Kudos to the city and state governments, private and public sectors, building owners, office building tenants and residential occupants. The New York Times in its “Calculator” section has once again confirmed that New York City is one of the nation’s greenest cities.

Most of the credit, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy which recently released their 2017 report, goes to New York City’s government and its “One City: Built to Last” plan.

The ambitious plan includes energy and water retrofits, energy efficiency plans, supporting clean energy, expanding solar, increasing code enforcement and raising standards. The report also cited the City’s “upgraded fleet of energy-efficient municipal vehicles.”
One would think of New York City with its density, skyscrapers and heavy traffic as a least likely to be green environment. Yet it is that very density, tall buildings and limited green space that creates a sound environmental model. Our most significant category that still needs work is air pollution, although we have come a long way.

The report is below. New York came in second in rank, just after Boston, scoring 79.50 points out of a possible 100, and was followed by Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland to round out the top five greenest American cities.

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

Think what you will of the New York City Council, you’ve got to give them credit for one of their latest initiatives – a bill to require all new construction, buildings undergoing major renovations and those remodeling their roofs to install a green roof, solar or small wind turbines.

Addressing all of the above would be too lengthy in one take, so we’ll offer a snapshot of how green roofs benefit various groups – the city, property, general public, property owners and building tenants. As New York City’s only LEED-AP BD+C commercial real estate appraiser, I have long advocated installing green roofs from the strictly business point of view of increasing building value.

As an ardent environmentalist, I also champion green roofs and biophilic design for the many ecofriendly effects they deliver.

To build a green roof, there are codes, conditions and complexities that are challenging. Considerations include load capacity; percentage of garden vs. useable roof space; structural feasibility and capacity; waterproofing; types of plantings (extensive or intensive); modular or built-in; purpose (to use or view); climate such as access to full or partial sunlight. Then you can design, install, irrigate and otherwise maintain it. All this is to say: you’re going to need experts as in a structural engineer, architect, and professional landscaping company.

Understandably, affordability is a big factor. It’s a major capital expenditure that will provide excellent ROI, but short-term costs must be met. Those who oppose the new bill do so on the basis of cost: whether it can be done and, if it is, that installations will lead to higher tenant rents.

Councilman Rafael Espinal of Brooklyn, the bill’s lead sponsor, acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times that “green roofs are often considered a luxury and buildings that have them may be sold at a premium. But passing these bills would make green roofs the norm across the five boroughs, and in turn, make it more cost-efficient for anyone looking to buy or rent an apartment.”

Tracking back to the “what’s in it for me?” question with regard to greening rooftops, the city benefits by having cleaner air, water, lower carbon emissions and a healthier wildlife environment.

The general public benefits by the decrease in the number of people using city plazas, parks and streets who are, instead using private roof gardens.

Roof gardens also help to mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect created by surfaces like dark roofs, concrete and asphalt and resulting in temperatures as much as 20 degrees hotter than areas less dense. Additionally, with green roofs acting as storm water management systems, fewer pollutants will flow into the city’s waterways.

The property benefits from extended roof life, reduced AC and heating costs, more fire retardant surfaces, lowered noise and better air quality.

Tenants benefit from a very desirable amenity being added to their place of work or residence that is private, well cared for, nearby for relaxation and entertainment, and adds to productivity.

For property owners – commercial building owners, as well as individual owners of co-op and condo units – a roof garden adds value. It is different in form, but not in concept, from any major capital improvement.

Which brings us full circle to cost. If the City Council bill passes, property owners will have to bite the bullet on budget. But, there is help available. Though the Property Tax Abatement for green roofs is currently dormant, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) offers a green infrastructure grant program for private property owners in the city.

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PHOTO: This 55ksf extensive green roof was created by Brondie’s Treehouse, Inc. and serves multiple functions.

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

There is an upsurge of interest in healthy buildings.

