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Building Green 2002

April 24, 2003

Doing well by doing good

  • Why sustainability lends owners and developers a competitive edge
  • By HAMILTON HAZLEHURST
    Vulcan, Inc.

    The Alcyone
    Image by Bob Baldino
    The Alcyone, a 160-unit apartment complex under construction in Seattle’s Cascade neighborhood, incorporates many energy- and water-saving features. The project’s green attributes, the developers hope, will serve as a strong marketing tool.

    The most basic intent of sustainable development is to ensure that development strategies used today will benefit future generations.

    Whereas traditional development approaches can lead to congestion, pollution and the overconsumption of resources, sustainable development strategies offer real, lasting solutions that will strengthen our environment’s future.

    Sustainable development provides a framework to use energy and other resources efficiently, conserve water, protect the external building site, create efficient infrastructures, promote the use of environmentally friendly or recycled materials, and protect and enhance the quality of life for a building’s occupants.

    “High performance” sustainable buildings also run efficiently and relatively inexpensively while providing a healthy and more comfortable environment where people can perform well.

    This is accomplished through features such as systems that improve air quality, enhanced natural daylight, low toxicity materials, personal climate controls and more. Healthy buildings foster healthy workers, and healthy workers are more productive, particularly when they are more comfortable too.

    Vulcan’s real estate division has made sustainability a priority through the company’s “triple bottom line” approach to real estate development. Environmental sustainability is one of three criteria Vulcan uses to measure the success of a project.

    It is Vulcan’s intent to use its portfolio to help promote cost-effective and repeatable environmentally sensitive urban development. Generating a strong financial return and developing in ways that benefit our greater community are the other focus areas of our triple bottom line approach.

    Many of the rewards of sustainable development go beyond the affirmation that we are “doing the right thing.”

    Thoughtful sustainable development also makes good business sense — we’ve found that you can “do well” and “do good” at the same time. That’s good news for an industry that focuses heavily on financial return.

    Following are a few examples of how sustainable development can translate to a healthy bottom line:

    Lowering operating costs

    A high-performance green building is an efficient building that will save money throughout its entire life-cycle. Building owners can realize significant savings in energy costs — up to 50 percent — through cost-efficient methods like natural daylight and ventilation, energy saving building enclosure technologies, downsized HVAC equipment, etc. Other resource efficient measures, such as natural landscaping, water-saving equipment, low-maintenance materials and smart building controls also translate to additional savings.

    Boosting productivity

    High-performance buildings may offer features such as enhanced natural daylight, low toxicity materials, increased access to fresh air and the ability to control personal climate — thereby providing a healthier and more satisfying work environment for tenants. Imagine being able to open a window for fresh air or soaking in a little sun while working at your computer — a more comfortable work atmosphere creates a more productive work atmosphere.

    Businesses occupying these types of buildings are finding them to be a significant tool for recruiting and retaining employees because these features translate to real benefits.

    The Rocky Mountain Institute reports that high-performance green buildings can result in a 26 percent increase in employee productivity. And the U.S. Green Building Council reports that nationwide, the value of improved productivity of office workers from indoor environmental improvements is estimated to be $20 billion to $160 billion.

    A modest investment in high-performance features can quickly convert to considerable bottom-line savings for building owners and their tenants. To a developer, these benefits can mean higher lease rates and a greater return on investment.

    Tenant costs can be reduced

    In a triple-net market, where tenants pay operating, water and energy costs, high-performance buildings offer considerable value. Features designed to reduce utility costs may make a property more attractive to the market as well as increase the likelihood of its continued occupancy.

    “As a non-profit research organization, lower operating costs allow us to leverage those savings and allocate the money to our core research programs,” said Irwin of SBRI.

    Vulcan and Harbor Properties are also joint development partners for the Alcyone, a 160-unit apartment complex under construction in Seattle’s Cascade neighborhood. We are incorporating many energy- and water-saving features into the development, and believe this will serve as a tremendous marketing tool to attract new residents, especially in a neighborhood that places a high value on environmental preservation.

    Reducing liability

    Indoor pollutant levels are often significantly higher than outdoor levels, which is an important fact considering that people spend up to 90 percent of their lives indoors.

    Clean and healthy high-performance buildings can reduce or eliminate legal claims and liabilities for the owner. In addition, as the number of “sick building” cases in our country continues to grow, some industry experts are predicting that insurance companies will start linking lower premiums to high performance buildings.

    Property values will increase

    The U.S. Green Building Council reports that there is growing confidence in the real estate industry that a high-performance green building can either capture lease premiums or present a more competitive property in an otherwise tough market.

    Over time, a building’s quality will likely be defined by more than the traditional criteria of the past. Definitions of quality will include environmental sustainability factors.

    Costs can be recovered

    In many cases, green buildings cost less to build because resource-efficient strategies diminish the use of costly mechanical, structural and electrical systems. If up-front costs do happen to run higher, they can easily be recovered through lower operating costs and utility rebates for energy saving equipment.

    The benefits of sustainable development stretch far beyond the important environmental advantages. High performance, sustainable buildings provide developers with a way to deliver profitable top line and bottom line results.


    Hamilton Hazlehurst is a real estate development manager for Vulcan Inc. Vulcan manages a diverse development portfolio that includes 50 acres in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, where it is fostering a sustainable neighborhood.


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