Green office property trends in 2013

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27 Mar 2013

Coupled with benefits of green buildings in South Africa, the focus of the green building industry will continue to switch from new building design and construction to greening existing buildings, says Manfred Braune, technical executive at the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA).

Braune says the GBCSA is developing a similar Green Star SA tool for interiors tenant fit-outs as well as a Green Star SA rating tool that will assess the performance of an operational building, both of which will be launched in pilot in October 2013.

Braune explains that there is a continuing trend to urban development, and that it favours renovation over new building.

However, he says there will be a significant increase in improving the performance of existing buildings, because the capital outlays required for new buildings is often not possible in the current economic climate.

“This will include everything from individual tenant refits, soft building retrofits all the way to deep retrofits,” he says.

He points out that in each of these cases, it will become more important to distinguish and transparently benchmark the impact of the resultant retrofit (in terms of energy, water, waste, materials etc.), because tenants are becoming more aware of how these factors are eroding their profits.

“Independent green building certification of your retrofit or your operational building will become the means by which both tenants and shareholders receive a trusted confirmation of how the asset, they either occupy or own a share in will perform.”

As an example, he says GBCSA ratings tools such as the Green Star SA tool for office buildings can be used on deep retrofits.

Braune says the GBCSA is developing a similar Green Star SA tool for interiors tenant fit-outs as well as a Green Star SA rating tool that will assess the performance of an operational building, both of which will be launched in pilot in October 2013.

These trends are also marked by the uptake in the Global Real Estate Benchmark, which relies on rating tools such as Green Star SA in SA, LEED in the USA and BREEAM in the UK, as their yard stick for the property industry who want to be benchmarked via GRESB, he explains.

Absa Towers West building in the Johannesburg CBD, the bank’s green building.

Support in SA for such rating tools can be seen from various key industry organisations with a firm interest in the property sector, including Growthpoint Properties Limited and Eskom, sponsors of the energy and water benchmark tool, as well as Standard Bank and Saint Gobain, sponsors of the Interiors tool, says Braune.

Green leases

Braune says we will see an increase in green leasing agreements on both new and existing buildings as tenants are becoming more acutely aware and sensitive to the increase in utility costs, cutting into their own profit margins.

As such, he says landlords and tenants will need to be more creative in how their buildings and staff operations can perform at lower energy, water, waste and sewage levels, and how such savings and benefits can be shared between landlord and tenant.

In a US study entitled: Green Leasing, Fad, Fact, Fiction and the Fiction, a green lease is described as a lease that encourages sustainable or environmentally conscious practices such as recycling, reduction of energy and water use, use of sustainable materials and products and creating a healthier and more working environment.

Braune says the primary benefit of green leases is in owning and occupying operationally efficient and sustainable buildings.

Some of these benefits will be primarily for tenants, others primarily for landlords and some shared.

However, he says all are interlinked and rely on both parties - and their agents and contractors and employees - acting for their shared benefit.

“There is also the key benefit to society of reduced environmental impact - green leases are a mechanism for regulating the delivery of this shared value.”

Braune says we will see an increase in green leasing agreements on both new and existing buildings as tenants are becoming more acutely aware and sensitive to the increase in utility costs, cutting into their own profit margins.

According to Braune, the management and operation of new and existing building stock has been identified as a key area for the sustainable building industry to focus on.

In recognising this, the GBCSA and South African Property Owners Association developed a Green Lease Toolkit to give the South African property industry the tools to begin to address the sustainable management and operation of buildings.

The Green Lease Toolkit is available for download on the GBCSA website (free for GBCSA members and at a cost of R228 for non-members)

Benefits of Green leases

1. Enhanced reputation for owners and tenants

2. Improved staff retention and productivity

3. Improved asset performance - (value, rental premiums and reduced vacancy rates)

4. Reduced operational costs

5. Reduced exposure to regulatory changes – (such as carbon tax and energy efficiency reporting)

6. Meeting corporate reporting requirements – such as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Socially Responsible investment Index and the King III.

Water harvesting

According to Advance Green, alternate energy consultants, a green building has a competitive commercial advantage when looking for tenants/occupants.

The consultants point to water harvesting as being a major component in green building design as it ensures that the consumption of water is minimised.

Nedbank Menlyn Maine in Pretoria is one of the bank's green properties in Gauteng.

Most buildings capture rain water or recycle grey water for use in either the gardens or car washes or flushing toilets.

Furthermore they say the carbon footprint of bottled water is a huge trend.

As an example, Advance Green in their head office in Randburg, Gauteng has installed a plant that generates “water from the atmosphere” and supplies it directly to their employees throughout the facility, via strategically placed dispensers.

Over the past seven years, a unique water generating system which condenses very high quality drinking water from the air using advanced condensation technology has been developed.

In conjunction with this technology, Cirrus Water Management, one of the companies they work with has also developed a grey water recycling system, which not only assists with the generators' climate control systems, but also provides a cost effective source of clean recycled water, they explain.

Units are modular and can generate between 100 and 1 200 litres per day depending on the clients' requirements.

Not only does the solution ensure fresh drinking water to their employees 24/7 but it is environmentally friendly as the natural resource is untouched.

In the event of the council supply being interrupted the building still has drinking water, according to Advance Green.

Previously the company had bottled water delivered to the building.

Energy efficiency

Sandile Mthiyane, head of Africa corporate real estate services engineering at Absa, says while they cannot limit trends to a specific number of items in green buildings, they believe energy efficient and sustainable buildings matter.

Tangney says the workplace is no longer just a place where you go to work. It is now a space that needs to adapt according to the needs of the people that use it.

Mthiyane says this includes energy efficient lighting, occupancy sensors that switch off light when buildings are unoccupied, energy efficient air-conditioning, buildings with large window areas to make use of natural light and recycling bins at specific points to replace individual staff bins.

All of these, have been implemented at Absa Towers West building in the Johannesburg CBD, the bank’s green building.

Workplace design

It’s not just the technical design that defines a green building, but how office working spaces are designed for employees - that is a trend to watch out for going forward.

According to Kerry Tangney, Nedbank manager for design, workplace design has slowly been evolving towards a more staff-centred focus.

It’s about providing a space that caters for the wide variety of different needs and functions of the individual as well as the department, she says.

“It’s all about creating opportunities to meet, to discuss, to network and to re-group.”

Tangney says the workplace is no longer just a place where you go to work. It is now a space that needs to adapt according to the needs of the people that use it.

As an example, she says at their property, Nedbank Menlyn Maine in Pretoria, the use of an open plan desk policy as well as reusable materials in creating the office environment helps to ensure they maintain a maximum level of flexibility within the workspace.

“Our reception area is truly symbolic of current trends with one of our proudest landmarks being the vertical garden.”

‘Bringing the outside inside’ is a huge trend at the moment and plants have always been a peaceful and calming influence in an interior space, she says.

She points out that the biggest trend at the moment (and has been for the last few years) is ‘green’ design.

Incorporating the use of sustainable materials and building practices within the workspace.

“We are constantly challenging and assisting our suppliers and contractors to produce high quality, cost effective and eco-friendly materials and solutions.”

The fact that we have three green star rated occupied buildings is proof of our intentions to remain at the forefront of ‘green’ design and to constantly push the boundaries, she adds. – Denise Mhlanga

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