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It pays to be green, says study

The potential financial benefits of sustainable and energy-efficient design are in the spotlight after a study found green developments in the United States were securing higher rents, sale prices and occupancy rates than conventional non-green buildings.

Sustainability experts are now looking to see whether the roll-out of energy performance certificates (EPCs) and take-up of sustainable rating  systems such as the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) could have a similar impact in the UK.

Simon Guy, head of marketing at BRE Global, said it was keen to secure independent data on whether BREEAM improved the marketability of a property. “We are in discussions with the Investment Property Databank about how we can expand on this and develop an ongoing relationship that will quantify the economic and environmental benefits of BREEAM and other sustainability tools for commercial buildings,” he said.

US research project was undertaken by real-estate information specialist CoStar Group. It compared more than 1,300 buildings rated under sustainability certification scheme LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and the Government-backed energy efficiency rating system EnergyStar against “non-green” properties of a similar size, location, class, tenancy and age. Nationally, the study found both schemes secured higher rents, sale prices and occupancy rates.

Kent Peterson, president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers said the growing trend was helped by the cost of sustainable building coming down: “This is an economic trend we are seeing in the
US as the real-estate industry has begun to track metrics for green building developments.

“As more building teams use integrated building design, we are finding that these projects are not paying a first cost premium to be energy-efficient and green.”

Tim Dwyer, acting head of the Engineering Systems Department at South Bank University, said the introduction of EPCs for commercial buildings offered huge potential in the UK: “In the same way the EPC has excited interest in energy assessment in homes for the general public I believe that the EPC – and in future the Display Energy Certificates – will affect not only the perceptions, but also the value of buildings.

US has seen some high-profile building operators demanding high LEED scores – although of course only 15 per cent of the total LEED score is directly related to energy use. The big difference in the UK is that the EPCs will be mandatory whereas the requirement for LEED is still largely client-driven.

“However, I believe they will have a common effect – the driving up of client expectation that should, if used properly, improve the public profile of the building services engineer as well as encourage innovative solutions.”

Hugh Mulcahey, head of consulting at Gensler, said EPCs – alongside higher energy prices, the credit crunch and increased regulation – were forcing companies to think about energy efficiency. He said top performing companies were reviewing the amount of space they used and wanted flexible, high quality and energy-efficient offices which would save them money while protecting their reputation.

“Any corporation with a scrap of corporate responsibility does not want to be associated with poorly performing buildings,” he said. “Having poor performing secondary space with a poor energy certificate will be lunacy in an economic downturn. It is important for investors and occupiers to realise this or they will make some pretty poor decisions.”