The Gradual Conversion two Class A Office Complexes into LEED Silver and LEED Gold

Energy savings alone are nearly double costs of capital improvements

by Eric Sheffer, LEED AP — Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Spectrum Properties | Emery has taken this message to heart, leading the charge for ongoing sustainable retrofits and operations in the Southeast. Though the North Carolina-based real estate company has been implementing best practices and pursuing LEED® certification on new construction projects for several years, the sustainability journey for 1.4 million square feet of their existing holdings in Franklin, Tennessee began in 2007 with a roofing retrofit. When the Carothers Building needed a new roof, the property management team chose to install a white roof, looking to lower cooling costs by reducing solar heat gain during the southern summer months.

Corporate Center II earned LEED Gold.

As the staggering energy-use reduction from this simple retrofit became apparent, the property management team continued seeking other opportunities for improvement. In 2009, the team began looking at the LEED for Existing Buildings rating system and a consulting contract was opened to investigate the likelihood of certification for each of the seven buildings. Following the results of a favorable feasibility study, the LEED process began in earnest in November 2009.

Located in the Cool Springs area, just south of Nashville, these seven Class A office buildings house numerous tenants from several industries, including finance, insurance, and medical, many of them Fortune 500 companies. The Carothers Building boasts just over 500,000 square feet of rentable office space and features a full service café and gym. The Corporate Centre campus offers over 850,000 square feet of rentable office space.

Identifying and implementing operational and minor equipment upgrades to align with LEED requirements took the team approximately six months, with another six months spent tracking data and verifying compliance. In December 2010, two applications were submitted to GBCI for review. It took several months to complete the application process for each project, which involves providing documentation, waiting for an initial review, and providing further documentation for audited credits. The Carothers Building, approximately 523,000 gross square feet, achieved LEED Silver in May 2011, and the six-building Corporate Centre campus, approximately 901,000 gross square feet, achieved LEED Gold in June 2011, four years after the journey began with a white roof.

Corporate Centre Campus earned nearly 40% of its LEED Gold points from Energy & Atmosphere.

Spectrum | Emery began implementing sustainable practices because they consider sustainable business practices the “right thing to do” and wish to position themselves as leaders in the Southeast. Because of USGBC’s recognition as the foremost green building certification provider, Spectrum chose to take their already sustainability-conscious operations to the next level using LEED as a framework. The discussion began, not with “how many points can we get,” but with “what makes sense for these buildings, at this time.” This gave the team freedom to step back and make informed decisions regarding the impact of each potential credit on their tenants, the environment, and their operating budget. If a credit was deemed inappropriate because of its potential impact on tenants, it was rejected. If a credit was desirable, but not feasible due to budget constraints, it was considered for future implementation. After tallying the points associated with each best-practice item that had been marked for pursuit, the team quickly realized that each property could achieve more than base certification. By fostering collaboration between the property management team, the consulting team, and vendors, these buildings were able to deliver truly impressive results. At the time of certification, Corporate Centre is the largest LEED Gold multi-tenant campus to certify using the LEED for Existing Buildings rating system in the Mid-South. The Carothers Building is the first commercial office building in Tennessee to achieve LEED Silver as an existing building

The highlights of this project were also its challenges; several unique hurdles were faced due to scope and size. Because of the multiple tenants, multiple buildings, and massive size, calculations and documentation for a number of LEED credits was more daunting than for a typical owner-occupied office building. Additionally, a number of credits were rejected due to impact on tenants, shrinking the pool of potential credits early in the planning process. For example, materials-related credits are especially challenging for a multi-tenant building, because the Property Management team cannot control the types of consumable materials or furniture their tenants purchase and use. Furthermore, best practices like recycling cannot be mandated in a multi-tenant situation, they can merely be offered and suggested. Finally, because the team was dedicated to pursuing sustainable activities that made sense, rather than those that netted the most points, some credits required lengthy considerations regarding first cost versus payback to determine their viability.

The Carothers Building earned over 40% of its points from Energy & Atmosphere.

This project tells a compelling story of continuous improvement. By making minor changes and upgrades over the course of several years, the team was able to reach the milestone of LEED certification while keeping first costs low and focusing on items with a reasonable pay-back period. Before LEED was brought to the table, a number of sustainable policies were written by the property management team, which helped soften the transition to LEED standards for a number of operational items, including green cleaning.

Spectrum Properties | Emery calculates cost savings since 2007, based on energy efficiency alone, to be more than $800,000. Capital investments in the LEED process, including certification fees, consulting costs, and equipment upgrades totaled approximately $470,000.

Congratulations all around! From left: Pat Emery of Spectrum Properties | Emery; Brooke Nicholson – Spectrum LEED project manager; Mayor of Franklin Ken Moore; Tabitha Goodman, Jamie Qualk and Eric Sheffer of SSRCx (and author).

Because the Carothers Building and the Corporate Centre campus are under fifteen years old, and had the advantage of good design and construction practices, the buildings were already stand-out performers in energy efficiency and few equipment upgrades were required. For many older buildings, major plumbing and/or HVAC system upgrades may be required to meet basic LEED requirements. Making each required upgrade within a few months may prove cost-prohibitive; however, by upgrading equipment as replacement becomes necessary, any building can embark on a sustainability journey of its own. An experienced LEED consultant is very helpful when determining whether or not your building is a good candidate for LEED certification and what types of upgrades may be required.

Because sustainability is a journey, these properties are continuing to follow the operating procedures and data tracking implemented during the LEED certification process, with the intention of pursuing recertification every five years. The property management team is also continually seeking ways to improve operations over and beyond LEED, including maintaining ENERGY STAR qualification on a yearly basis.

For more information, please contact Eric Sheffer, LEED AP, SSRCx Senior Project Manager, at 615.514.6132 or SSRCx is a division of Smith Seckman Reid, Inc. and a leading facilities commissioning provider and green building consultant.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Green Building Council is the nation’s leading coalition for the advancement of buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work. Established in 1993, the Council offers various products and services to include the LEED Green Building Rating System, an annual International Green Building Conference and Exposition, membership summits, information exchange, education, and policy advocacy.

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