The Business of Green Buildings

The Business of Green Buildings

There is no doubt that the jewel of the University of Dallas campus is SB Hall, home of the Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business. The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the facility is in process and, once obtained, will support the university’s commitment to energy efficiency and green architecture. A representative from Perkins+Will, the architectural firm that designed SB Hall, along with green building experts from the City of Dallas and Peloton Commercial Real Estate, spoke to a meeting of the University of Dallas’ Sustainable Business Network on April 15, 2014, about the impact of sustainable construction and operational practices on both an organization and the community as a whole.

According to Mary Dickinson, Regional Sustainable Design Leader for Perkins+Will, designing and building a green building is a lot like a trip to the grocery store. “I have a lot of choices when I go to the store,” she said. “Should I buy my usual Jif or should I buy organic peanut butter? I’ve heard organic doesn’t have all those artificial ingredients, but I’m on a budget and doesn’t organic cost a lot more?” In Dickinson’s experience, these questions are similar to the ones an organization will often ask at the beginning of a green building project. “We sit down with them and talk with them about what they’ve heard about the green building process and specifically, LEED certification,” she said. Dickinson’s goal is to find out why the organization is asking about sustainable design, so that the firm can understand the organization’s motivations. “And their answers often sound like they’ve been playing a game of telephone,” she said.

This game of “telephone”—along with its jumble of good and bad information—can result in an organization, or even a whole business sector, holding serious misconceptions about the cost and benefits of sustainable construction. “A perfect example of this is the healthcare sector,” Dickinson said. “Everyone said that you can’t build green hospitals.”

To address this perception, Perkins+Will did a cost premium study that included 15 different LEED certified hospitals and the design firms and contractors associated with the projects. What they found was surprising. “There was actually no cost premium for LEED Silver or below,” she said. “And only a 5% premium for certification above that.” Dickinson also noted that the industry rule of thumb is an 18-month return on the cost premium for building a LEED-certified, sustainable building. “Operational systems like HVAC and lighting give them the most bang for their buck,” she said. “But it all adds up.”

Zaida Basora, Assistant Director of Facility Architecture and Engineering for the City of Dallas, has a unique perspective on the impact of not only green construction, but also of the costs and benefits of retrofitting existing buildings to meet so called “green” building codes. “The City of Dallas has a huge portfolio of buildings,” she said. “We have to balance costs and manage them efficiently.”

According to Basora, owners fall into one of three levels of commitment to a green building project. First-level goals, what she referred to as green, involve the implementation of passive systems such as HVAC along with energy, water and waste reduction. “At the next level–bright green–owners will take a holistic approach and consider sustainable features during the building’s overall design process,” she said. At the highest level–intelligent green–owners install sensors that monitor various systems throughout the building, then collect and analyze the data they produce. “This helps them manage and maintain the facility in the most efficient way possible,” Basora said.

Bill Moebius, Senior Vice President and Regional Director for Peloton Commercial Real Estate, discussed Dallas 2030 District, a private-public initiative to create a ground-breaking high-performance building district in downtown Dallas. According to its website, the goal of the organization is to cost-effectively and collaboratively reduce the environmental impact of building construction and operation. The volunteer group consists of property owners and managers, community members and professionals. “We’re using their expertise in different areas like HVAC and landscaping,” Moebius said. “And our target is to reduce water and energy consumption within the district by 50% by 2030.”

The University of Dallas Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is an open forum for building relationships, exchanging best practices, and fostering dialogue around issues of corporate social responsibility, sustainability and eco-innovation, and corporate governance. Hosted by the AACSB-accredited Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas, SBN hosts quarterly events and panel discussions on relevant topics led by recognized industry experts. Information on the next SBN event can be found at here.

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