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Smarter Eco-nomics

What’s new and what’s hindering green building in Southwest Florida.



 

Green Construction knows no geographic boundaries. Buildings and developments are making life a little greener all over Southwest Florida, from the coastline and canals to interstate sites and inland rural communities. But experts say that there is more that needs to be done, despite the 500-plus private and public buildings and residences that have achieved or are seeking green certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, the Green Building Standard of the Florida Green Building Coalition or the National Association of Home Builders.

Professionals in architecture, design, energy rating and certification, consulting and community development support green building for its benefits on economic development and quality of life. At times, some may be disappointed and even appear jaded, but this is clear: They’re passionate about rethinking the way people live and build.

As we enter another year of commercial development announcements and home construction, we talked to five experts who are pushing for a greater priority on sustainability in the region. 

1. Make Investors Happy

Jennifer Languell, owner, Fort Myers-based Trifecta Construction Solutions, and president of the Florida Green Building Coalition, which has certified nearly 13,500 properties. Languell, a LEED accredited professional (AP), is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.

What are you seeing, in terms of interest in energy and eco-friendly elements in commercial and residential development?

I would say there’s more knowledge, but I think the big thing that’s probably driving people to go green at this moment is ... regulation or requirements [requiring energy-efficient element and design], much more so than, “Hey, I’m going to do it to benefit the planet.”

I hate to say it, but that’s really where we are. It’s a challenge, of course, when you have utility rates that are low and you have water rates that are low. It’s like, OK, what’s the financial incentive?

What’s driving some people to do it?

It’s making the investors happier. We’re finding high-end, for-profit building [commercial or mixed-use residential] where the investing partners are requiring green. They’re requiring it because they don’t want depreciating assets in their portfolio. The perception, of course, is with location, location, location, and if that’s not the case, it’s good [high-quality] building. And the good building tends to put the green label on that, from a standpoint of, “We want an appreciating asset.”

What annoys you or seems like greenwashing?

We still see people who are saying [they’re building green], but aren’t necessarily pursuing verification or third-party certification. They talk about zero energy. It’s very, very difficult [to achieve a building that produces as much energy onsite as it consumes over a certain time period]. Unless they’re willing to give up the TVs and the air conditioning, the cell phone, laptop, iPad, the other iPad. In order to truly become zero energy, they have to do [solar] photovoltaic.

2. Plan for Durability 

Stephanie A. Gray, quality assurance designee project manager, E3 Building Sciences in Bonita Springs. The company has certified 3,188 LEED buildings in the Southeast, including 12 mid-rise buildings in Moorings Park at Grey Oaks retirement community and its luxury villas by Lutgert Construction. It’s certified 408 Florida Green Building Coalition and 858 National Green Building Standard homes. 

What’s driving those who are doing green building?

The projects we see that pursue LEED know in the end they’ll have a building that is more energy efficient, more durable—because those things are built into the design.

What’s the biggest misconception that you hear about green building?

That the cost to do LEED [for homes and mid-rise] is too high. Architects may tell clients it was going to cost them X amount of dollars for them to put the information on plans to build a LEED home. People trust their architect. If the architect says it’s way too expensive, you’re not going to be able to do it, that’s part of the problem. Basically there’s just a dozen notes they need to put on the plan. It’s misconception by some professionals on the cost. 

3. Building Better

Jonathan Romine, owner 
and director of landscape architecture, Fort Myers-based EnSite, which provides planning, landscape architecture, civil engineering and urban design. 

What efforts are you seeing related to sustainability and green building?

We do a lot of community planning
and community development work.
There’s a lot of interest in making
sure redevelopment plans are thought
through to do things in a more sustainable manner, whether that’s how they
treat stormwater management or infrastructure improvements. Do it once,
instead of having to do part of it and 
go back and tear up what you’re doing.
[Also], more choices for transportation
accessibility. We’re looking at some projects in downtown Fort Myers that are directly for the city, but looking to do things that provide more attainable housing [and] more housing choices. I think we’re seeing developers, especially those that own properties and don’t just flip them, investing the money to do things that may cost a little more up front, but have a return on investment that saves them money in the long haul.

As you work with developers, what green building components are they factoring into their planning?

