Healthy Buildings is the path up and onward!

I hosted a panel for a webinar with BOMA – the Building Owners and Managers Association – on Tuesday March 29th. Our segment starts at 25:00, after a great overview presentation about LEED, WELL, and Fitwel. We had a good discussion of how to pursue healthy buildings and also how to manage a pandemic by implementing a health security program.

You can watch it here now.

The speakers were Ben Myers, Vice President, Sustainability at Boston Properties, and Melissa Miller, Account Manager at Janitronics. These two companies have formed a symbiotic partnership over the years and worked together to address COVID-19 by standing up a Health Security Task Force in the early days of the pandemic, and issued scientifically-validated guidance for their office locations in April, 2020. This guidance was provided as an open-source resource to the entire industry, and has been updated for 2021 as the science has advanced. Because Boston Properties has had a long term commitment to sustainability and meeting stakeholder (not just customer) needs, and because of Janitronics’ long-term trustworthiness and attention to detail as a valued vendor, they were able to team up effectively to meet the challenging times.

We discussed how healthy buildings enhances the tenant experience and improves retention rates. In the post-pandemic world, office operators may be challenged by reduced demand. Ben says there will be a flight to quality, and Boston Properties is ready to come in ahead of the pack, due to their focus on the customer and especially their attention to health and health aspects of buildings. He mentioned that he sees them pursuing strategies to address indoor air quality on an ongoing basis, rather than periodic testing, and has an IAQ Technical Working Group developing a program right now.

On the webinar, we looked at how BXP has embraced the Fitwel system to validate their healthy building efforts, using their important categories of: promoting occupant safety, increasing physical activity, instilling a sense of wellbeing, supporting social equity, and advancing public health. They have won the “Best in Building Health” award from the Center for Active Design and developed the first ground-up Fitwel-certified project in the nation, at the Back Bay Station redevelopment project.

What is Fitwel, Scorecard, Criteria, Cost, Ambassador, Champion and more  Sustainable Investment Group

Janitronics has embraced the system as well, as they are the front-line of engagement for healthy building outcomes. Their cleaning services mean they are in every part of the building, every day, and can implement health strategies on an ongoing basis. They have had many of their employees attain Fitwel Ambassador and have an internal resource committee to share best practice. This means they can respond better to their client, Boston Properties.

I have been leading the strategy at Janitronics to embrace healthy building strategies. Their commitment to the topic also means they are helping Boston Properties at the other end of the enterprise: the investors. With ESG as such a huge attention-grabber at the institutional investor level, it is important that vendors like Janitronics can feed up into the metrics that Boston Properties is pursuing for their ESG reporting.

In the months to come, I’ll be working with Janitronics to pursue many ESG metrics such as GHG emissions, water use, and waste generation. We are tracking employee issues like diversity, trainings, and social services (Janitronics provides financial literacy training, for instance). And there are also governance issues to track, such as gender pay equity, conflict of interest policies and whistleblower protections. ESG enables a business to see into non-financial aspects of their operations in order to avoid risk and engage transparency to the benefit of their stakeholders. Investors like this.

I look forward to working more with Janitronics and Boston Properties to advance sustainability in the built environment. Healthy buildings are good for people right now, and for future generations. Let me know if I can help you with your ESG journey.

How do you do ESG?

Team up with me to delve into ESG and enhance your corporate social responsibility.

Services:

ESG Assessment – I will examine your business to determine where, in regards to ESG, you are excelling and where you are in need of support.

ESG Framework – to shape attention and engage with stakeholders, let me help you develop an ESG strategy and framework to build from.

ESG Reporting – I’ll help your company report your progress at a number of different entities including GRI, CDP, and more.

How to attain green & healthy buildings? A BOMA Presentation

This coming week I’ll be moderating a panel for BOMA Boston, the property and facilities managers’ organization. You can sign up here.

We are excited to present on LEED, WELL, and Fitwell, and how each of these systems shape attention and drive performance on sustainability and health outcomes for buildings. Using these systems tracks indicators and pushes management to deliver on improvements for better occupant experiences.

I’ll be guiding a short conversation among key stakeholders at Boston Properties and Janitronics on how they use rating systems and scoring programs to focus attention on health outcomes. Their sustainability priorities have created organizational infrastructure that engaged a fabric of professionals across their teams. The interpersonal relationships of this infrastructure became a crucial strength at the outset of the COVID pandemic.

With solid working relationships and trust, these team members had high collaboration and functionality, and became the go-to group to handle the pandemic response. They created the Boston Properties Health Security Plan, which had guided response work and ensured safety for users of their buildings. Their protocols were adopted by many real estate operators across the globe – kudos to them! [Here is the March 2021 updated version of this Health Security Plan]

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#OfficeFutures: who wants to work, where?

