Pathway to Sustainability

Pathway to Sustainability

Pathway to Sustainability

Pathway to Sustainability

In North Texas, private and public entities are discovering innovative ways to improve the efficiency of buildings—saving both resources and money in the process.

Water is vital to AT&T. “The network that forms the core of our business requires a controlled and cooled environment,” explains Shannon Carroll, director of sustainability operations, and citizenship at the Dallas telecom services provider. “Water is oftentimes a critical input to the cooling equipment we use to create those conditions.”

For the past three years, the company has been working to cut its own water use, and has saved some 236 million gallons since the beginning of 2013. Now, AT&T is taking the next step by helping its customers and other businesses conserve water as well. 

In 2012, AT&T teamed with the Environmental Defense Fund to build a framework to identify potential savings for water, energy, and other expenses in buildings—and to thus help build stronger business cases for investing in water efficiency in those structures. The result was a Water Management Application, or WaterMAPP, a toolkit for managing water and finding opportunities for conserving it. “If adopted by all companies nationwide, the toolkit could help save an estimated 28 billion gallons of water annually,” Carroll says. “That’s as much water as more than 750,000 Americans use at home in a year.”

AT&T is not the only North Texas business concerned with conserving natural resources in the buildings they occupy. Companies are increasingly putting sustainability high on the list of attributes they consider in their commercial real estate decisions in this region. “For the smart businesses, the focus is less on the resource-saving technologies, and more on the results,” says Betsy del Monte, North Texas-based principal at Transform Global, an England-based concern that is creating an investment fund to address economic, social, and environmental issues worldwide. “Knowing there are more efficient options,” del Monte says, “businesses are realizing it is foolish to pay more for electricity.”

For developers, landlords, and tenants alike, conserving natural resources in commercial real estate starts long before dirt goes flying on construction. “The idea of outfitting the building with technologies is the idea of applying technological solutions, rather than starting the design with efficiency in mind,” del Monte says.

Thus, for instance, a structure facing east-west can be made more efficient on the same site, simply by turning it to face north-south, she says. Adding an extra layer of insulation and painting the roof white will be a far more effective strategy for most commercial buildings than buying solar panels, she adds.

“Window placement and size can have a huge impact on heat loads in our climate,” she says. “Decisions like this are easy at the start, and impossible to make later.”

Laying the Foundation

In 2009, Dallas became one of the first large municipalities to adopt comprehensive green building standards for both new residential and commercial construction, according to Meenal Chauk, the city’s manager of sustainable development and construction. “Dallas now stands out as one of the few large cities that is enforcing a green building code,” she says.

The first phase of Dallas’ green construction ordinance focused mainly on energy efficiency, water conservation, and the reduction of the “heat island” effect through cool roofs, Chauk notes.

The term “heat island” means built-up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In the evening, this difference can be as high as 22-degrees Fahrenheit, the federal watchdog notes.

Phase two of the green building code began in 2013 and expanded the first phase’s provisions. Among other things, the second phase incorporated green building technologies and practices that had advanced rapidly in the interim. Dallas is “enforcing strong methods to achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2030 and, eventually, the ‘greenest city in the U.S.,’”  Chauk says.

Tools for Tenants, Landlords

One easy way for tenants to check the sustainability of a building is to see if the structure is certified in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. A program from the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED recognizes buildings for everything from saving money and resources to having a positive impact on the health of the people who populate them.

Structures can receive one of four levels of certification, depending on how they measure up on a ratings scale. “Most class-A office buildings are now built to LEED Silver or better standards,” del Monte says.

The resource-conservation advances of the last 10 years include lighting fixtures that use long-lasting, low-heat light emitting diodes; water-saving low flow plumbing systems; and variant refrigerant flow technologies, which allow buildings’ heating and cooling systems to save energy and money by running at lower speeds. “For a 100,000-square-foot office building, landlords have seen an average of a 20-percent reduction in their power and water bills due to technologies like these,” says Brian Straley, director of project management at CBRE.

Building tenants are getting into the sustainability act with an eye on improving the health of the employees and visitors who inhabit commercial spaces. Companies are adding stairwells in central locations, to encourage employees to skip the elevators, and some are implementing “hoteling” arrangements, creating open-work areas where people are allowed to sit anywhere. Walkability is a big trend, Straley says: “Amenities within commercial spaces have become a priority, allowing employees to stay close to their workplace and become more productive.”

Walking the Walk

Commercial development has reached a new norm in sustainability, according to Robert Folzenlogen, vice president of development at Hillwood Properties. “A decade ago, LEED buildings could cost between 10 percent and 20 percent more in order to meet those requirements,” he says. “Today, building system efficiencies and building code requirements have caught up, and we are largely building to LEED standards whether or not we get certified.”

Hillwood is going the extra mile in developing a three-story campus in Dallas’ Turtle Creek area to serve as a headquarters for the Perot family’s varied business interests.

The operation will have everything from a 100,000-gallon cistern to store runoff water for irrigation, to oversize stairs to encourage stair use. Hillwood is also rebuilding the adjacent Turtle Creek trail system, along with cleaning vines and underbrush from the Katy Trail berm.

“Although we are tracking our LEED status, we are not approaching the project with a set target of LEED points in mind,” Folzenlogen says. “We are making decisions based on environmental responsibility, employee health, and long-term ownership and occupancy.”