Sustainability as a Market Advantage - Page 3
My college age son just completed a seminar course about energy and the environment, and now he is taking a class called “Energy, Environment and Economics” to satisfy a general education requirement in the area of “Personal and Social Responsibility.” Maybe the rest of us should be required to take such courses as part of our continuing education.
One problem noted by Ustler in creating market demand for sustainable buildings is that, for the most part, you can’t tell by looking whether a building is sustainable or not.
Green is “visually confusing”, he says, and he is largely correct. While the Orlando Utilities Building (certified to LEED Gold) prominently displays a large solar panel and rain collection tower on the roof, most sustainable buildings look just like any other buildings. The reality is, the “sustainable” part of sustainable buildings lies within the systems and materials choices, not in visual elements.
Ustler is not overwhelmingly enamored with LEED Certification as a measuring tool. LEED doesn’t require buildings to be built near mass transit, restaurants and personal services (like doctors, grocery stores, etc.) or that less parking spaces be built.
You can build a LEED Platinum building in the middle of nowhere, and while the building might be energy efficient, the tenants/users may not be because they have to drive long distances to get there, and have to drive just to get to a restaurant at lunch time. Ustler admits that one of his strategic advantages for the GAI Building (the increased parking ratio) is not an environmentally friendly feature, but as he says, “I have to build to this market, so the higher ratio gives me a market advantage.”
As we closed the interview, Ustler was philosophic. “We don’t know if we’re right in building green. We are a local neighborhood developer, and we like to do what is right for our community. It’s the right thing to do. But in the end, with respect to the GAI building, if we are wrong and green/sustainable does not grow legs, we won’t be out a lot of money.”
I’d say that is an economically defensible and safe bet in the real world. Let’s hope there are more developers like Craig Ustler out in the marketplace.