With progress on the pandemic front due to successful public health interventions and the roll-out of the vaccines, people are starting to see the path back to “business as usual” and the return to offices. Our extended experience of work-from-home has altered the equation permanently. Various companies like Salesforce and even the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are planning to let people work from home in significant ways in the future. How will commercial real estate respond? CRE value depends on tenants paying for space!

JLL issued a report that describes the trends and “emerging user profiles” for office space. The takeaways are that 66% of workers want to work remotely following the pandemic, and about half the workforce will want to work half-time in offices. Does this mean an outright 25% reduction in demand? I think the types of enterprises matter, the type of work matters.

Reports like this are shaping the narrative around #ReturnToWork and the future value of #CRE. JLL fails to describe the real health benefits of a curated workplace experience and the economies of scale that such curation/management have on productivity. Of course, most workplaces skip this stuff, but it will be competitive advantage for tenant market share in the months and years to come.

Separately, I assert JLL’s report is quite a myth-maker and subject to confirmation bias: 2000 respondents? What 10 countries? Pray tell how a “representative” sample of worker types can truly be constructed. And of course, in such a limited market (office experience), can people really know what they want? For which purpose? Their satisfaction or the satisfaction of their employer paying for the space?

I believe there will continue to be a value proposition for office space, not just the “socialization” and corporate culture dimension highlighted by JLL, but also a fundamental focus on productivity for tenants through health and creativity curation. Regardless, observe the circus of these reports coming through from everyone scrambling to address the “shrinking” demand for office space!

Looking back one year ago, from the Gensler report of April, 2020: “Be open to new ways of working. The longer we work from home in large numbers, the more new habits and new ways of working will begin to take shape. We will have discovered different ways to collaborate virtually, which may likely continue when we return to the office. Workflows and communication might improve. We should embrace these changes and let them flourish.”

Impact Real Estate

We are entering a new era for real estate: impact investing is here.

For years, investors prioritized financial return and various social impact aspects of real estate were seen as “side effects” or otherwise not central to the investor.

Nowadays, it is hard to be distant from community relations and other effects of real estate development. Project proponents actually gain entitlements for doing more for the community – such as providing public access to green space, adding retail space to a multifamily development, supporting wildlife habitat and more.

The above project is an example of the work done by Placetailor, a design-build firm in Boston committed to sustainability and community regeneration.

Now, you are invited to support their work to address the triple bottom line. Investors are welcome to explore the opportunity to purchase shares in a new social impact investment fund. Placetailor will use the funds to secure sites, design, and build new net-zero, non-toxic, affordable housing in Boston.

Contact me if you are interested in reviewing the prospectus.

Mt Washington!

I made it up Mt. Washington over the weekend. It was a fine day but a chilly 5F at the top! My legs were jelly on the ski run down Sherburne Path to close out the day, though…

Supporting ESG in Real Estate

ESG: Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics are an important arena for real estate operators to engage with.

By using ESG metrics, a company can investigate aspects of the business that are not directly financial, but have impact on financial performance.

Nowadays, customers, investors, and other stakeholders are paying more and more attention to a company’s environmental issues, to the way they treat their employees, and even types of policies or protocols they honor.

If you have questions about ESG and want guidance to meet the needs of stakeholders who are asking you about it, I am happy to help.

I have supported ESG for a variety of companies and organizations. I can help set up a program for reporting, or provide guidance on implementing policies, or simply coach an executive to stay ahead of the topic.

I look forward to working with you!

Grey

Introducing Professor Lee [though not actually a professor!], Nice!

The semester is off to a great start. I’m am really excited and looking forward to the experience of being “the teacher.” Though really, I’ll be learning a lot more than I teach!

Here’s what I posted on LinkedIn: “Green Buildings, Urban Resilience, and Sustainability in Communities” is connecting a great student cohort at Harvard Extension and giving me a chance to share my subject matter expertise in a new way. I might post some of my readings here for you all, just so you can kind of follow along! hashtag#MoreGreenBuildings and hashtag#MoreResilientCities, hashtag#LetsGo!”

I was asked by my colleague in green building, Tom Gloria (who runs the Sustainability Masters program at the Extension School), to think about teaching, earlier this summer. One thing led to another and I jumped in. I did a lot of reading and sorting of my files to find good stuff to use – on green buildings, on resilience, on urban sustainability, and on change management and systems thinking. I am looking forward to bringing in some of the leadership, communications, and behavioral science that I gained while at the Kennedy School. This has been a big push but so far it is already rewarding.

The course link is here, and here is a link directly to the syllabus. The class meets online each Tuesday night this fall, from 7:20-9:20 through Zoom. I am looking for guest lecturers, so if something on the syllabus seems like your favorite topic to talk about, drop me a line. Thanks!