It’s just building better. If you look at some of the older cities of the world, they’re still standing. They haven’t expired or gone past their life cycle in a lot of their buildings, because they were built in a way to last a long time, versus the 10-year, 20-year shelf life that I think we see a lot of times, especially on the commercial side. I think there’s an interest in developing better product. If you look at the parking lots and public plaza-type spaces and sidewalks, there is a larger interest in some pervious pavement [which allows rainwater to pass to the ground], whether that’s asphalt, pavers, concrete, whatever. Different solutions for how we treat our drainage and our stormwater runoff. We encourage developers to not just build their dry detention [basin] and sod it ... but to make it an actual planted feature [such as rain gardens and recreated wetlands, which are more environmentally friendly]. There’s the drawback that people just want to do what they’ve done. That’s a hurdle that this region is going to take longer to get over than I think other parts of the country.

What needs to happen?

Sustainability is not tree hugging. It’s doing things in a smarter and more economical way. Really, [elected officials] have an opportunity to be the leaders. There should be an incentive to do things better. If it costs me more to build a certain way and if I get no incentive to do that, why would I do it? It’s an economic game for a developer. If I can go off State Road 80 and have a vacant site and all I have to do is scrape it, fill it and build it, versus the same size site that would be an infill redevelopment site but you’re going to charge me the same amount of money in fees and permitting and headaches, why would I choose the harder one? I think that’s part of the challenge. 

4. Return of Investment

Tessa LeSage, LEED AP building design and construction (BD+C), director of social innovation and sustainability for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation 

Do you see more of an awareness and desire for sustainability, particularly with green building?

There’s a renewed appreciation for our natural resources in Southwest Florida with the water quality issues and the more widespread recognition of
the fact that our environment and ecosystem is fragile. We are a post-World War II region, meaning that the vast majority of our development happened post- automobile. We’ve designed a lot for the vehicles. Now we’re trying to fill in the gap around infill, redevelopment, figuring out how to diversify the economy and how to build communities of choice throughout our region. This goes as far inland as Hendry and Glades [counties], where they still have that really old Florida feel and they have a lot of economic development struggles. What I hear out there is this desire to capitalize on what sets them apart from the rest

of the region, which is this green space, open space, more rural feel, but at the same time increasing their economic viability. All of that together creates a really interesting scenario for green building or sustainable design or more low-impact type of development. If our construction industry can expand its skill set, demonstrate its ability to do green building and show more capacity for sustainable development, that’s diversifying the economy.

When businesses think about adding certain features, they think, “What does that cost monthly?” Do they have to look beyond cost?

Sustainability is [about making] the proper decisions to create the greatest outcome in the largest number of ways [social, economic and environmental resources]. You’re looking at long-term return on investment. If you separate the design and construction costs from the long-term operations and maintenance, then you’re usually going to say it’s not
cost effective to do a green building. But if you look at long-term operation and maintenance over time and can find a reasonable ROI, you start to see the value of looking at things in a more long-term way. The project cost goes on and on. How can you build something that creates the greatest bang for your buck over the longest period of time? It’s a good business decision to look beyond construction, to look beyond one or two years. In a lot of ways, we’re seeing an ROI on some of these building features that end up creating a more sustainable building. You’re seeing the ROI in five years or less, and it’s getting more and more affordable. It’s not out of the question to be able to do this with the proper planning and right expertise. 

5. Innovation vs. Building Codes

Daniel A. Summers, partner and president, BSSW Architects. The Naples firm’s projects include a building at Florida SouthWestern State College and a luxury mid-rise condominium in Naples and two Lee County public libraries and a 2,000-student prototype public high school, which are pursuing LEED certification. 

How have you seen interest change in green building locally?


Everybody’s sensitive to being more sustainable in the way we design and consume resources. The [Florida building] codes are recognizing a lot more sustainability and efficiency. We find it increasingly more difficult
to meet some of the LEED requirements because the energy codes in Florida have gotten more rigorous toward indoor air quality. When LEED says your building has to perform 20 percent better than the code, it gets incredibly more difficult to do that because the [state building] codes are getting more strict and more rigorous.

To give an idea of trends, what’s exciting to you about your next projects?

In the air conditioning systems for the high schools, they’re looking at ice storage and other ways where they make ice during the night when the energy costs are lower and then use that ice during the day when the energy costs are higher.

Does green building allow you to do innovative design?


No question. When you really look into how
a building is sited and you take advantage of
a prevailing lens or the way the sun moves around the site... there’s a lot of variables that when you design taking those things into consideration, you end up with some pretty innovative ways to control or capture sun, wind and light. 

***

Shining a Light on Solar

Over coffee with a friend, Jim L. Henderson expressed interest in installing solar for his Naples facility. But the president of William C. Huff Cos., a comprehensive logistics company that stores expensive art, furniture and wine collections for private clients, feared solar was too pricey to be practical.

His friend, Neville Williams, founder and retired chairman and CEO of Maryland-based Standard Solar, assured him that it was financially doable.

