very costly going away present to your landlord should they exercise their right.

Normally, a tenant can negotiate the teeth (or claws) out of this provision or have it deleted in its entirety, or many times the landlord won’t require the tenant to restore the space because the subsequent tenant will benefit from the leftover improvements.

So why are landlords now pushing harder for restoration in lease negotiations, and more frequently exercising this clause as leases expire?  Because there has been a 180° shift in how offices are being built out, and tenants are increasingly demanding “open plan” layouts rather than private office intensive build-outs.  Therefore, if the exiting tenant has landlord-centric restoration language in their lease and the new tenant wants an open office, you can be sure the landlord is going to stick that tenant with the cost of demolition.  That also means that if the incoming tenant desires an open plan and wants the landlord to tear down 30 perimeter private offices, the landlord is going to try its best to reserve their right to obligate that tenant to restore them at the end of their term if the new tenant doesn’t wants them back.

So what can a tenant do to protect themselves from this potential costly exposure?  First, fight hard in the initial lease negotiations to completely strike the restoration clause.  If the landlord won’t budge, then fall back on agreeing to restoration, but with the condition that the landlord must decide whether or not they’ll invoke their right BEFORE you conduct the work.  That way there, you’ll at least know before you spend the money whether or not you’ll be required to spend extra money (and effort) at the end of the term to restore your premises back to their original condition.  If the landlord won’t agree to those terms, then you’ll at least take out the guesswork and be in a better position to decide if this is still the right space for you and if the potential added expense is worth it.

If this little gem is already in your lease and you missed it because you weren’t represented by a real estate advisor, now’s a great time to call one up and have them conduct a lease review for you.  They’ll be able to provide you with their professional opinion of its implications, and may be able to provide a solution that could dampen or eliminate the exposure.

Volunteer. Make it count. The U.S. Green Building Council

Anyone interested in learning more about the USGBC’s San Francisco Bay Bridge Branch is invited to attend our monthly leadership meeting:

First Monday of every month:
USGBC – NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CHAPTER
560 Mission Street, 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105

I began volunteering with the Chapter over seven years ago, and it has proved to be the most beneficial and rewarding organizations I could have joined.

Volunteering with the Chapter and getting involved with one of our committees gives you a chance to engage with other like-minded professionals who value sustainability, and want to change and improve how we build, occupy and manage our built environment.  However, it’s more than just networking and making lasting and valuable business and personal relationships.  The members of our Branch’s leadership team are responsible for putting ideas into action that help shape public opinion while educating others about the importance of working in a “healthy building” and reducing our environmental footprint.  We host approximately 10 local community events annually, whose impact is not to be understated as they play a crucial role in furthering green building advocacy while providing educational opportunities for those already in, and outside of our normal sphere of influence.

I look forward to meeting new friends at our meeting and catching up with familiar faces.

Benjamin Osgood
Chairman
U.S. Green Building Council – Northern California Chapter
San Francisco Bay Bridge Branch

U.S. Green Building Council – Northern California Chapter
San Francisco Bay Bridge Branch