Taking E+ Buildings Mainstream

The City of Boston has a great program to lead the charge in the transformation of the residential sector toward sustainability & resilience. The E+ Program is led by my former Board Vice Chair and mentor, John Dalzell, Sr. Architect for Sustainable Development at the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BDPA). The program demonstrates the real possibility of energy positive buildings & technologies, it creates affordable housing, it opens up new concepts for urban design, and raises awareness for climate-responsive buildings. I love checking out these projects and learn more about the nitty-gritty of getting these things to happen.

The E+ Program has helped bring net positive residential development forward for the city. Boston has taken odd lots and partnered with community organizations to bring developers in who want to build exemplary buildings. The RFP process stipulates affordability, community-responsive design, and the creation of an net positive energy building – where it generates more power than it uses! These projects are contributing to Boston’s championship attainment as the #1 city for energy efficiency and in achieving the Boston 2050 Carbon Neutrality goal.

On Friday, July 26, the City hosted a “behind the walls” tour and open house of the E+ project at 65 Colonial Ave in Dorchester – in the Codman Square neighborhood. Various project partners were there – the BPDA, the development team, and various vendors of technologies used at the building. The program is sponsored by USGBC MA (my former organization), the Boston Society of Architects, and the local utilities – Eversource and National Grid. I went to visit, assuming I’d probably bump into some pretty cool people who are into this sort of thing.

On the site of what had been a bad old triple decker, the project was creating four units of premium housing in an ~8000sf structure, one affordable (at 80% AMI). It is about a 15 minute walk from the Shawmut red line station and a five minute walk to all the shops of Codman Square. It is going to be a great place for a few families to live. The units are either 2 or 3-bedroom and are all-electric. The building envelope has a HERS rating of 38, and with solar installed it gets down to 19. It’s insulated to R-50 and has triple-glazed windows of R-5. It is going to be a LEED Platinum structure. This is the right stuff!

You can read more about the city’s program here.

I did bump into Nikhil Nadkarni, Energy Planner for my City of Cambridge, and we got to catch up a bit about Cambridge policy progress. John Dalzell was also there and I was able to tag into a tour with him and the project architect, Scott Payette, who I have known through USGBC for many years. I also met and was able to talk shop about developing E+ buildings with the developer, Charles Aggouras, and a separate E+ project developer, Jeffrey Dubard. It’s tricky to get these things to come together, even with the support of the City. Below is the best pic I have of John, walking up into the building tour:

You can read more about the project at 65 Colonial Ave here – lots of great info. I didn’t get to learn enough about the community engagement side of the equation, with Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation but I did see my colleague who works there, David Queeley, on the site. You can click on the renderings or inspect the schematic of the environmental features.

One thing I didn’t totally understand about the design was the rear sunken courtyard grottoes – how would you get out of it? A pool ladder or some other egress must be in the works…

Overall, a great project and a great event on a great day. Thank you BPDA, City of Boston and the E+ Program. Shout out to The Green Engineer who are doing the sustainable design consulting for the project, and Studio 2112 who is doing the landscape architecture. It will all balance out and they will call it Cygnus, right? [sorry non-Rush fans!]

Update: Real Estate Crowdfunding

I wanted to revisit the real estate crowdfunding options out there, seeing as I have my own at MoreGreenBuildings.net, and I want everyone to be monitoring the competition.

There still is no other specifically green building real estate crowdfunding site. But here are the big ones that people pay attention to:

Fundrise:

This group continues to make progress and evolve. According to their website, they have cumulative total returns at the end of 2018 of about $65M and last year their funds averaged 9.1%. An investor can put money (as low as $500) into different vehicles to focus on dividend income, asset appreciation, or a mix of both. Based in DC, they have about 80 people on staff and are growing.

This is for non-accredited investors, looks at both commercial and residential, but doesn’t have a particular screen for social responsibility or green features. A lot of their investments seem to be multi-family projects, both ground-up and repositionings. They now have put $2.5B in investments into property and are continuing to innovate their product mix. They have offered shares of Fundrise itself to user-investors which is sort of a social responsibility-aligned play.

I have enjoyed tracking them but I have not invested in them. The basics are they create a low threshold for investment, solicit funds from anyone and everyone, and put the money into a few different portfolios that invest in small real estate projects throughout the US. You can cash out by giving them notice (there is a 60-day waiting period and up to a 3% penalty), but it is supposed to be pretty liquid.

I’m impressed with their operations – they have managed the reporting and communications efficiencies they need, and seem to be choosing the right projects to go after. I’m not sure if it’s because of the access to capital from the crowd or the diminished feedback loop from the crowd (investors are not opposing any given investment) which makes Fundrise faster on the draw to pick up properties, or if there’s just a lot of junky property out there that this entity is just lucky enough to pick up and arbitrage to their favor.

A Patch of Land

Rich Uncles

Realty Mogul

Other crowdfunding sites with higher bars include:

  • CrowdStreet
  • Origin Investments
  • AlphaFlow
  • EquityMultiple