These days, Transwestern firmly believes that a systematic, standardized approach to sustainability can be something that sets it apart from its competition.
Skodowski had already been heading up the first pass at standardizing best practices in sustainability. He'd also been working with the U.S. Green Building Council on its pilot programs for LEED for Portfolio — a way to certify a large number of facilities without having to submit paperwork on each one. Suffice it to say, then, Skodowski already had his finger on the pulse of what owners were looking for in terms of green.
The founding of the IQA team made it easier to develop a standardized program — the "good, better, best" rating system for assessing the space Transwestern manages. The "good, better, best" approach also has the advantage of promoting systemized training for the company's property managers to deliver best practices at whatever level of sustainability a client's asset currently occupies. Given that different clients want different sustainable outcomes (from a simple recycling program to a LEED certification) and different property managers are at different levels of expertise, the "good, better, best" system is the way by which Skodowski defines where a facility is now, the level of its managers' knowledge, and how they can all work together to improve.
The "good, better, best" program kicked off last fall. Skodowski and his team sent assessment questionnaires to all the managers of office properties in the company's portfolio. The questionnaire used LEED as its framework to outline the level of sustainability in the areas of operations and maintenance; purchasing, waste and recycling; water; energy; and indoor environmental quality.
"This was a major undertaking," says Skodowski. "In collecting this data, we made sure to get the data we needed, but not much more than that. We determined it took about eight hours to complete each survey."
The reason the surveys were so time-intensive is that managers had to gather and upload invoices, contracts and other documentation — no small feat in multi-tenant facilities.
Skodowski set up a help line to assist property managers "having heartburn," so that the Transwestern sustainability services team could help them do parts of the survey over the phone. All told, by May of this year, the team had received surveys back for 224 properties — about half of the company's portfolio of office properties. Huddling with the members of the IQA, and starting by defining "best" as strategies that would meet LEED-EBOM criteria, Skodowski developed the parameters for "good, better, best" in each of the categories of sustainability. (See "Transwestern's 'Good, Better, Best' Rating System" below.) For example, in the operations and maintenance section, a property that has a green cleaning program is "good," one that has a green cleaning and pest management program with contracts is "better," and one that has green cleaning, integrated pest management and tenant communication programs documented to meet LEED-EBOM standards is "best."
With all that data, Skodowski and his team could then start analyzing which regions were deficient in which areas. "Once we've identified the problems, we can literally go out and pull teams together and show them the strategies the 'best' facilities are using, and here's how you can make changes," he says. For example, if a region is almost all "good" on green cleaning, Skodowski says he'll go to that region, walk its leaders through the RFP process, bring in providers, set up training for the property managers, and allocate other resources to help them move up to "better" and then "best." Property managers can also use the data to benchmark against facilities in the same regions — giving those managers motivation to improve.
Again, the holy grail is that each facility in the portfolio will move up to "best," whether or not the property goes through formal LEED certification — though both Skodowski and Harding say they believe many will choose to do so. And if they do, Skodowski's team is right there to help them with the LEED application process.
One Washingtonian Center, a 316,000-square-foot Class A office building located in Gaithersburg, Md., stands as one of Transwestern's greatest successes, but also one of its most bitter disappointments — at least for one property management team.
The building, constructed in 1989, earned LEED-EBOM Platinum certification last year. It was a road to certification that started more than seven years ago, says Natasha Evstigneeva, senior property manager and vice president with Transwestern. In 2004, with a long deferred maintenance backlog and a laundry list of inefficiencies, engineers set to work on how to transform the building from an energy hog — with an Energy Star score of 54 — to an Energy Star.
In 2009, after several energy upgrades and a close partnership with tenants — including anchor tenant Sodexho — the building earned a Certified rating with LEED for Existing Buildings.
"Allan and his team took the lead from the beginning (of the LEED process)," says Evstigneeva. "He gave a real boost to the sustainability and LEED process."
Two of the main initiatives that secured certification were a recycling program that saved $160,000 in solid waste disposal fees in the first three years, and a program of working with tenants to cut conditioned air in the building during weekends when the building is mostly empty. If tenants wanted conditioning, they could simply email the property managers and cooling or heating would be turned on.
Still, the team wasn't satisfied. "We knew the building could do better," says Evstigneeva. They worked with the owner, LaSalle Investment Management, and made investments in variable frequency drives ($33,500 per year savings, 11-month payback), a garage lighting retrofit ($7,350 per year savings, 3.83-year payback) and a cooling tower upgrade. Water efficiency upgrades and pumping water from a decorative man-made lake in the front of the building for irrigation earned some innovation points, as well.
The team re-certified in 2010 with LEED-EBOM, this time at the Platinum level and with an Energy Star score of 95.
But, then, heartbreak. This spring, LaSalle Investment Management, which had purchased the building in 2000 for $59.25 million, sold it to CB Richard Ellis for $90 million, or about $285 per square foot. CBRE took over the day-to-day management of the building. Evstigneeva says she and her team were very sad when Transwestern lost the building. She says Sodexho gave her a framed photo of the building as a farewell gift, and told her how much they'd miss her and Transwestern. "It really was like a family," she says.
But there is a silver lining. LaSalle Investment Management has hired Transwestern to complete a LEED certification on another building — at 2020 K Street in Washington, D.C., an 11-story, 400,000-square-foot Class A building for which LaSalle Investment Management is the asset manager. "So we're starting the same process — looking at inefficiencies, deferred maintenance and recycling. It feels like déjà vu," says Evstigneeva.
— Greg Zimmerman
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