BY LINDA BAKER
The story about green building circa 2012 is about the interplay between tenant behavior and the physical structure of the building. Developers can construct or retrofit buildings with energy-saving light fixtures and low-flush toilets and implement waste diversion efforts such as composting. But if the tenants aren’t on board — and continue to run the water, turn on the lights, and throw banana peels into the garbage — then little will have been accomplished, from an environmental and cost-savings perspective.
A glimpse of the tenant-builder relationship was visible earlier this week at the Fox Tower, where about 25 people who work in the building gathered in the lobby to celebrate the structure's newly attained LEED Gold Certification for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance. Environmentally friendly features and savings include diverting up to 40 percent of landfill waste via a compost program, saving up to $30,000 in energy costs through efficient lighting and reducing water usage by up to 30 percent.
The $100,000 retrofit is a visible demonstration of the company’s commitment to green practices, said Vanessa Sturgeon, president of TMT Development, which owns and operates the Fox Tower. It’s also about marketing. LEED certification “helps us recruit and retain tenants,” Sturgeon said. “And it helps our tenants recruit and retain talent.”
Certification couldn’t have happened without the help of green team leaders representing the building’s tenants, said TMT associate vice president Robert Pile. (About 1,500 people work in the Fox Tower). Team leaders helped build enthusiasm for the project and nudged employees to respond to surveys about sustainable electronics purchasing, alternative transportation and other tenant behaviors which factored into the certification process.
Some of those tenants were ahead of TMT’s game. “We’ve made sustainable practices organic to the company,” said Kristen Connor, vice president for Capital Pacific Bank, which earned a 2012 BEST award for the City of Portland Sustainability at Work program. Capital Pacific's initiatives and accomplishments include reducing desktop power consumption by 93 percent through server upgrades, covering 100 percent of employee public transportation costs, creating a pilot composting program for the bank and collaborating with Fox Tower managers to set up building-wide composting, in which the building picks up compost for each kitchen.
Capital Pacific has also made LEED certification part of their lease agreements, Connor said.
Not all the Fox Tower tenants present for the celebration seemed so driven or knowledgeable about sustainability. “We just came here to learn,” said an employee of Tumac Lumber. "Sustainability is important,” said a woman who works in the USDA office. She qualified: “It should be important.”
Now that most of the tower’s green technologies are in place, all eyes will or should be on the energy and money the building actually saves. Owners of all new LEED buildings are supposed to track how their buildings are performing — in energy, water, waste diversion, sustainable purchasing — for at least five years. However, the US Green Building Council, which administers the LEED program, has been criticized for being lax when it comes to the tracking requirement. The USGBC has also been criticized for certifying buildings that didn’t live up to energy performance expectations.
For its part, TMT aims to monitor the building’s green performance using software and online solutions, Pile said. To maximize that performance, building maintenance and operations will be critical. In turn, tenants will have to do their part: composting, purchasing green friendly electronics and refraining from bringing in table lamps and space heaters.
A growing body of research and commentary suggests that a green building is less a finished product than an ongoing relationship between the building, owners and tenants. And like all good relationships, the green enterprise requires attention and vigilance to flourish.
Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.