Atlanta’s green movement

Moderated by Rick Badie

Atlanta’s going green. The concept of energy-efficient buildings and sustainability measures has taken hold across the city. The writer of today’s lead column cites the Atlanta market as a leader in the green real estate movement, but suggests more should be done to bring small and medium-sized businesses into the mix. The second column explains sustainability efforts at Emory University that resulted in BestColleges.com naming it the eighth “greenest university” in the country.

Atlanta goes green

By David Pogue

The Atlanta market fared very well in a recent national study of green building certifications. In the second annual Green Building Adoption Index — an academic study conducted by researchers from Maastricht University and real estate services firm CBRE — Atlanta placed fourth overall among the top 30 U.S. markets and first in the percentage of all buildings certified. More than 29 percent of Atlanta’s buildings qualified, more than twice the national average.

Office buildings are at the nexus of many important environmental and social issues of our times. They are significant users of energy and water and produce meaningful amounts of waste and carbon emissions. They are at the center of transportation and workplace discussions. Consequently, many large companies make specific and public decisions to seek and occupy environmentally appropriate buildings. Additionally, real estate investors are seeking environmentally sound assets to purchase and hold in their portfolios.

The commercial real estate industry has responded, and the choices of environmentally appropriate buildings have grown significantly. The Green Building Adoption Index is a comprehensive review of the increase of EPA Energy Star and LEED-certified office properties in the top 30 U.S. markets over the past 10 years. The study looked exclusively at the “for lease” market, not corporate or government-owned buildings.

The growth in the overall national numbers is quite surprising. In 2005, only 1.5 percent of all buildings, representing 5.6 percent of all space, held Energy Star or LEED designations. By the end of 2014, 13 percent of buildings and 39 percent of all space was considered green. The growth in LEED certification was most pronounced, moving from only .01 percent in 2005 to 5.4 percent at the end of 2014. More than 20 percent of all space is now LEED-certified.

The Atlanta market benefits from most of the characteristics often cited by stakeholders pursuing green real estate. A community culture embraces and protects the natural environment. Atlanta is home to the headquarters of sixteen Fortune 500 companies. Many have well-defined and strongly stated environmental and sustainability commitments, which are expressed in their real estate choices. These corporate leaders also understand that younger-generation employees, highly sought and competitively recruited, are passionate about this issue and often consider a company’s record in this area when making career choices.

In Atlanta’s sub-markets, Midtown has one of the strongest green building adoption ratings, with 27 buildings — 51.9 percent of the total — green certified. Buckhead and the Central Perimeter follow with 45.3 percent and 32.5 percent, respectively, of certified office buildings.

Atlanta is also a city of big, institutionally owned and professionally managed buildings, which have been at the forefront of this movement. Finally, Atlanta has adopted building code and energy disclosure rules — most recently, the Commercial Buildings Energy Efficiency Ordinance in May — aimed at advancing green building standards and market transparency. Together, these market characteristics, corporate and investor actions and public policy make Atlanta one of the greenest cities in America.

However, the green-building survey also found a wide disparity among markets and particularly among building sizes. Larger buildings are much more likely to pursue certification than smaller ones, even the EPA Energy Star label, which can often be gained with limited costs. Fewer than 5 percent of buildings smaller than 100,000 square feet have either green certification, and there are far more of these buildings in the Atlanta market. Greater focus must now be placed on helping these smaller buildings, which often lack financial resources, knowledge and staff expertise to pursue this vital outcome.

David Pogue is global director of corporate responsibility for CBRE.

Committed to a green campus

By Ciannat M. Howett

Envision a healthy, safe and environmentally sustainable campus that enhances individual health and community well-being and educates the leaders of a sustainable future. That is the vision created by Emory University’s 2005 Strategic Plan, which the school has been working to implement over the past decade. I don’t think anyone would say Emory has fully realized its vision; it is a long journey, and there are miles to go. Still, the transformation of the campus has been profound, leading recently to the naming of Emory as the eighth “Greenest University” in the country by BestColleges.com.

One of the greatest sustainability challenges at Emory is car traffic, with negative environmental, social and public health impacts. In 2005, the only mass transit options to campus were limited MARTA bus routes. Today, those are augmented by a robust university shuttle bus system that runs on a biofuel blend made from used cooking oil from campus cafeterias. What once had been handled as a waste is now a fuel source used to run a private transit system that eliminated more than a million car trips last year. Whether walking, biking, carpooling or taking transit, currently, more than 50 percent of Emory’s students, faculty and staff commute to campus without getting in a car alone.

A similar closed loop from waste to resource is Emory’s transition from sending tons of food waste and animal bedding to landfills a decade ago; now, the university composts that organic material. That compost is put to use on campus landscaping and educational food gardens. Zero-landfill-waste academic buildings and events are increasing on campus, and construction waste recycling has topped 95 percent for recent building projects. The vision of a healthy and sustainable campus also includes the goal to procure 75 percent local or sustainable food. It has led to an overhaul of Emory’s dining program to offer more foods that are regionally grown, humanely raised, organic and fair trade-certified.

One of the most dramatic transformations at Emory is the new WaterHub — an on-site water recycling system that uses ecological systems to reclaim wastewater for heating, cooling and toilet-flushing. The first system of its kind installed in the U.S., it supplies nearly 40 percent of campus water needs. It hits the trifecta of social, environmental and economic sustainability by relieving an overburdened municipal system that has a history of sewer overflows, saves Emory money over time, reduces campus use of potable water by up to 400,000 gallons per day, and provides a living laboratory for research and teaching that merges academics with campus operations.

Emory’s vision also set ambitious goals for energy reduction and sustainable building practices. Emory is nearing 3 million square feet of LEED-certified building space, including the first Gold-level certification for existing buildings in the country. This year, Emory hit its goal of 25 percent per square foot energy-use reduction and has enrolled more than 6.5 million square feet in the Atlanta Better Business Challenge — the largest participant to date, committed to 20 percent energy and water reduction by 2020. Three solar installations on campus are a visible sign of the commitment to reduce carbon emissions and seek safer and healthier energy alternatives.

While these visible changes are profound, the greatest impact of Emory’s commitment to creating a sustainable campus, community and world is one that can’t be seen. It is the impact of thousands of Emory graduates who have been immersed in a culture of sustainability practices and mindful living who then leave our campus to become civic leaders, parents, homeowners and professionals in hundreds of fields. It is this legacy of educating leaders for a sustainable future that will fulfill Emory’s mission of seeking positive transformation in the world.

Ciannat M. Howett is director of sustainability initiatives for Emory University.


View Comments 0