2020 Roundtable

Launch of Building Performance Toolkit Occasions Celebration

Synergies Promise Scale-up in Collaborators' Reach

Li Shirong Addresses Newman Real Estate Institute
Michael Bobker, BPL; Clara Voight, NYSERDA; Rabi Kieber, EPA; Nora Sherman, BPL; Jack Nyman, NREI (Photo credit: Ben Polen)

The launch of a Building Performance Toolkit web site designed to accelerate the commercial real estate sector's progress toward sustainability goals was the occasion for celebration on June 21, 2011 - and far more than the web site was celebrated. In attendance, at Newman Hall, Baruch College, CUNY, were professionals from academia, government, the private sector, and NGOs who are working to advance sustainability goals. Some of them had contributed to creation of the Toolkit site.

The Toolkit project was developed by the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute (NREI) and the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems Building Performance Lab (BPL), with funding from the Environmental Project Agency (EPA) Region 2 and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Its primary purpose is to facilitate cost-effective compliance with New York City's Greener Greater Buildings Plan, which requires greater energy efficiency in building operations. Among many energy-related topics the Toolkit covers are benchmarking and energy audits, retrocommissioning and retrofitting, and financing and incentives for retrofits. Other sustainability features, including indoor air quality, waste and recycling, and water use, are also addressed.

Kicking off the Toolkit launch was Jack S. Nyman, the Newman Institute's director, who explained in his remarks that the event had been billed as a "celebration" because, "We're celebrating the convergence of circumstances that create a unique opportunity." The parties who'd convened are "now well positioned to significantly accelerate the massive learning that must take place throughout the real estate industry, top to bottom, nationwide, if sustainability goals and energy savings are to be achieved anytime soon," he declare

Reasons to Celebrate

Reviewing the reasons for celebration, Nyman hailed first of all the partnership between the Newman Institute and the BPL. Their missions converge on sustainability, he noted, and their collaborations "are proving extremely productive," with the Toolkit a prime example.

Nyman also hailed the NYC Building Performance Stakeholder Consortium, which the Newman Institute and the BPL cosponsor. A unique and influential cross-section of over 200 of the city's leading property owners and managers, public agencies, NGOs, utilities, and other parties, it explores issues related to building performance, and its input "grounds the Institute and the Lab in marketplace realities and helps keep us responsive to them," Nyman said. The Consortium guided creation of the Toolkit.

Nyman saluted EPA Region 2 and NYSERDA for not only their financial support but their leadership, which "sends a loud signal that reverberates widely," and for choosing to advance sustainability goals in New York City. The City's PLANYC 2030, and Greener Greater Buildings Plan "are nothing short of historic," Nyman pointed out, and the Toolkit provides knowledge that can help make New York a successful model from which other cities can learn. "We know of no other building performance web site tailored to NYC," nor of any that hold the potential the Toolkit does, he added.

The NYC Urban Technology Innovation Center (UTIC), a City-sponsored partnership in which the Newman Institute and the BPL participate, is another reason for celebration, Nyman said. The Stakeholder Consortium will help link UTIC to the city's real estate industry, and what's learned through UTIC may enrich the Toolkit site.

In the Works: a National, Online Energy-Efficiency Curriculum

Directly converging with the Toolkit is work the Institute and BPL are pursuing under a major grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), with additional funding from NYSERDA: development of an online certificate program for commercial building operators and property and portfolio asset managers that will equip them to significantly reduce energy consumption.

The DOE project began with a comprehensive, nationwide survey of commercial property owners and managers to identify knowledge gaps. Respondents embraced the project, Nyman reported. "The reality out there is that transformation of the building industry is needed nationwide, and to achieve it, hundreds of thousands of people need to learn how to save energy."

Because the DOE curriculum will deliver the kind of formal training that many Toolkit visitors may seek, the Toolkit site will serve as a portal to it. And a shared and growing body of knowledge will inform both sites. While work on the Toolkit predates the DOE grant, this is "an example of the synergies that can emerge among initiatives, and it's those synergies that can scale up our efforts," Nyman reflected. The curriculum won't launch until 2012, "but it's already clear," he remarked, "that it will constitute a national resource."

Crucially, the curriculum and Toolkit are both conceived of as continuous works in progress, in part because user feedback is vital to both, and because building performance is a dynamic field. Yet another source of fresh content will be insights generated through the Institute's research into sustainability issues and its Sustainability Shoptalk public events, and through the BPL's other activities

Altogether, Nyman concluded, the many reasons for the June 21 celebration "might be termed a substantial portfolio of sustainability assets for the real estate industry . . . Managed strategically, this portfolio constitutes a unique resource that will only grow in value," he continued. "I'm convinced it can make all of us - the Newman Institute, the Lab, the agencies that support us, the City, and our many collaborators - a national powerhouse on the building performance front, for many years to come."

How the EPA and NYSERDA Drive Change

Following Nyman's presentation, Rabi Kieber, Green Building/Sustainability Coordinator for EPA's Region 2, reviewed EPA Green Building initiatives, looking both laterally and longitudinally. She stressed in her remarks the importance of transcending silos and of recognizing that green buildings encompass far more than energy efficiency, and she cited the Lifecycle Building Challenge cosponsored by EPA. Marketplace competition can help drive advances, she contended, and EPA's national Battle of the Buildings competition aims at just that. Among many other EPA initiatives are efforts to lead by example.

In a talk illustrated with slides, Clara Voight, NYSERDA's Assistant Project Manager, Commercial & Industrial Existing Buildings and FlexTech Programs, explained how her agency directly advances the goals of NYC's Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. Its Commercial/Industrial Buildings program provides financial incentives and technical assistance through a FlexTech Program that helps participants benchmark energy use and identify opportunities for energy savings - particularly those that are low-cost - and through an Existing Facilities Program that helps participants replace and retrofit building systems.

Both EPA's and NYSERDA's web sites reward close exploration.

Touring the Toolkit

Nora Sherman, the BPL Deputy Director, took attendees on a tour of the Toolkit web site, explaining the rationale for its content and structure, and led a probing Q&A session. Sherman stressed that the Toolkit provides a framework for decisionmaking, along with information resources, and that the goals is not just achieving legal compliance with the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, but - just as important - sustaining it, through continuous building commissioning. And energy-efficient buildings may enjoy a market advantage, she noted.

Property managers must understand strategies for compliance and be trained to implement them, Sherman said, adding that the BPL's Building Operator Certification training course "has taken off." To facilitate user feedback, the Toolkit site includes an online survey. To promote the site, other organizations are being encouraged to link to it and complete the survey. Sherman welcomes inquiries and suggestions. She can be reached at nora.sherman@baruch.cuny.edu.

Tellingly, after the launch event had formally concluded, many attendees stayed to talk with the speakers and with each other. Animated conversations seemed to center on how the efforts under way could be expanded and new alliances forged. The sense of momentum generated by the launch persisted, and it seems likely that this growing community of collaborators will be producing some notable, and perhaps newsworthy, results.