Seattle Sustainability Summit

Jeff YirakBy Jeff Yirak, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, O+M

I attended bisnow’s recent Seattle Sustainability Summit on August 27th. Having never been to one of these events before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I donned my taupe sport coat and met a great group of people at the Four Seasons Seattle. I arrived early enough to chat with some folks that I hadn’t met yet, like a gentleman who is a commissioning authority transferring from Alaska to Seattle. I offered to show this new guy in town the ropes and introduce him to our chapter of the Building Commissioning Association. I figure a little competition is healthy, especially if I can keep this new guy where I can see him. I also checked in with some friends from Paladino & Company, which was represented in force as their leader, Tom Paladino, was the moderator for the first panel discussion.

Old Buildings, New Ideas

The first panel discussed the power and convenience that old buildings bring to new companies and start-ups. Kevin Daniels, President at Daniels Real Estate, and Mark Huppert, Senior Director – Preservation Green Lab at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, discussed how historic buildings and “older, smaller, better” is good for sustainable communities beyond the walls of a given building. Building a community, not just a building, leads to investor success, they said. Sustainability comes from performance, not technology; resilience and diversity lead to sustainability. Energy use index (EUI) is a good metric for carbon reduction, but the embodied energy of an existing building should not be ignored, and it’s undeniably easier to take on a simple tenant improvement within an existing building than trying to build a whole new one.

An Active Role in Facility Management

The second panel discussed facility management. This panel consisted of five members: Tom Paladino; Allen Montpellier, Associate Principal at PAE; Jason Dardis, Principal at DLR Group; Stefan Riedl, Facilities Manager at Google; and Kevin Swiryn, SVP at Kibble & Prentice. These folks talked about the triple bottom line of People, Planet, Profit (note that money came in third). The first priority is people, so environmental quality should be top of mind. Employment costs are key, and making a building a “great place to work” is a rewarding investment. How is this done?  One way the panel proposed is choosing a floor plate depth that doesn’t lose the connection to the outdoors. Another idea was to keep the designers involved after project hand-off, either through performance guarantees or operation contracts. One novel idea I heard was to incorporate a building automation system “reset button” that restores all settings and releases all over-rides. While I thought that might be convenient, an existing building commissioning program would create a better understanding of why set points might have been changed or why over-rides were made in the first place. Discovering and treating the root cause of an issue is more effective in the long run—and more pertinent to the PPP bottom line—than addressing symptoms only.

Another aspect of facility management for future sustainable and energy-efficient buildings will be the re-education of the occupants. The panel discussed providing a “weather forecast” for the building, indicating which areas of the building will be warmer or cooler at certain times of day. The intent is to adjust the idea that the building will be automatically comfortable and that occupants will not interact with their building for their own comfort. The occupants and the supporting maintenance staff are the biggest driver in building energy performance persistence.

The Future of Sustainable Design

The third panel discussed sustainable development. Again a five-person panel: Sandra Mallory, Sustainable Building Program Manager for the Office of Sustainability and Environment at the City of Seattle; Don Horn, Deputy Director of the Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings, US General Services Administration; Brandon Morgan, Residential Development Manager at Vulcan; Brett Phillips, Director of Sustainability at Unico Properties; and Amarpreet Sethi, Senior Sustainability Analyst at DLR Group.  Kevin Swiryn moderated again. The conversation started with the Bullitt Center, in which PAE is a tenant and which Unico manages. This facility, if you haven’t already heard, was a trail blazer in design and regulation, including the on-roof solar photovoltaic array that extends beyond the property line plane. Don indicated the GSA likes to re-use existing building material (wood), and has a net-zero property. He said integrated project delivery (IPD) is a key to getting the collaboration that lofty sustainability goals require.

Some incentives for sustainable design circles back to the occupants; generation Y is environmentally aware and demanding high performance buildings. Buildings are a legacy product and the decisions that shape them are lasting, so sustainability is a long-term asset, not just a construction target. Benchmarking data of modern sustainable buildings is becoming available, now that these buildings have been in service for five or more years. Unico provided some numbers from their sustainable building portfolio of 14 buildings, both LEED and non-LEED registered projects. Per their portfolio, occupancy rates for sustainable buildings were 8% higher, operating expenses were $0.22 per square foot lower, and rental rates were $2.20 per square foot higher. That’s tangible evidence that there is a return on investment for sustainable designs.

Looking to the future, district or inter-building systems that can shuttle heat between buildings are on the horizon. DLR is also using a sewage heat recovery system at a prison. Referring back to the involvement of the occupant in their own comfort, Vulcan provides operating manuals outlining the building systems to their tenants.  That is a progressive decision that I heartily support!

We heard lots of good information and I’m looking forward to the next bisnow event on September 17th, when that panel discusses the State of the Market in Seattle.


Follow Jeff on Twitter @JYirak_WH

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