Wellness within a building can be perceived as removed from hard data – difficult to value, amorphous and unsubstantiated. But is it?

As a commercial real estate appraiser with a LEED-AP BD+C designation, I can say that healthy buildings and wellness within accrue to the bottom line. While it may be more difficult to connect the dots between increased worker health and productivity and building value, that is where an experienced commercial real estate appraiser combines science and math with experience and artistry in valuation. What then, is the connection?

Productive employees increase their company’s profitability, enabling them to afford higher rents in better buildings. Building owners benefit by tenant retention when their building’s sustainability and green best practices are in alignment with their tenants’ policies. Healthy, green buildings are, quite simply, more valuable buildings.

There is a growing body of study, including one from Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, that links upgraded indoor air quality and worker productivity that, in turn, improves a company’s bottom line. Thus, employers, architects, developers and other building owners are becoming more aware of the monetary value of healthy buildings and offices.

The topic of wellness in office facilities can fill volumes because it covers everything from lighting to ergonomic seating; daylight vs. indoor light; green plants that provide oxygen and relaxation to workers; on-site food options; exercise, relaxation and meditation rooms; use of color; proximity to other workers; cubicles vs. open work spaces; workplace temperature; the use of natural materials (and, new, what designers are calling “sophisticated recycle” with a higher aesthetic); encouraging employees to take the stairs; providing stand-up desks; comfortable open areas for collaboration and more protected spaces for introverts and solitary workers; air quality; and so much more.

The specifics of the challenges and strategies of biophilic design, which seeks to reconnect people to nature where we live, work, play and learn, are best left to wellness professionals, architects and sustainability experts, but do have one more comment on the bottom line.

With so much to take into account, how do you measure health and wellness as opposed to something like energy usage? The answer includes “certifications”, another way of saying let the experts decide.

Nearly a year ago, we wrote about a new certification, WELL from the International WELL Building Institute. I called it, rightly so, the one to watch as it positions your company and property as being a leader in healthy spaces. Their website currently lists more than 530 projects totaling over 100 million square feet that are applying WELL concepts. Building owners can register their project onsite and explore becoming WELL certified.

If you’re interested in reading about more green topics as they affect commercial properties, you’ll find articles here on solar, greenhouse gas emissions, green roofs and how cats, rats, bats and sharks are helping.

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

It may not be easy being green, but, nonetheless, this year it’s going to be popular. Vibrant, flamboyant Greenery has been named the Pantone Color of the Year, a 180-degree turn from last year’s soothing pastels.

2017 green building trends look a lot like those in 2016, but they, like the Pantone Color, are newly energized. We discussed the slowdown in LEED certifications in Part I. Now we’ll discuss what’s revving up.

Energy efficiency is still leading this horse race. The reasons are clear: 1) it’s the single largest and hardest to control cost in office building expenses; 2) there is much greater monitoring of usage mandated by law; 3) opportunities to reduce energy usage are increasing through new technologies; and 4) building owners are committed to reducing costs.

In 2017, look for more renovations and retrofits of existing building stock that will prioritize energy efficiency; additional incentives and innovations from energy providers; and increased use of solar whose technologies are rapidly transforming its feasibility for office buildings.

While green certification may be waning, the new hot topic is the Passive House Standard. According to a Building Energy Exchange Briefing, “Passive House is a rigorous and voluntary standard for energy efficiency in buildings. It depends on a well- insulated building envelope, air-tight components, and continuous ventilation that can save more than 70% of heating and cooling costs compared to a typical code compliant building.”

Though highly effective and supported by the mayor’s “One City: Built to Last” Plan, there are numerous, significant stumbling blocks to achieving Passive House certifications as well as net zero balance in a city as densely populated as New York with so many old buildings.

About half of the buildings in Midtown, Midtown South and Downtown are closing in on 60 years old. The Chrysler Building is 87; the Rockefeller Center complex is 78; the Con Ed Building is 89; Black Rock and the MetLife Buildings are relatively spry at 52 and 44, as just a few examples. Certainly, new conservation technologies can be introduced into older buildings, but it is a much more complex undertaking than incorporating them into new builds.

