Green Building Faces Tremendous Change & Growth as USGBC Celebrates 10th Anniversary

By Jenifer L. Seal & William D. Browning

Looking back over the last 10 years of the emerging green building industry, we see tremendous change and growth. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is celebrating its 10th anniversary and continues to double its membership each year. Green building has moved from the fringes of real estate development to sit squarely on the agenda of many in the market. Two things are happening, though, that may not be on everyone’s radar screen. These represent truly significant indicators in the success of green development.

The first indicator is the fully integrated building designs that are emerging, many from internationally renowned architectural firms. These are not projects with tacked-on green features or technologies. Several projects are underway where the environmental performance of the building is largely a result of core design decisions. In each of these projects, form, skin and systems of the buildings are inseparable from the environmental performance goals. When you walk into these buildings, you realize they are fundamentally different. Take the 1.2-million-square-foot targeted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold David L. Lawrence Pittsburgh Convention Center designed by Rafael Violy and Burt Hill Kosar Rittelman, with the support of Green Building Alliance, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and others. With this project, we’re seeing the full integration of green design principles and the resulting performance is stellar as well. (The convention center estimates a 30 to 50 percent energy savings, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

The targeted LEED Platinum 390,000-square-foot designs for the California Academy of Science by Renzo Piano, Gordon Chong Associates, Ove Arup, RMI and others is another prime example of this core green building approach. Inside and out, this building design weaves natural storm water management, biological wastewater, energy production and more throughout the structure and exhibits, including a planetarium, an aquarium and a rainforest. The Academy is one of the 10 largest natural history museums in the world and brings the message of ecological research to nearly one-and-a-half-million visitors each year.

Finally, in Manhattan, the Durst Organization’s 2.1-million-square-foot skyscraper, One Bryant Park, on the drawing table with Cook + Fox, is another striking example. The developer is exploring a partial double-skin building design (walls with space between them, often done in Europe), which can be very expensive. If done properly, heating and cooling energy savings can be enormous. Raised floors, daylighting systems, onsite generation, sophisticated water conservation strategies and highly efficient mechanical systems will also be strong components under consideration.

The Durst Organization also created the landmark Conde Nast building at 4 Times Square. It serves as the first big signature building done as a green speculative project. This transition from owner-occupied and build-to-suit buildings to the speculative market marks the second significant indicator.

Any trend in real estate development usually starts with institutional, owner-occupied or build-to-suit projects. You know a shift is being made when you see the spec market start to pick up on the trend. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are typically the most risk averse of commercial property owners because they are quarterly driven and publicly traded. These are exciting times in the green building field; we’re starting to see REITs doing speculative projects. Michael Reschke, former chair of Prime Group Realty Trust, described this REIT’s 1.5-million-square-foot Bank One Corporate Center on Dearborn Street in Chicago: “The building creates a workplace for the new millennium, featuring numerous innovations in design and system technologies that will enhance the productivity and efficiency of any workforce located within.”

John Gattuso, senior vice president of Liberty Property Trust and head of the REIT’s Urban National Development group, has four LEED projects underway. He notes that one tenant made LEED a criteria on the transaction of the deal; they wanted a high-performance building. This 258,000-square-foot project gave his team the opportunity to practice with this concept of green, something that the company had been thinking about. They ended up with an impressive LEED Gold project.

Still, he comments that this project is a small fraction of the 17.4 million square feet the company has leased. His Urban National Development group is testing the waters with green design and helping educate the rest of the company. Gattuso’s large-scale, urban projects, such as the Pennsylvania Plaza Project in Allentown, are very suitable for this testing. Large buildings have big budgets, and big budgets often allow developers, architects and engineers to push their creativity and try things that wouldn’t dare be considered with smaller projects and smaller budgets. These big buildings serve as important economic engines in a couple of important ways. They can enlarge demand for green products and technologies, thereby expanding production capabilities and lowering the price of PVs, turbines, special glazings, etc. (Gattuso notes that one manufacturer created a new green carpet by working on his Plaza project.) Although this is not necessarily a quality of green buildings only, they will also have huge impacts on the cities’ economies.

Some REITs and others in the industry are realizing the importance of getting beyond pure commoditization of space and pure rent. High performance green building can be seen as a measure of quality and a way to lead in the market. Gattuso comments that to not engage in this emerging green building field is a risk to his company because the market is becoming more cognizant of the full benefits of green development: lower operating costs, lower churn costs, higher worker productivity, attraction and retention, lower capital costs, and benefits to the overall community.


Jenifer Seal and William Browning are principals with Rocky Mountain Institute’s Green Development Services. They have collaborated for years on numerous consulting projects and publications, including the landmark book: Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate, Green Developments CD-ROM, and the productivity study: Greening the Building and the Bottom Line.

FROM Environmental Design + Construction, a Content Partner

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