“I said, ‘show me in real dollars and cents,’” Henderson recalls.

Williams’ analysis showed that by going solar, Henderson would break even on his $2,000-a-month electric costs. In mid-October 2016, he debuted a 528-panel system—the largest in Collier County—that produces 137,000 kilowatts and will adapt to the power needs when Huff Cos. opens
its $1.2 million, 10,000-square-foot expansion early this year.

The key was getting the financing, Henderson says. He could take advantage of a 30 percent federal
tax credit, but the solar panel system required a $349,000 investment. “That’s not something that a conventional bank is going to lend to you,” he says. He received a loan from Boulder, Colorado-based Wunder Capital, which specializes in alternative energy financing.

“Right now it’s such a minority of us that do consider and actually pull the trigger and put solar on our buildings, whether it’s residential or commercial,” he says. “The real reason that people aren’t doing it is that they don’t understand that it is affordable and that it is efficient.” 

***

Investing in Green

A quick look at recent green building for commercial, residential and educational uses in Southwest Florida. 

HERTZ GLOBAL HOLDINGS: Its three-story, 248,600-square-foot headquarters in Estero
received LEED Gold certification in April 2016
and a 2016 Best Practice Award for large business from Sustainable Florida. “There are sustainability initiatives around every corner as I
walk the building,” says Stephen Blum, Hertz senior vice president for real state and facilities.

Its more than 2,300 solar panels provide about 15 percent of
the building’s total energy consumption and collect rainwater for reuse, mostly in bathrooms and irrigation. It also uses an innovative ice storage system to save money on energy costs. The system generates ice in the evening, when energy costs are cheaper, and the stored ice melts during the day to cool the building, Blum says. Other features of the campus, which has about 700 workers, include electric vehicle charging stations, bicycle racks, and walking and jogging trails. Its cafeteria is four-star certified by the Green Restaurant Association, with features such as china and stainless-steel flatware instead of plastic, energy-efficient lighting, refrigeration and exhaust, local and organic menu items, and composting in a digester, which keeps any discarded food from going to the landfill.

“When you want to change the world, it’s best to sort of start with yourself,” Blum says.

Sustainability is part of the mission 
of a growing number of Fortune 500 companies, says Tessa LaSage, director of social innovation and sustainability for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “It behooves us from an economic standpoint to be able to align our region with that because that’s really the direction that business has gone,” she says. “The private sector has led the way in terms of sustainability and green building in many cases.”

BABCOCK RANCH: Kitson & Partners 
is creating what it describes as an “eco-centric new town embedded in nature and powered by the sun, nature and innovation.” Renewable solar energy will power the eventual 19,500 homes and businesses, in a partnership with Florida Power & Light. The Charlotte County community will meet Florida Green Building Certified Homes and Community standards.

FLORIDA GULF COAST UNIVERSITY: The university’s commitment to sustainability is demonstrated in its buildings, which started receiving LEED silver designation in 2010.
The newest LEED silver buildings are Osprey Hall and Eagle Hall, and the Emergent Technologies Institute, which is pursuing LEED silver certification. The next building that will
 be pursuing LEED silver certification is the “Academic 9” building for the School of Water Resources and Integrated Sciences, with a $44 million request for construction in the 2017 legislative budget. If approved, that would start in early 2018. “Sustainability has been around for a long time but it’s becoming more and more just the way we do business,” says Tom Mayo, LEEP AP and director of facilities planning at FGCU. The school also has pursued STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) gold certification, which also looks at areas such as academics, operations and maintenance. 

THE MOORINGS AT GREY
 OAKS: With its Mediterranean
modern design, a phase of the
 Naples community with 38 
assisted-living and assisted-dementia-living units, 13 independent-living units and four guest units, as well as a Center
for Healthy Living pursued
 LEED gold certification. The
 213,000-square-feet project, at a cost of $42 million, was completed in 2016, according to info from BSSW Architects, which designed the project.

POLLYWOG CREEK COMMONS: Steve Kirk’s Rural Neighborhoods is creating a 29-unit affordable housing project for low-income elderly residents in La Belle that is seeking Florida Green Building Coalition certification. It’s the last phase
in an existing project and expected to be complete in spring 2017, says project manager Corey W. O’Gorman with PLACE Planning & Design in West Palm Beach. The funding is the U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 202 program [an affordable housing program focused on multifamily housing for low-income elderly individuals], which is ending. “They [HUD] do encourage green building. That, of course, is an added benefit for the operation of the building but [a benefit] for the tenants, to make sure that their utilities are lower costs,” O’Gorman says. GB

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