Other hot topics for energy savings are (1) cloud computing (first cited by us two years ago) that allows companies to monitor and manage assets 24/7 remotely; and, (2) water conservation including sub-metering, changing landscapes to indigenous plants, touch-free faucets, gray water reuse and more efficient runoff control.

Lastly, let’s look at health. Gluten free. GMO. Juicing. Seaweed. Golden lattes made with turmeric. And did you know sorghum is the new quinoa? The population has become more health conscious with regard to what they eat, how much they exercise, where they live, so why not incorporate health benefits where they work?

Well, we’ve all heard of sick buildings but only now is evidence coming to light about the benefits of greener, healthier buildings. Day lighting, green plants, ergonomic desks, task lighting, relaxation areas and higher quality green and recycled products all play a part in creating a healthier environment of reduced stress and absences and greater productivity.

We’ll be exploring more of these trends in depth as the year goes on. For now…wishing you a healthier, greener 2017!


By Steven J. Schleider, MAI, FRICS, LEED-AP BD + C

President, Metropolitan Valuation Services


Part I: Green Certification Slowdown?

While vibrant Greenery has been named the Pantone Color of the Year, 2017 green building trends look a lot like those in 2016 – energy efficiency, LED upgrades, green and cool roofs, LEED certifications, net zero, carbon footprint reduction, managing from the cloud. And yet, as much as it’s the same, there are twists, turns and turbulence.

For one thing, LEED certifications seem to be slowing down. Though there is now competition, LEED is still the standard for certifications. Yet, the global market is now significantly surpassing the U.S. market.

The latest version, LEED v4, was designed to simplify and streamline according to the U.S, Green Building Council (USGBC). According to the same source “…credits and prerequisites were designed to raise the bar.” There is also no “one size fits all” model. Now, it’s more specialized for industries such as hospitality and healthcare.

There’s been blowback that’s included whether the design and construction industry would and could meet new credit requirements; that providing commentary to the USGBC was a trying process; that the changes in materials was too aggressive; that there is not enough customization for climate zones and urban vs. suburban markets, i.e., what works in Alaska is not going to be the same as what works on a zero lot building in New York City.

The U.S, General Services Administration, upon review, did not recommend the new LEED v4 for government buildings, instead opting for the 2009 LEED version or the Green Building Initiatives Green Globes 2010. (The reviews were done in late 2013.) Closer to home, in speaking with building construction and interior construction project managers, there is an indication that their 2017 business goals do not include pursuing more LEED-certified work.

A recent “World Green Building Trends Study” from Dodge Data & Analytics supports those market indicators. While the study reported that in the U.S., “An increasing percentage of respondents projected that more than 60 percent of their projects would be green projects – from 24 percent of respondents in 2015 to 39 percent in 2018” responders also project a stunning decline in those projects being certified “fewer than 15 percent…plummeted from 41 percent in 2015 to 27 percent by 2018.”

Certainly that growth remains impressive. But, looking further into the Dodge Data & Analytics’ survey, most of the growth in the U.S. seems to be focused on institutional projects and retrofits and “is significantly less than many developing countries included in the survey.”

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Green roofs are among the newest sustainability assets for commercial and residential buildings. And, unlike other green assets like energy savings systems, recycling and gray water usage, green roofs are visible, beautiful, useable and valuable to both tenants and building owners alike.

In a city that is mostly glass and steel corridors and gray concrete streets, with the exception of parks, from pocket to Central, greenery is at a premium.

For the most part, the city’s roofs are still tar and asphalt. But changing those roofs into environmental sound solutions – and green sanctuaries – is gaining momentum. It’s a complex and expensive process that also requires ongoing maintenance, so progress has been slow, but the benefits are numerous and compelling, not the least of which is turning an ugly, underused part of a building’s real estate into an asset.

