Schulich paper explores strategies for sustainable development of commercial buildings

Research word graphic
Research word graphic

Getting a green building certification is only half the battle when it comes to making commercial buildings more sustainable and energy efficient, according to new research from the Schulich School of Business. 

In a newly published paper in the journal Energy Economics titled, “Beyond building certification: The impact of environmental interventions on commercial real estate operations,” researchers show that behaviour-focused “soft interventions” such as monitoring software and tenant engagement programs can be as effective as technical building engineering interventions such as green building certification when it comes to lowering energy consumption and making buildings more sustainable.

The paper was co-authored by Avis Devine, associate professor at the Schulich School of Business Brookfield Centre in Real Estate & Infrastructure; Jim Clayton, director and Timothy R. Price Chair at the Brookfield Centre in Real Estate & Infrastructure; and Rogier Holtermans, an assistant professor of Real Estate Finance at the University of Guelph.

The study was funded through a grant from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) under the U.S. Department of Energy and the Real Estate Research Institute (RERI), as well as by BentallGreenOak, a leading global real estate investment management advisor and provider of real estate services with more than $53 billion USD in assets under management.

The study analyzed 10 years of asset-level operating statement and electricity consumption data in Canadian and U.S. office buildings, measuring both the initial impact of such interventions as well as any adjustments observed over time. The study found that all types of intervention, including green certification, led to decreased electricity consumption. The researchers conclude that utility consumption and its associated costs are only minimized when multiple environmental interventions are implemented.

“In commercial real estate, we often measure environmental building sustainability in terms of green building certification or building energy labels,” says Devine. “However, as sustainability in the built world advances, so too do our tools. Today, sustainable buildings utilize a number of environmental interventions – both ‘hard,’ or technical, interventions such as building certifications and environmentally focused capital expenditures, and ‘soft’ behavioural interventions such as monitoring software and tenant engagement programs. Therefore, to understand the impact of environmental interventions on building operations, we have to move past certifications to include other intervention types as well.”

To achieve building certification, adds Devine, specific technology or resources are often installed in a building.

“Yet if the building users are never trained on these available tools, or if the technology is not calibrated for the building’s use, then the environmental benefits may not be maximized, leaving operational savings on the table.”

A copy of the study can be found here.