Sustainability for tenant improvement projects

Tenant improvements are often driven by a change of occupant and/or operational change rather than functional use during the course of a building’s life cycle. These interior-focused remodeling projects can also offer an opportunity to review system operations, design layouts, and the construction process itself to determine where it is feasible to incrementally address sustainability concerns.

Growth and Influence of Regulations

In some jurisdictions, government regulations provide guidance on the minimum levels of effort that must be assigned to sustainability issues according to the size and cost of the project.

There is growing awareness, particularly in Europe, of the productivity value of occupant access to daylight. As a result, regulatory policies in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, would affect a decision to revise an office layout for a tenant improvement project. This policy would most likely produce a design issue related to workstations that focuses on reducing the area occupied by exterior offices to allow more direct sunlight into cubicle areas.

In the case of energy and water use, submetering is often a solution pursued in multi-tenant buildings to allow management to pass along accurately apportioned costs for individual tenants. This system change does not require redesigning the plumbing layout, but is critical for tenants to monitor and reduce their own energy use. Many states and municipalities, such as Washington, DC, and New York City have begun to require submetering. In addition, steps toward many industry certifications, including Energy Star and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), award points for submetering.

Sustainable Practices and Tenant Improvement Projects

More often than not, the degree to which sustainability issues are considered is a function of budget and other resource commitments, including time. Focusing on a standard set of sustainable impact areas and standard operating procedures helps management and tenants to think strategically in terms of the best long-term solutions.

Building Systems Impact

Certain building systems and components require thorough analysis and consideration during tenant improvement projects to ensure a sustainable focus. These systems and components include:

  • Energy management systems
  • Multiple sources, allocated demands, discrete tracking
  • Air handling systems
  • Distribution, flow, temperature, humidity, and pressurization zones
  • Water systems
  • Distribution and reuse in occupancy and operations, building, and landscaping
  • Lighting systems
  • Daylighting and task lighting
  • Waste systems
  • Primarily recycling and reuse in terms of gray water

Strategies for Success

In addition to a focus on building systems and their key components in relation to sustainable tenant improvement projects, certain common practices should be employed to ensure project success. While seemingly small in terms of overall impact, these considerations are critical to building marketability and value. Areas that must be addressed are:

  • Completing building assessments
  • Installing additional building system monitors
  • Installing additional building system controls
  • Evaluating the functionality of design layouts
  • Revisiting the typical construction supply chain
  • Replacing and renovating finishes and furnishings
  • Disposing of project waste

Completing Building Systems Assessments

As mentioned above, building managers should use tenant improvement projects as an opportunity to assess all current systems and identify underperformers. Examples of opportunities presented for system assessment may include addressing water leakage, energy use that is inconsistent with installed products, and waste disposal practices. As buildings are often commissioned only when systems are initially installed, recommissioning systems and reevaluating water, waste, and energy practices can produce immediate sustainability gains.

This assessment may identify opportunities for recycling water for landscaping use of gray water. It might also discover, for example, that occupants use the building’s back door, which closes more slowly, more frequently than the front door, but hardly ever use the side door.

Security, lighting, and parking may also be reconsidered based on information gathered during the assessment process.

A common recommissioning result achieved through the assessment process is the discovery that a system is not performing correctly. For example, one air handler may not be functioning at capacity, forcing others to take its load or causing inconsistent airflows in various office areas. Even when no action items are identified, a preproject assessment establishes a performance baseline that will later be used to evaluate outcomes.

Installing Additional Building Systems Monitors

An effective practice to enhance noncompliant operations issues involves the installation of monitoring systems to track the use of resources by building occupants in a timely manner.

For multitenant buildings, this presents an opportunity to install submetering options or other evaluation tools to identify use at a more discrete level. Submetering is the practice of installing meters within a zone or wing of a building to measure electricity, water, or gas usage that can be attributed to a specific business unit, division, or department. Historically, the usual practice has been to have a single meter for the entire building. But if greater detail in analyzing energy use is desired, multiple meters should be installed to enable deeper analysis and allocate energy costs more equitably in order to achieve desired overall building efficiency goals.

Submetering also permits more direct billing of energy, water, and waste systems costs, which can support benchmarking efforts and drive occupants’ proactive sustainability behaviors.

Along with submetering, sensors are another tool that can be implemented to provide additional weather and equipment-utilization data to examine user behaviors and overall efficiencies.

Other types of monitoring tools may include cameras in entry locations. Adding cameras to these areas can offer data on foot traffic patterns, noise, and lighting levels to reevaluate building systems deployment in foyers and at delivery docks.

At a bare minimum, these various monitoring systems offer the opportunity to disclose discrete space and system-level data to tenants, owners, and operators that are not obtainable based on previous technology solutions focused on single-meter practices. This level of detailed analysis is also being demanded as building professionals seek to increase asset value and marketability by pursuing certification credentials such as the BOMA 360 Performance Program, BOMA BEST, Green Globes, and LEED.

Whether displayed in the lobby or evaluated by asset managers and financial analysts, these detailed building operational data sources provide useful discussion points for sustainability concerns and potential gains. The installation of aftermarket monitoring solutions across a large portfolio of buildings or units is useful to offer standard data for comparisons and opportunities to highlight outliers that may require additional attention.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s High-Performance Sustainable Building Practices, part of the new High-Performance Sustainable Buildings credential (BOMI-HP™). More information regarding this course or the BOMI-HP™ credential is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website,