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Building Highly Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Workplaces: Tenant and Owner Perspectives

Greening the workplace beyond the existing building code requirements requires both tenants and owners to prioritize investing in and tracking sustainability. Two panels of experts, one composed of tenant representatives and the other of property owner representatives, discussed their challenges and solutions at “Beyond Code for a Greener Bay Area: Owner and Tenant Solutions for Sustainable Buildouts,” an event organized by ULI San Francisco and ULI’s Tenant Energy Optimization Program (TEOP).

TEOP, an
initiative under ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance, is a scalable
10-step process to help leased spaces achieve 30 to 50 percent energy savings
during a fit-out. An understanding that tenant buildout, such as during a
tenant improvement project or the start of a new lease, offers a tremendous
opportunity to reduce energy use and improve sustainability is imperative to
maximizing the overall efficiency of the space. The TEOP process includes steps
such as selecting a team (ensuring that everyone involved in the project knows
the energy goals), setting those goals, modeling energy reduction, and
calculating projected financial returns. Both the landlord panel and tenant
panel covered how each company integrates TEOP into their standard business

Meghan Lewis, global supply chain sustainability program manager at WeWork, described her company’s operational carbon program for the buildings it leases. It has three major components—tracking energy use with utility bills and submetering; working with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) and design teams to achieve energy efficiency; and aiming toward deriving all of WeWork’s electricity from renewable energy sources.

She also emphasized that tenants
can play a significant role in reducing embodied carbon in the built
environment. “Over the next 30 years, 49 percent of buildings’ climate impact is
going to come from materials, not operational energy,” she said. Although much
of a building’s embodied carbon is in the structure, the design of the MEP systems
and the interior design can make a substantial difference over the life of the
building, she noted. “You have a chance every time you renovate a space to have
an impact.”

Andreas Gyr, real estate workplace services sustainability program manager at Google, described his company’s commitment to carbon neutrality, using Google’s 6 Pancras Square office in London as a case study of how much tenants can achieve.

After new construction for a Google
office was put on hold, the company leased space in a developer-built core and
shell next door at 6 Pancras Square. “We had had really aspirational
sustainability goals for the ground-up construction project, and we just
brought those goals to the tenant improvements for this project,” Gyr said. “We
made sure that whatever energy, indoor air quality, biophilia, and daylighting
goals we had were laid out very clearly upfront for the project team.”

This allowed the design team to
identify where the existing building did not meet Google’s criteria and what
would have to be adjusted. Gyr emphasized that the first steps in the TEOP
process—select a team and select a space—is, in fact, critical to ensuring that
projects meet tenant’s goals. Ensuring that all members of the design and
construction team are sensitive to the tenant’s energy goals and that the base
building space is already somewhat efficient will make a buildout process go
more smoothly.

Once the criteria were finalized,
Google incorporated them into its owner’s project requirements, making them a
contractual obligation for the project team. The building garnered not only certification
under the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)
program, but also Platinum certification under the Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) program. Google also plans to apply for the
International Living Future Institute’s zero carbon certification for the

Salesforce quantifies the carbon impact of materials used in the buildings it leases in order to push suppliers to do better, said Amanda von Almen, head of sustainable built environment for the company. “Just a few years ago, after we made our 100 percent renewable energy commitment and our carbon neutrality commitment, we also committed to measuring and offsetting our embodied carbon by 2030, as well as building all of our spaces to the highest green building standards,” she said.

To make sure that interior spaces
are healthy for employees, Salesforce prioritizes natural light, indoor air
quality, biophilia, and mindfulness. “We defined a set of six principles for
everything that we want to know about our suppliers and the materials that come
into our space,” von Almen said. “We turned those principles into our healthy-material
scoring tool so we can take data from different manufacturers and rate them. And
we set ourselves targets every year for increasing those scores. If a
manufacturer wants to pitch us on their product, they have to do better than
the current product that we already have.”

Sustainability-minded owners and developers have their own challenges in
meeting their ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions. “The University of
California has an initiative to be carbon neutral by 2025 in terms of buildings
and transportation,” said Ellen Owens, senior project manager of real
estate campus design and construction at the University of California, San
Francisco (UCSF). “With buildings,
we’re on track to reach that goal—if we don’t build any more new buildings. But
we need more space for research, and some of the UC campuses are quite old, so
we have to build replacement buildings. We also have new campuses that still need
to be built out.”

The university system has committed to no longer using fossil fuels for
on-site space or water heating in new or renovated buildings. “That’s a challenge,”
Owens said. “We have one new building at UCSF that’s completely electric. It’s
housing. But for a research building, all electric is not feasible for some of
our energy-intensive uses. Certain types of laboratories have very heavy energy

She also noted that the university has a policy that all new buildings must
beat the requirements of the California Energy Code, Title 24, by 20 percent or
meet certain energy use intensity goals. “But Title 24 is about energy
efficiency, and all-electric buildings don’t fare well under Title 24. So we
have some built-in challenges.”

Replacing gas boilers with electric heating is even more challenging in
existing buildings, added Dan Murtagh, vice president, engineering,
for Boston Properties. “With existing buildings that have had gas boilers in
them for many years, there is no economical way to replace that boiler with
electric heat, and Title 24 doesn’t let you use electric heat,” he said. It
makes more sense to install high-efficiency boilers in existing buildings and
focus on making sure new buildings are designed to be capable of accommodating
all-electric heating.

Title 24 was created in the late 1970s to encourage homebuilders and
commercial developers to reduce electricity consumption, Adam Slakman,global
sustainability manager for Hines, pointed out. “But Title
24—and LEED 4.1, as well—are based on the cost optimization of long-term energy
costs.” Gas boilers reduce the peak electricity load compared to electric
heating, and lower electricity consumption means utilities do not have to
operate peaker plants, which run only at periods of peak demand.

“Now I think we’re getting to the
point where all-electrification is becoming a more commonsense option because
the grid is supplying greener energy than we can generate with on-site
renewable energy in dense urban areas,” he said. “But it’s going to take a
combination of advanced technologies and code changes to make it possible. Building
codes and LEED requirements have to catch up to the fact that we’re talking
about energy efficiency and not cost efficiency.”

All the owner representatives on
the panel agreed that a variety of stakeholders can play a powerful role in
pushing the built environment further and more quickly toward sustainability. “Investors
as well as tenants can push us, because if you’re going to pick up 90 percent
of a $1.3 billion building, you have a big say in what we’re about to do with
that building,” Slakman said.

Murtagh agreed. “Not only do our
clients and our brokers push us in a more sustainably minded direction, but our
investors and shareholders are also on the phone all the time asking, Why
aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we doing more of that? Developers respond to
people who move the needle on the value of the company.”

RON NYREN is a freelance architecture and urban design writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Greenprint Center for Building Performance is a cohort of over 35 real estate
owners and investors who have collectively committed to a 50 percent reduction
in carbon emissions by 2030. To learn more about how to integrate TEOP into
your practices, visit,
or email Emily McLaughlin, director of the ULI Center for Sustainability and
Economic Performance, at

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