Better Buildings are Boring

When the local chapter of BOMA gathered a few weeks ago to learn about sustainability in commercial real estate, they met in the kind of building they get excited about. The Ameriprise Client Financial Services Center is 1.2 million square feet of recently built, highly efficient space that is beautiful in a modernist gleaming way.

The message they heard, from CBRE’s Sustainability Program Manager Adam Fransen, must have come as a surprise. He told them that any building—a five-story, 30-year-old, suburban office building where LEED certification isn’t realistic—could be sustainable.

Building operations and maintenance, O&M, isn’t the stuff that architects dream of. Continuous improvement in energy and waste reduction doesn’t get your building written up in Architectural Digest. It turns out that making a building sustainable, making it perform better, is the result of doing the kinds of mundane things parents nag their kids to do: Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Don’t let the hot water run. Put the glass bottles in the recycling bin.

In a commercial building, reducing energy use, reducing water use, and reducing waste are the mainstays of sustainability and better building performance. In O&M, as in any kind of continuous improvement, what gets measured gets managed. Having “key metrics” means that building owners and tenants can see how well they’re doing and whether they’re improving. The measures can drive changes in behavior, whether it’s to encourage the building engineers to perform routine maintenance on the flush valves or remind the building occupants to put their office paper in the recycling bin.

There’s been some criticism of LEED certification recently, pointing out that there are new buildings that get certified for glitz and looks rather than true sustainability. LEED-NC is only the beginning for real sustainability. The rest is O&M. Whether it’s LEED-EBOM or just ordinary good ongoing O&M isn’t so important.

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