A quick look at the benefits include mitigation of the Urban Heat Island Effect. New York City is a vast summertime heat island with far-reaching negative impact on energy, water and health. Green roofs act as building insulators, reducing energy usage and the extent and cost of air conditioning and heat as well as air pollution and greenhouse gasses.

Then there’s stormwater management, no small issue in New York City. Green roofs help control runoff with vegetation absorbing water that, as runoff, contains a high amount of pollution and contaminants.

Green roofs can extend roof life, reduce AC and heating costs, serve as a stormwater management tool and fire retardant, reduce noise, contribute to air quality and greatly enhance a property’s marketability by providing viewable or useable garden and recreational space.

You’ll 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. Tax abatements and green infrastructure grant programs help make green roofs more feasible.

Some prominent buildings in NYC that have installed green roofs include the Empire State Building; Javits Center; Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Parks Department’s Five Borough Administrative Building on Randalls Island; Zeckendorf Towers on the east side of Union Square; the rooftop farm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; and the New School’s LEED-Gold student center.

The largest green roof in New York City is in midtown Manhattan atop the U.S. Postal Service’s Morgan Processing and Distribution Center.

The funkiest – and award-winning – green roof includes plastic rocks, artificial boxwoods, clear crushed glass and recycled rubber mulch. It’s on top of the Museum of Modern Art and, although visible, you can’t get there from here as it’s inaccessible.

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

It is no longer an issue of whether to go green but more a question of how to maximize the benefits from energy savings to water conservation, recycling, enhanced workplace health and productivity, attracting and retaining a higher quality of tenant and adhering to the growing number of local, state and federal laws.

We took a look at what is up and coming in green building to develop a list of top trends in green for 2016.

  • The number of buildings seeking LEED will continue to increase dramatically. There are LEED rating bashers out there and those who question whether LEED is enough. But, for now, the answer is yes it is and will continue to be.
  • LEED has a relatively new competitor, Green Globes, which is based on an online questionnaire system. Time will tell if and how much Green Globes will impact LEED’s global popularity.
  • Look for more cool roofs and green roofs. Cool roofs, achieved by using foam, rubber, special tiles and/or solar-­reflecting paint, lower temperatures inside a building and can result in energy savings of as much as 15%. Green roofs, planted with vegetation, can increase a roof’s life span, result in major energy savings, greatly reduce water runoff and mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect. Green roofs being built as urban produce gardens for tenants to manage, is a beginning trend we would like to see much more of.
  • One new architectural design idea for new builds is to incorporate atriums inside high-­rise buildings for better air ventilation and more healthy natural daylight.
  • Sustainable construction which uses materials and products that require less use of natural resources and more sustainable resources, is also on the rise. Steel, glass, prefabricated parts and additions to concrete serve to reduce waste.
  • Significantly trending is LED lighting. With so many benefits – reduced maintenance, much longer life and substantial energy savings ­- property owners can clearly see their competitive advantage. The obstacle remains upfront cost but a LED lighting retrofit can typically pay for itself in less than 3 years.
  • Lastly is a look at Net Zero or Zero Energy buildings. These buildings, although they may also store power from the grid, are designed with energy­ saving techniques and depend on renewal energy sources such as solar and wind power. Energy use is further reduced with state­-of-­the-­art HVAC and lighting that, for example, takes advantage of natural light. Once considered impossible to achieve, net zero building designs are on the rise in New York City but remain difficult to realize.

The future of green buildings and construction is exciting and, if you pardon the pun, energized with regard to development of new ideas, products, techniques and technologies that will conserve energy and natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint and result in healthier homes, learning centers and workplaces.

