Navigant Research Blog

Focus on Occupant Health and Well-Being Is Transforming the Commercial Buildings Market

— October 25, 2017

There has been growing interest and demand for occupant health and well-being in commercial buildings. Historically, occupant health policy was more limited and focused on preventing accidents and exposure to hazardous materials. In recent years, there has been a shift from the minimal safety requirements to improved health, increased productivity and performance, and enhanced occupant comfort.

Occupant health and well-being is a notable theme. The focus of the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo this November is human health. Educational sessions covering this area range from The Wellness/Energy Nexus – a Case for Effective Design (WELL Specific) to From Lab to Workplace: Research Advancing Health & Wellbeing.

Based on the human health educational track at the conference, it is clear that conference organizers and speakers alike view this as an essential building trend. It is a trend observed at Navigant Research and discussed as a driver in the upcoming report IoT for Lighting. I’m looking forward to attending Greenbuild to further explore this trend and learn about efforts to promote health and well-being through lighting and building technologies.

Motivation for Human Health in Buildings

A report from the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2013 Summit on Green Building & Human Health is titled Health is a Human Right. Green Building Can Help. While much in the development of green buildings and occupant health and well-being has progressed since 2013, the notion that health is a human right has not.

The trend to focus on human health and well-being within buildings can largely be attributed to attracting and maintaining talent in office workplaces, incentivizing students or shoppers to build environments that focus on their health. Many green building features, such as energy efficient lighting paired with more sophisticated controls, provide motivation via energy savings in addition to improving the health of building occupants. Beyond lighting, occupant health and well-being can be prioritized through improved indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and sound quality.

Promotion of WELL-Being through Standards and Certifications

Founded in 2013, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is a public benefit organization driving the promotion of health and well-being in buildings. The WELL Building Standard, launched in 2014, is based on medical research that analyzes the connection between environmental health, behavioral factors, health outcomes, and demographic risk factors that affect health with the built environment. The WELL Standard covers seven core concepts (air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind) to create a flexible building standard.

Currently, there are pilot programs in progress across various areas, including multi-family residential buildings, education facilities, retail buildings, restaurants, and commercial kitchens. The aim of the pilot programs is to test and refine how WELL can best apply to different building and space types. The standard continues to evolve based on new evidence, and to incorporate new technologies. A WELL certification is a declaration of that building’s commitment to the prioritization of its inhabitants.

Certifications Setting an Example

The USGBC has incorporated the Integrative Process for Health Promotion in the LEED certification for new construction. Participants can earn credit by beginning in the pre-design phase to “achieve synergies that promote health across disciplines and building systems.” They can also work with a public health partner to help determine how to promote health and accomplish related sustainability goals.

While the USGBC and IWBI are not required across buildings and are voluntary certifications, the significance they place on human health in buildings is helping to promote these values and drive increased focus on these trends. These organizations can provide tools and resources for building owners and managers and can help drive the adoption of building elements focused on the health and well-being of building occupants.

 

An Open Cuba Is Poised for a Green Future

— December 23, 2014

The news that the United States will extend normal diplomatic relations with Cuba can be viewed as the last act of the Cold War.  With the promise of cooperation on both sides, U.S. businesses will view the island nation as a new market for consumer and industrial goods as well as infrastructure spending.  Fortunately, Cuba has the potential to develop into an energy efficient country – if it can act deliberately.

Cuba opened its first 2.6 MW solar farm in 2013, with plans to develop six more, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Cuba also has plans to develop wind projects totaling 280 MW.  Today, 4.3% of its power comes from renewable resources.  Still, Cuba relies heavily on imported oil from a precarious source, Venezuela, which supplies two-thirds of Cuba’s petroleum. According to some reports, Venezuela was poised for oil price increases before the global drop.  Now Cuba may want to buy oil from other sources in the region at low prices, disincentivizing clean energy investment in the near term. At the same time, Cuba will have access to new low-carbon sources, following its own Article 81 in its Law 33, or general environmental policy, that encourages renewable resources that have minimal impact on the environment.

Building Boom

Cuba is also a member of the Organization of American States, which just announced support for the COP20 lowered emissions goals for all countries. With an awareness of climate change impacts and adaptation choices, it is bound to be torn between the cheap oil and development funds it now has access to and the regulations and low-carbon goals it supports.

Navigant Research’s report, Global Building Stock Database, forecast a flat growth rate for Cuba’s commercial and residential space, but that will surely change.  With more tourists and new commercial prospects flooding into the country, the demand for first-world quality residential and commercial space will rise.  The energy intensity of that space will likely be greater than the current building stock, resulting in an acceleration of energy demand.  There are a few strategies that can be employed that will help tamper the accelerated demand for power.

One landmark goal would be to make all new development net zero energy.  As described in Navigant Research’s report, Zero Energy Buildings, net zero implies that a building produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.  A strong government like Cuba could initiate strict building codes, following similar goals instituted in  California, as there is a legacy of energy efficiency policy implementation in the country. In 2005, Castro called for a “revolución energética,” resulting in the replacement of all incandescent light bulbs to CFLs and the replacement of over 2.5 million refrigerators.  Given the available solar resource and some wind resource, new hotels and business districts can leave room for installing renewables. Again, there is a precedent here. Over 2,300 schools have been equipped with solar since 2001, and the energy revolution provided some financing for residential PV.  Building codes can also require the most efficient building possible.

