Active Upgrading, Energy Monitoring Also Part of SL Green Sustainability Approach
LEED and Energy Star are two strategies that both fit with SL Green’s overarching three—pronged sustainability goals: efficiency, tenant experience, and industry leadership. LEED, for example, “has been a fantastic guideline for us,” says Black. “It’s influenced many of our programs and initiatives.” Other important parts of the company’s sustainability efforts include active upgrading of existing buildings with new technology and equipment, assessing the bottom—line benefits of upgrades, and using real—time energy monitoring.
From the beginning when Black was advocating for occupancy sensors and LED exit signs in suburban properties, and since 2011 in his sustainability leadership role, Black has focused SL Green’s sustainability program on the three—pronged goals. It’s important that anything he does — whether a retrofit or an operational strategy — contributes to each of those three areas in meaningful ways.
Upgrading properties with new technology and better equipment is foundational to SL Green’s sustainability success. Of course, fully redeveloping properties, or even building new, is where huge efficiency gains can be made, but those opportunities don’t come along too often. So Black has adopted the philosophy of upgrading existing buildings with new technology well before old technology either fails or is hindering efforts to reach the company’s efficiency goal. That goal: SL Green hopes to reduce energy use 15 percent from 2013 levels by 2020. This is a process he calls “active retrofit” — and it’s a philosophy that has the full support of leadership, as well.
“We’re a large company and we run a large portfolio,” says Durels. “We’re in the business of attracting the highest rent, and that requires periodic investment in our buildings in order to stay competitive. We think this is the best way to spend money to stay ahead of the pack.”
This means more than simply upgrading lobbies or amenities, though those are important as well. But in terms of efficiency, the most prominent project Black has taken on is a systematic portfolio—wide lighting upgrade using LEDs. In the last four years, Black and his team have spent $5 million (including $700,000 in utility incentives) to install about 35,000 LEDs across about 40 properties.
“This is an exciting time,” says Black. “There are lots of different opportunities and technologies. It’s really critical in my role to stay on top of that.”
One of the keys to identifying opportunities for active retrofits is how well those upgrades will impact the bottom line in operations. Black acknowledges how important it is to connect upgrade intent with real—world savings in operations. “It’s important not just to be upgrading components, but then to run them, as well as what you have in place, to the best of their capabilities,” he says. “You always need to be cognizant of waste.” As he points out, the highest form of energy efficiency is to not use energy when it’s not needed.
To that end, Black uses a system of real—time energy monitoring across the portfolio to see quickly and easily how buildings are performing. This strategy grew out of the company’s demand—response initiative, and has since expanded to include dashboards and other visual elements. “This creates new opportunities to see how buildings are run,” says Black. “It’s a great tool to see if we’re optimizing performance.” Black says they’ve been able to tweak operational strategies like start—up and shut—down times to maximize efficiency. But it also helps identify problems — even on a small scale, like if a bathroom vent has been running all night.
“It’s an active strategy,” he says. “We’re scrutinizing data to find anomalies in systems and find further deficiencies that we wouldn’t otherwise see. It creates another level of opportunity for optimizing performance. In existing buildings, this is critical.”