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

With everything being written about going green in commercial office buildings, it’s not surprising that people come away with the impression that it costs. A lot. True that major retrofits, renovations, a complete changeover to LED lighting and putting in a green roof are all expensive. But there are ways to cut back on energy and go greener without major investment

Turn It Off:

“It” can be a light that isn’t truly necessary; lights used intermittently such as those in rest rooms; a computer not being used. At night, all electronics should be turned off including office copiers
if feasible.

Crank It Up:

There’s energy savings with only a few points of upward change in AC setting. To add to comfort, consider making casual Fridays on other days. Make the upward change one small degree at a time. You’ll reach the resistance point but the point is to find that point.

Change It Out:

Changing out a light bulb to a longer-lasting LED light can save considerable energy over time, reduce maintenance and keep areas cooler as LED lights don’t diffuse heat as much as other light sources. While retrofitting a whole building might be well beyond the operating budget, individual lamps are another thing all together. Building managers can consider converting to LED lighting one area at a time.

Paint it White:

In this case, we’re referring to the roof. Creating a green roof is an extensive and expensive undertaking as well as requiring long-term maintenance. Lacking that budget or commitment, the simplest way to save energy is to paint the roof with a reflecting coat of white to keep the building cooler.

Tune It Up:

Whether individual office or entire building, make sure all equipment and systems are working at peak performance. Seal leaks. Calibrate thermostats. Insulate water tanks. Change filters.

Keep It Clear:

Don’t block vents with paper, files, clothing or other office supplies. You use 25% more energy when vents are blocked.

Use It Wisely:

Energy costs are high so conserve what you can. Insulating windows, pulling drapes and shutting blinds can keep AC in and energy costs down.

Think Smaller:

A laptop is more energy efficient than a full size computer and monitor, drawing 15-25 vs. 150 watts. Ink jet printers use less energy than even some of the new energy-efficient laser printers. A LED task light will take up less space, use less energy and provide focused light in place of overhead lighting (where you can consider shutting down every third or fourth light.)

Be Literal:

Adding live plants to the lobby, corridors and offices will serve to clean surrounding air, reduce carbon monoxide and add oxygen. Use plants in front of glass windows to create a shading effect and control solar heat gain. They also reduce dust, bacteria and mold.

Statistics show that commercial office buildings squander 30% of energy consumed. The above tips are, for the most part, easy to implement and can make inroads into that double digit waste.

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

You know the light bulb that clicks on above a cartoon character’s head?

That “ah ha” moment is an epiphany, a quantum leap of understanding. Suddenly there’s absolute realization that you need to quit your Wall Street job to become a chef or move to Montana to raise a crop of dental floss.

There aren’t many epiphanies that occur in commercial real estate – there aren’t many epiphanies that occur ever – but, as it happens, I happened to have one.

A dozen years ago, I was appraising a newly built building in Battery Park City for the construction loan takeout. But not just any building. It was the very first green residential multifamily building in the United States.

It was groundbreaking with green features that barely existed elsewhere. When it was completed in 2003, the industry still considered green building and sustainability to be economically unfeasible, or at least a major economic challenge. Back then, the U.S. Green Building Council was still explaining what a green building even was.

Thus when the Albanese Development Corp announced they were building The Solaire, the response was a resounding “let’s wait and see” or perhaps even, “better them than me.”

But for me, being in the recently leased-up The Solaire was a revelation. I could breathe noticeably better. I had a marked sense of well being. I was to learn that the indoor air was always filtered and monitored, right down to whether to add humidity or dehumidify. A building employee told me about a little boy with asthma who lived there who went on a school break to Disney World with his mother and asked if they could come back early because he could breathe better at home.

At that moment, in that building, I saw the future of real estate and it was going to be green. Certainly not immediately. But eventually. As an appraiser, it set my course for becoming the first (and still only) LEED BC+D commercial real estate appraiser in New York City.

Now, of course, all of us understand, encourage, embrace and support green buildings. But I keep going back to that little boy who knew, way back when, that while Disney might be the happiest place on earth, a green home was the healthiest.

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