Building Value with Green Infrastructure – Part Two

The goal of biophilic design – and all increases to green space in any building – is to enhance creativity and encourage collaboration that results in less burnout and more turnout of new ideas through physical proximity to nature.

In Part One of this article, we explored the many options of adding green infrastructure to commercial buildings and the benefits that accrue to property owners who do so.

Here, in Part Two, we’ll explore more benefits as well as costs of gray vs. green infrastructure.

What savings and increases in property value can one expect when investing in green infrastructure? Let’s take a snapshot of one major project – installing a green roof. You’re going to need a professional engineer and registered architect to do a structural analysis to determine if your roof can sustain vegetation or needs reinforcement; an architect/landscape designer and/or green roof specialist to design and install the system; and a big budget.

A decision will also need to made on the type of plantings and systems to be used – from relatively simple sedum and grasses to a veritable forest – that fit your budget, climate, facility and goals.

That being said, what is the ROI? For one thing, the estimated life of a green roof is twice that of a conventional roof, avoiding that replacement cost (especially if you wisely install a green roof at the end of the current roof’s life expectancy). You’ll have energy savings because of the green roof’s insulating qualities and reductions in heating and cooling. There will be tax credits which vary. Your rents and length of tenancy will probably increase. You may have a reduction in storm water fees. Taking a long-term view of two or more decades, savings for a medium-size office building can be $1+ million.
But, how you calculate makes a difference. Will your cost analysis figure only the initial costs of installing green infrastructure, or will you include the costs of design, installation, operation, maintenance and replacement?

Regardless, the comparison of green vs. gray infrastructure is both art and science because there are intangible benefits such as the difficulty in valuing enhanced safety, or habitat improvements for beneficial wildlife, or greater office worker productivity. Put another way, there is a difference between cost analysis vs. cost-benefit analysis.

As a commercial real estate appraiser and the only one in New York City with a LEED-AP BD+C credential, I can tell you that in determining building value, green infrastructure has become a growing part of assessment. I also believe that it is only a matter of time before lenders will require green analysis in their underwriting considerations.

Trees, shrubs, gardens, fountains, permeable pavements, bioswales, planters, green walls. All contribute tremendous benefits to property owners, tenants and communities.

To explore the topic further, epa.gov has in-depth information on green infrastructure as well as help with finding resources in your community and collaborating with partners.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Building Value with Green Infrastructure – Part 1

Going green, in its many ways, is a recurring theme of mine. Whether green roofs, biophilic design, green trends, low-cost tips for going green, greening offices, conference rooms and lobbies, laying permeable pavements and planting trees, greening the office building and environment and green infrastructure creates value.

What kind of value and how much depends on what you’re including and how you’re calculating, and we’ll get back to that in Part Two of this post.

But, for now, let’s explore how property owners benefit financially and from the health and environmental perspective by investing in green infrastructure.

If you’re a commercial property owner, when you invest in green infrastructure, you are investing in increasing your rents, length of tenancies, property value and NOI through energy savings, government tax credits, private financial incentives, reduced maintenance costs, water reduction and even on-site safety.
Enlightened companies – and there are many – can be swayed by the beauty, cleaner air and relaxation opportunities of locating their offices within a building with a green roof, living indoor green walls and private gardens. But they can be swayed even further by the body of knowledge that indisputably proves workers take less sick days, stay at their jobs longer and are more productive when working in green buildings, especially with offices designed along sustainability best practices.

As baby boomers continue to retire, the office environments of their era are being retired with them. To attract new talent, companies are embracing workplace strategies that appeal to younger generations’ work styles – freedom to roam, informal settings, alternative work areas, natural light and other green elements.

Take, for example, Amazon’s recent expansion of its Seattle headquarters – three glass spheres that house 40,000 plants from 400 species, creating an indoor rain forest. Instead of conventional offices (and, heaven forbid, cubicles), there are attractive wooden walkways open to the sphere with unexpected stopping and meeting points where employees can chance upon tables, chairs and lounges. The company, known for its challenging work ethic, hopes that the headquarters’ unusual design and extensive greenery will spark new collaborations, ideas and products.

Amazon may be the current poster child headquarters of biophilic design, but other leading companies including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google are also trendsetters with regard to testing and adapting green design – sometimes right down to carpet configurations, colors and designs in their facilities.

The goal is enhanced creativity and collaboration, less burnout and more turnout of new ideas by enriching physical proximity to nature.

In Part 2 we’ll explore more benefits as well as costs of gray vs. green infrastructure.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Is Pollution Dimming New York’s Best and Brightest?

New York City has always been a magnet for the best and brightest. But a new study, done in China but relevant to New York City – in fact, relevant to 95% of the world – indicates that being a part of the city that never sleeps means paying a price in, of all things, intelligence.

The study, undertaken as part of the China Panel Family Studies done over four years, is the first to take men and women of all ages into account with regard to the physical and mental damage done by air pollution.

According to nyc.gov, air pollution is a problem for all populations, but especially so for New York City residents. A publication “Air Pollution and the Health of New Yorkers:

The Impact of Fine Particles and Ozone” states that as air pollution is never listed as a cause for hospitalization, statistical methods had to be used for their conclusions.

The report analyzed fine particles from on and off-road vehicles, fossil fuel combustion and heating commercial and residential buildings, commercial cooking, road dust, demolition and construction. Ozone was analyzed from April 1st – September 30th as ozone levels greatly increase during warmer months.

The conclusion: “Current exposures…cause more than 3,000 premature deaths, more than 2,000 hospitalizations due to respiratory and cardiovascular causes, and approximately 6,000 emergency department visits for asthma in New York City annually.” A 2016 MIT Senseable City Lab study concluded much more generally that our air is toxic.

Lest you are feeling disheartened by our current air quality, back in the mid-1960s, New York had the filthiest air of any big city in the country. On Thanksgiving weekend in 1966, 200 people died because of the haze of warm temperature smog.

The up note is: we have come a very long way from those noxious, sulfurous days including achievable goals for the PlaNYC goal of “cleanest air of any big city” by 2030.

Meanwhile, back in China, their study showed that toxic air produces a significant reduction in intelligence equal to losing a year of education. The effects are worse for anyone age 64 and older, for men more than women (I know this comes as shock to you, but male and female brains work differently), and for those with lower education levels.

All we can say to all this is stay smart, my friends. Support the City’s efforts to reduce air pollution through their reduce and retrofit programs, monitoring, new codes, emissions control and conversion to alternative, cleaner fuels. Intelligent life depends on it.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services