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The Big (And Fast!) Payback: Observer on The Sped-Up Timeline for Green Savings

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Because the gbNYC bloggy back catalog is still in transition after our triumphant return to WordPress, I can’t yet link back to some of our previous posts on the rapidly closing distance in cost between building green and building brown and the accelerated timetable for realizing savings from green practices relative to brown. (Which I know is a gross expression, by the way, “brown building,” but which I plan to keep on using despite that) And that’s fine, honestly, since if you’re reading gbNYC, you probably already know this. The fun stuff for us green building dorks, of course, is 1) cool green buildings and 2) watching the widening gap between increasingly efficient green building practices and conventional practices (which aren’t getting any less conventional). We all know, though, that the most-important thing is getting people to build green in the first place, and that cost — and perception of cost — are hugely important in that. If only there was a way that a big real estate developer — let’s use SL Green for example — could start off with a small green retrofit campaign, realize how cheap and valuable and easy it is to save money through green building practices, and then extend that philosophy throughout its portfolio. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Yes, it would:

“The director of architecture and sustainability for Reckson, a division of SL Green, said the firm began its green initiatives by recycling carpet and ceiling tiles in its suburban office portfolio, then graduated to lighting retrofits and to installing a solar roof on one of its office buildings in Greenwich, Connecticut,” the New York Observer’s Eugene Gilligan writes. “Finding savings in one area emboldened the firm to find ‘green savings’ in other areas, and Mr. Black said Reckson’s portfolio of suburban properties is being used as a proving ground for measures that could eventually be adopted in SL Green’s New York City ones.”

Thus begins Gilligan’s interesting and generally very encouraging feature on the newly hyperspeed timeline for return-on-investment from green building. While SL Green/Reckson figures throughout the piece as a real-world example, the bigger point that Gilligan’s feature bears out is that the future green building people have been hoping for — one in which there’s both a financial and environmental incentive for green practices, and thus a near-instantaneous return on investment — is just about upon us. Obviously there’s work to be done, here, and obviously there are going to be developers who seek only to build as quickly and idiotically as possible (and asleep-at-the-switch zoning boards that allow this). There’s also the problem of “LEED Brain”-style attachment to more ostentatious but less-effective green signifiers like rooftop solar panels and wind turbines — and to a lesser degree of LEED, which doesn’t necessarily deliver the efficiency its strong brand suggests. But as it becomes possible to start realizing savings on investments on building commissions and energy audits within one calendar year, and as the cost of green building materials come down, building green goes from being “An Attractive And Responsible Way To Brand And Improve A Building” to “Absolute No-Brainer.” If we are in fact approaching a tipping point of sorts as regards the cost and perception of green building, then the next couple of years could be very fun to watch and very profitable for the green building biz.

And when the magic of the market — not this kind, the good kind — takes over, the… uh. I haven’t figured out the rest, but I assume it involves everyone getting jetpacks that run on hugs or something. We can’t get those jetpacks until green practices become the real estate default, though, and we can’t get to that until the cost of green practices and the timeline for green savings shrink. But it sure seems as if it’s happening, or close to happening. What I’m saying is that I am maybe considering getting fitted for a jetpack.

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