That is a very tough question, especially since you probably have no idea what topic I am tying this question to. In this case I am trying to figure out where the line is between developing innovative commercial buildings, and ones that are less so.

We will jump right by the most important factor, money. As a development business we will not be around too long if we don’t make some money and make money for our investors. Generally, if we can’t afford the innovation or the extra cost does not “pencil” out, than we may not be able to do it.

I hate being this cut and dry but we are a business, not a charity, and we have to be realistic.

You Gotta Get Yourself Connected

There is a point at which you can spend extra money to make the building/property more energy efficient/sustainable. But are tenants going to be willing to pay the extra that it costs to lease those buildings?

From what I can tell it really does depend but in general no, well kind of. OK so you are saying that I am conveying absolutely no useful information what so ever, and to that I will say, “welcome to my blog.”

Jokes aside, I will try to be a little more informative. Surveys of tenants indicate that after cost and location, connectivity is the most important. That is, both internet/infrastructure connectivity but also places for the employees to connect. Centralized meeting spaces, outdoor or indoor, or a kitchen that seconds as a sort of coffee shop. Or perhaps an open space with desk where impromptu meetings can occur. These are all examples spaces where people can connect.

Though throughout all of the office, employees need to be connected to the internet and servers. So no matter where they are in or around the building, employers/employees need to be connected.

This has little to do with innovation when it comes to sustainability/energy efficiency but is vital when it comes to design. Can a good designer create these types of connective spaces while at the same time making them more comfortable? Sure, but they are in demand and harder to find.

Sustainability & Development in the Office

So where does that leave innovation when it comes to sustainability/energy efficiency? That is more difficult. Tenants tend to want comfortable places to work and buildings in which the infrastructure works. If the temperature is set at 70, then all offices are at 70 degrees, not with a few areas that are 60 and some that are 80. I have been in some office buildings where you could almost see a layer of fog because there was such a temperature difference in some of the offices!

Every dollar that is put into these robust systems has to come from somewhere. The initial investors probably aren’t going to pay for it, so it will probably come from the tenant. One would hope that the improvements would allow for lower utility bills and that would offset the extra cost to the tenants. In really efficient buildings, I bet this is what is happening.

The Bullitt Center Test

I don’t know much about the economics of buildings like the Bullitt Center in Seattle. But I do know that it is a masterpiece in efficient design, and energy production abilities. This combination allows for  incredibly low utility bills (if any), allowing for a full roster of active and happy tenants. But this is a test building with a partnership with the University of Washington and the Bullitt Foundation, a foundation that has put millions of dollars into environmental causes. Without these partnerships the building probably would not have been built because of the economic factors, and may not be economically feasible for most prospective tenants.

So in short, more needs to be done to increase the efficiency of buildings for environmental reasons but until they make economic sense it will be hard to make it happen. Depending on where you are in the country or in the world, innovation is a moving target, but in general, the target seems to be moving in the right direction.

Note: Achieving an efficient/productive working environment is always the goal for a building owner/developer, as that is the best way to attract the best tenants. As a developer we will always be striving to attain a higher level, so this will not be the only time I talk about this subject. I just wanted to ask the question and see if we could start to answer the question “Where is the line?”


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