Lovely Decay

A major challenge, however, will be in retrofitting the existing building stock.  Renowned for its decaying beauty, the frozen-in-time architecture of Havana is a challenge for energy efficiency retrofits.  Maintenance and upgrades have been minimal over the past half-century, and the island’s humidity and heat are intense.  It’s hard to envision the building envelope being retrofitted to a highly efficient level. However, the appliances within them could be ungraded easily as part of the revolución energética.

Cuba recently announced 246 projects , worth over $8 billion for technology and industrial jobs, focused on renewable energy development and manufacturing of air conditioners, for instance.  Cuba is now at a crossroads and has the potential to choose the green/clean path forward.

 

Back to the Land, in the City

— December 23, 2014

Urban farming may sound like an oxymoron, but more and more cities are looking at the role of urban food production to reduce the embedded carbon cost of transporting food long distances (food-miles), to improve food education, and to regenerate run-down city areas.

In many cities, of course, there has never been a clear line between the city and country.  A new study, for example, indicates the degree to which urban farming has a significant role in city economies.  According to the report from the International Water Management Institute (IWWI), around 69 million hectares (around 6% of the world’s cropland) are being cultivated within cities.  Furthermore, 456 million hectares (1.1 billion acres), an area roughly the size of the European Union, is under cultivation in close proximity to urban environments.

Urban farming is widely practiced across the world: 87% of cities greater than 50,000 have some irrigated farming and 98% having some rain-fed cropland.  The report suggests that there is significant potential for the local sourcing of food for the growing cities of the developing world, but it also highlights the issues this presents in terms of water and wastewater management.  In particular, a lack of water treatment facilities means that there are significant dangers to human health from cultivation that uses unclean water.

Scaling Up

In Accra, for example, 10% of the city’s wastewater may be used for urban farms without adequate treatment.  Another study has estimated that 85% of cities discharge their wastewater without appropriate treatment.  Strategies to support and expand local food provision for growing cities must, therefore, be closely aligned with improvements to water distribution and water treatment systems. Developing cities need to find ways to integrate existing urban farming sites with their water management and land use policies if they are to retain the benefits of local production.

In the developed cities of North America and other parts of the world, urban farming has been recognized since the 1970s as an important tool to help community regeneration programs in areas like the Bronx in New York.  Now cities are looking to technology to make local production viable at a commercial scale.

To Feed the Center

For example, Lufa Farms is running two rooftop gardens in Montreal using hydroponic technology, which provides nutrients to plants through an integrated water system rather than soil.  They have also been reassessing the sales and distribution issues that are equally important to make urban farming commercially successful.  Other technologies to enable large-scale urban food production include aquaponics, which integrates fish and plant farming, as practiced by Urban Organics in St. Paul, Minnesota. Urban Organics is located in a former brewery and is part of a broader, city-supported urban regeneration program.  In Europe, LokDepot in Basel, Switzerland is the first commercial aquaponics farm.

Any true measure of a city’s total energy consumption, its environmental footprint, or its economic resilience needs to consider the relationship between the urban center and the resources on which it relies.  Food production is one of the most important of those resources.   In different ways the community gardens and high-tech vertical farms of North American and European cities and the farming enclaves of Accra and other cities in Africa and Asia all show how cities need to think more locally about food production.  As droughts and expanding urban populations put pressure on water supplies and food costs, an intelligent approach to food production will become a critical issue for many communities.

 

Commercial Real Estate Holders Realize the Value of Energy Management

— December 23, 2014

Conventional wisdom states that the split incentive of tenant-occupied commercial buildings undercuts the benefits of energy efficiency and smart building development.  Those tides are shifting, though, and major commercial real estate (CRE) firms are doubling down on investment and promoting the value of strategic energy management.  In the last few months, major CRE firms have announced new strategies and corporate perspectives that highlight the promising future for smart commercial buildings.

America Realty Advisors has discussed a new sustainability strategy for its $6 billion commercial real estate portfolio in a recent article in National Real Estate Investor.  The first steps include benchmarking energy and water use and conducting targeted energy audits at under-performing facilities.  CRE firms are seeing that smart, efficient buildings translate to stronger bottom lines.  American Realty Advisors’ managing director Jay Butterfield explained in the article: “We have seen that firms successfully reducing a property’s energy usage by 30% may realize increases of up to 5% in both net operating income and asset value.”

Making a Stand

JLL has also taken its stance on energy efficiency and sustainability to the front lines, promoting its IntelliCommand energy management system as a service offering and taking a stand on climate change.  In a recent editorial supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan, JLL’s Dan Probst explained, “Our energy efficiency initiatives have helped our commercial real estate clients reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 12 million metric tons while saving them $2.5 billion in energy costs over the past seven years.”

The benefits of strategic energy management go beyond the CRE giants and their flagship Class A buildings.  Two recent examples demonstrate the economic impacts of energy efficiency upgrades in Class B buildings.  In Houston, a 24-story office building and historic landmark went through significant upgrades in 2011, including the installation of a building energy management system, and Hines (the real estate management company that manages the building) is touting the benefits.  Hines sees this kind of strategic energy management focus helping lower capitalization rate, generate operations and maintenance (O&M) savings, and stay competitive.

Too Big to Ignore

Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, the benefits of energy efficiency in Class B buildings are too big to dismiss.  The energy and sustainability benefits of Class B upgrades in New York are underscored by the added benefit of helping building owners prepare for the energy reductions targets for 2020, under the bundle of laws supporting the PlaNYC climate change agenda.

The mounting risks of climate change, rising demand for sustainable workplaces, and maturing market of smart building technologies are combining to spark momentum in CRE strategic energy management investments.  These CRE early adopters are laying the groundwork for the growing penetration of smart building investments in commercial buildings.

 

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