- Leads CP Green, the green brokerage program of Capital Pacific, a national commercial real estate firm with sales of $7.13 billion in 49 states across the U.S.
- A leader and frequent speaker for ICSC RetailGreen, the leading retail-focused green real estate conference in the U.S.
- Co-chair of the 2013 ICSC RetailGreen Conference and member of the executive committee of the US Green Building Council's Bay Bridge branch.
- Advisor to Cole Valley Partners, a boutique real estate investment and consulting firm that prioritizes investing in and repositioning assets into green buildings.
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Navigating Green Real Estate for Owners and Investors
- There are myriad voluntary rating systems, and there appears to be no trend toward consolidation.
- Energy Star is a rating system, scoring from 1 to 100, focused more on energy than on the broad range of attributes that the LEED system encompasses.
- LEED offers building certification in Silver, Gold and Platinum. It's based on a checklist with several different categories that get scored regarding sustainability, such as how was the building constructed, how waste construction materials were disposed of, and how much of the materials used were recycled. Each check adds to the score, and the higher the score, the higher the certification can be.
- The BREEAM assessment evaluates a building’s specifications, design, construction and use and measures the building's performance related to energy and water use, the internal environment and pollution.
- Green Globes is an online green building rating and certification tool that is used primarily in Canada and the USA, where it is applied as part of the Green Building Initiative.
All of these system are completely voluntary. They give building owners and developers a framework when they’re designing a project and allow them to get a rating to help them and a potential investor determine how efficient a building is.
- There is an increasing, but patchwork pattern of state regulations regarding building efficiency.
A California law requires that an EnergyStar score must be disclosed every time a building over 10,000 square feet is sold, leased, or refinanced. That same score goes back and forth across the table when real estate transactions occur in New York, Washington State the city of Minneapolis and Montgomery County, Maryland.
The nature of real estate is national (and increasingly international). If people are transacting in markets where these scores are required, they're going to start to pay attention even if there isn't a law yet in the state or city where they are located. If they have to provide a score for a building they are selling in California, they might start thinking about asking for a score for a building they are considering buying in Texas because they want to understand the risk they might have if such a requirement is imposed later in Texas. Or they might demand the score for a property they are buying in a jurisdiction without that requirement because they know that a higher score means they are purchasing a building that will be cheaper to operate over the long term.
- Technology can help align the interests of tenants and landlords.
- Technology is really going to change the game because it provides so many ways for owners to reduce the cost of operating a building.
But what's holding a lot of owners back is the upfront costs. There may be a quick payback, but because of the way a lot of leases are structured, if a building owner makes the upfront investment, they don't realize any of the savings – the tenant does. So they are not seeing the incentive to make these investments to tune the performance of their buildings.
Ideally, there will be more ways for landlords and tenants to share savings. A growing number of people are considering these issues and there likely will be more financial tools to help address the split incentive between the landlord and the tenant. If landlords and tenants can learn how to work well together, both sides can win. The fundamental nature of the relationship is adversarial, so it's going to take some work, but there are incentives there for both parties to make these sustainability investments.
- Many new financial tools can make it quite attractive for owners to implement efficiency measures.
There are a lot of ways that companies are getting around the disincentive for owners who invest in a property but don't benefit from energy-saving investments because they don’t pay for the utilities.
For example, there are structures that allow an owner to "outsource" an energy efficiency project (such as solar or a new chiller) to a third party, which owns and maintains the equipment. The building owner pays the third party based on realized savings. An alternative to this scenario is for the building owner or tenant to agree to purchase the energy from the third party at an agreed rate, which is typically below market.
Another tool is PACE financing. In areas with PACE legislation, companies or municipal governments offer a bond to investors, and then lend funds to building owners for efficiency projects. These loans are repaid as an annual assessment on property tax bills. In lease structures where tenants pay property taxes and utilities, this can be an attractive way for owners to defer upfront costs and implement an energy savings project where the tenants participate in both the savings and the costs of the building upgrade. The PACE financing lien remains on the building even if the property transacts.
- Buyers are willing to pay a green premium, but also will start demanding a brown discount.
Some of the larger property owners who are savvy about green building technology, financing tools and strategies are becoming opportunistic. They can review the condition of a building and the systems that are installed and quickly make projections about the future net operating income after physical and/or operational upgrades.
Sophisticated investors don't necessarily look only at a green premium in their acquisitions, but they also look at a brown discount. They are willing to pay more for a high performance building, but they will also demand a discount on a property that's in need of energy upgrades, or appears to be a liability as it relates to current and pending energy disclose policies.
- Investors are putting increasing pressure on companies for transparency.
Most of the large real estate owners face pressure from investors to report to a platform called GRESB, which is the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark. That benchmark is different from the ratings systems which cover the individual buildings. The GRESB platform looks at a real estate company's full portfolio and how it operates all its buildings. It lets an investor determine how efficiently a company is operating its assets across the board, rather than having to look at individual building ratings. It’s done every year, so there’s a constant check of how a company is performing and what progress it is making.
It also incorporates social and governance elements, which are two trends that are further evolved in Europe and other parts of the world but are coming to the U.S. These elements are focused on looking at how companies operate, and how they manage and look out for the welfare of both their workers and their communities.