Seattle Creates High-Performance Building District

Seattle 2030 District Aims to Ease Market Stress

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Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 3:12 pm

SEATTLE -- Facing recessionary declines in occupancy rates and rental income, along with the increasing cost of utilities, commercial property owners in Seattle are feeling the pinch. In response to these market conditions, the city and a group of private entities have united to create a high-performance building district in downtown Seattle.

The Seattle 2030 District is intended to ease the stress on the commercial real estate market by helping owners and developers find innovative financing, share critical tools and best practices and create joint educational opportunities to decrease their buildings' energy consumption and operating costs. Cumulatively, these actions are expected to increase cash flow and property values, reduce the risk of default, increase commercial real estate desirability, create new jobs, and help keep Seattle's edge as a desirable city in which to work and live in the 21st century.

City officials said the creation of the district was also motivated by passage of the city's Energy Disclosure Ordinance in January 2010. The ordinance requires large commercial and multi-family property owners in Seattle to annually measure, or benchmark, energy use and provide the city with ratings to allow comparison across different buildings. Building owners will also be required to share energy usage and ratings with prospective buyers, tenants and lenders during the sale, lease or financing of properties.

"You can't manage what you don't measure," said Seattle City Council Chairman Richard Conlin. "Energy disclosure is a key first step to tap into the gold mine of opportunities to save energy and money while improving the city's existing building stock."

"The city will work with property owners and tenants to make sure they have the resources needed to make improvements," said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

"Energy costs are one of the largest expenses facing property owners and tenants. Energy spending is also an expense that can be actively managed and controlled," said Christian Gunter, vice president of Responsible Property Investing at Bentall Kennedy, a Seattle-based institutional real estate investment advisor.

"Energy-efficient buildings cost less to operate, attract top tenants, and create value for building ownership. With this ordinance, prospective buyers and tenants will gain new information needed to factor energy use into their decisions about where to invest, live and work. If you are not monitoring, benchmarking and managing energy use, you will simply be less competitive in the marketplace."

Brian Geller, executive director of the Seattle 2030 District, said the project is being funded with the help of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Climate Showcase Communities grant, and now, he said, "We're in the process of building a number of tools to make it happen. We're trying to set up some pilot projects, but we don't have them running yet."

"We have a company (Lucid Design Group, of Oakland, Calif.) that is going to build a master dashboard for tracking energy and water use for all of the buildings," Geller said. "This will collect and display energy and water usage in an aggregate form, and individual building owners can view their own energy and water usage."

"We are trying to create a standardized audit process for the buildings, so that if the building owner goes to any number of different energy services companies or engineers, they will look at the same, very thorough examination of the building. The audit will explain how to get to a goal for that building from the national average," Geller said.

"FrontRunner, LLC, of Seattle is developing tools for monitoring at the suite level in commercial buildings and some vehicle tracking," he said.

The Seattle 2030 District Planning Committee is an interdisciplinary public-private collaboration that is working to create the high-performance building district downtown. With the Architecture 2030 Challenge for Planners as the foundation, the committee has sought to develop realistic, measurable, and innovative strategies to assist district property owners, managers, and tenants in meeting aggressive goals that reduce environmental impacts of facility construction and operations. Property owners will not be required to achieve the goals of the district through legislative mandates, or as individuals. This type of goal achievement requires sharing of resources and ongoing collaboration to make high-performance buildings the most profitable building type in Seattle.

Architecture 2030 is a nonprofit, non-partisan and independent organization that was established in response to the climate change crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002. Architecture 2030's mission is to rapidly transform the U.S. and global building sector from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to climate change, energy consumption and economic crises. The organization's goal is to achieve a dramatic reduction in the climate-change-causing greenhouse gas emissions of the building sector by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed. The Architecture 2030 Challenge has a timeline and a series of goals in order to achieve the reduction.

The Seattle 2030 District's goals are as follows:

Existing Buildings and Infrastructure Operations

Energy use: a minimum 10 percent reduction below the national average by 2015, with incremental targets, reaching a 50 percent reduction by 2030.

Water use: a minimum 10 percent reduction below the national average by 2015, with incremental targets, reaching a 50 percent reduction by 2030.

CO2e of auto and freight: a minimum 10 percent reduction below the current district average by 2015, with incremental targets, reaching a 50 percent reduction by 2030.

New Buildings, Major Renovations and New Infrastructure

Energy use: an immediate 60 percent reduction below the national average, with incremental targets, reaching carbon neutral by 2030.

Water use: an immediate 50 percent reduction below the current national average.

CO2e of auto and freight: an immediate 50 percent reduction below the current district average.

Achieving the 2030 Challenge targets on a district scale and focusing on existing medium to large buildings that are privately owned will provide a working model that other cities and regions can use to reduce emissions and impacts, according to the Seattle 2030 team. While individual buildings will have specific opportunities for energy reductions, a district approach will provide the opportunity for district-wide heat recovery, distributed generation, and other district energy efficiencies that can reduce the demand for resources. The 2030 District will provide members with a road map to own, manage, and develop high performance buildings by leveraging existing market resources and by creating new tools and partnerships to overcome current market barriers, organizers said.

The city will work with approved Energy Service Contracting companies to develop Energy Efficiency Contracting Packages that will meet the 2030 District reduction targets. The city will develop a standardized contracting approach that will make it easier for building owners to compare between contract packages. The city's Department of Planning and Development will also create a streamlined permitting approach for new construction and major renovations within the city. Finally, the city will conduct outreach to building owners to explain the streamlined permitting and contracting approaches.

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