Saturday, November 24, 2007

TBLI, Paris: Sustainability Heavy Hitters & Green Building Transparency


As you think about your green real estate strategy, have you defined how transparent your property’s energy performance and environmental impact will be to tenants, other investors and lenders? Do you measure and report environmental outcomes based upon internally derived or neutral third party standards? As you think about it, read on for examples of how the same questions are being approached in the European Union.

Last week I was in Paris speaking about financing green real estate at the Triple Bottom Line Investing conference hosted by Brooklyn Bridge, a powerful organization run by Robert Rubinstein out of Amsterdam. TBLI is at the cutting edge of global sustainability, allowing corporate social responsibility representatives from traditional organizations such as TIAA-CREF and Allianz Global Investors to share perspectives with socially responsible and/or mission-based groups like Calvert Investments and Environmental Defense.

The green building session was packed with a savvy, enthusiastic international audience of developers, venture capitalists, NGO’s and financial institutions. Turns out that they were all busy chiseling out their green real estate strategies or updating their intelligence on how green building’s emergence may be affecting some other key area of their business.

My main TBLI takeaway can be summed up in one quote from an SRI professional, overheard during another session on carbon offsets:

“Transparency makes a market”

This reminded me of the recent Costar Green Report, which listed the latest green building initiatives by heavy hitters such as CBRE, Simon Property Group (SPG), Glimcher (GRT) and Jones Lang LaSalle. It’s great that US real estate is going green in a big way, but I still see lots of subjective picking and choosing of green initiatives with only vague mentions of concrete, meaningful energy performance improvement and environmental impact. This essentially relegates the green real estate investment proposition to being a cat in a sack – so long as a property owner does not have to disclose the true energy and environmental impacts of their green initiatives, buyers can not objectively value (i.e. pay for) the green benefits they expect to receive. So, in the spirit of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, I’d like to introduce you to The Elephant in the Room:

“Which, if any of these companies are executing initiatives that deliver the real value and impact expected by their investors and communities? And if they are, how can we compare and judge their initiatives relevance and success for ourselves against what objective standards?”

Examples of Transparency from the European Union

The European Union has already passed the 'Energy Performance of Buildings Directive', requiring member countries to implement laws regulating building energy efficiency.

Generally, the regulations:

  • define what areas of a building’s energy performance and environmental impact will be measured,
  • compel building owners to obtain the evaluation at certain junctures in the building’s lifespan and
  • require the property owner to make the official certification of the most recent evaluation to occupants and prospective buyers.

I talked with green building professionals from Germany and Britain about how these regulations have already caused investors within their countries to tie a portion of a property's value to its objectively certified energy performance and environmental impact.

In Britain, the Energy Performance Certificate, is the official document verifying a buildings energy performance and environmental impact. The evaluation results are plotted on an A-G scale, where A is very efficient and G is highly inefficient. The EPC is required any time a property is built, bought or sold. It is required to be displayed near the building entrance at all times, to inform all occupants of the building’s actual performance (!). I talked to a London-based property professional who reported of the quick action by investors to begin retrofitting buildings once they learned that their tenants and buyers would know of their building’s potential lower grade – and possible devaluation. Predictably, the retrofitting of buildings has become a very lucrative market by itself. Representatives from British engineering firms also reported that they were already scouting out the North American markets for potential expansion.

Germany implements the EU directive through an Energieausweis (‘energy certificate’) -- see a sample certificate above -- similarly certifying to occupants and potential buyers a building’s performance level on the same dimensions. The Energieausweis must be created/updated at the time of construction, rental, leasing or sale. Public buildings have to display their certificates as in Britain, but private building owners simply have to make their certificates available upon request by tenants and property purchasers. Interestingly, the energy evaluation for commercial buildings can be made based upon either the property's actual energy consumption or its calculated requirement, based upon its construction and use. Again, the energy audit and building retrofit business in Germany has been big business for years and now will probably grow in relevance for the industry.

Since the implementation of the EU directive is still in its early stages, there is not any data on the actual environmental impact of this directive nor on exactly how property values have changed as a result. Both the colleagues that I spoke with however, said that the energy certificate results are utilized by investors to assess a property's operating efficiency and sales price by transparently comparing a certain result with national standards and those outcomes achieved at similar properties in the market trade area. So the laws have brought some amount of transparency to these aspects of the investment property market.

And what about the USA?

It is a good time for us to begin an industry level conversation about objective standards of measurement and disclosure as the basis of investor perceptions and action on energy preformance and environmental impact – in order to better promote green building, protect its integrity and allow the real stewards of best practice to be properly rewarded for their efforts.

At the present time, many of our cities and states have begun to enact laws and regulations, which implement green building and LEED ratings criteria into code. This is great for new construction, however it still does not address the greening of existing buildings nor do investors have a relevant, comparative benchmark for environmental performance when they are evaluating a potential acquisition. Also bear in mind that, while LEED-certified buildings generally have a lower energy usage and environmental impact, no particular LEED rating assures that a property has actually achieved a certain level of energy performance or environmental impact. Here in the US, we are keen fans of transparency. This time, American green real estate can benefit from learning how our colleagues across the Atlantic have been approaching the same issues.
Green Journey Reading Recommendation: Check out Germany's GreenBuilding program. This is not a green building program like the USGBC LEED rating system, rather a special program , administered by the German Energy Agency ('dena'), designed to inform and help German property owners to green their buildings. The program's overall setup, content and implementation is 'high protein' information for industry professionals who are participating in similar programs here in the US. Both sites contain English translations of all information.
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1 comment:

futureby said...

yes i also think that energy efficiency is very necessary now a days.The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) gives home owners, tenants and buyers information on the energy efficiency of their property. It gives the building a standard energy and carbon emission efficiency grade from A to G, where A is the most efficient. The average efficiency grade to date is D.