How sustainable can we be?

It is a question that we often address.  What can we in the industrial property segment do in order to be more friendly to the planet?

Whilst it is not a reason for inactivity (on the part of the landlord); greater environmental impact, or sustainability, is made by how a business operates within a building, rather than the construction of the building itself. Sustainability is most easily built into a property at the time of initial construction, rather than retrofitted. And then there is the issue of cost. Whilst undoubtedly sustainable actions are kinder to the planet, and in the long term save money – who wants to pay extra for the up-front cost?

None of the above are reasons not to take action. But we cannot ignore them.

In the USA many commercial leases include the cost of electricity.  The reverse is true in New Zealand, and generally the tenant meets their own energy costs. While that situation exists, there is little incentive from a financial perspective for landlords to install energy saving, or even energy creation or storage, facilities. Because generally a bank of solar panels on the roof and a Tesla Powerwall inside won’t justify the tenant paying a higher rental.

Where those facilities will come into their own will be in tenant retention, and tenant attraction, when the market, in the form of higher vacancy rates, reminds us that the pendulum has swung in the favour of the tenant - as it always does at times. From a purely commercial viewpoint perhaps we are better to start to harvest and save energy now, before we really have to.

But there is a lot that we as an industrial landlord can do to be more sustainable, particularly as we are undertaking refurbishments, but also in the normal course of management and maintenance of buildings.

Many of those actions are relatively simple – but often neglected.

MAINTENANCE:  Regrettably often regular maintenance of commonly used facets of a building is neglected. And without servicing or maintenance, inevitably machinery fails sooner. It’s relatively simple and cheap to schedule regular servicing of air conditioning units and roller doors, and wash the exterior of buildings, but often our experience is that this is not done – which then reduces the usable lifespan and in turn means more assets end up in landfill sooner than they should.

MATERIALS: Choosing materials which are durable, rather than cheap is kinder on the planet as they won’t need replacement quite so quickly. A lot has been written about how bad the manufacture of concrete is for the planet. But asphalt (or bitumen)  is a semi-solid form of petroleum. When used for yard surfacing it is cheaper, but typically won’t stand up to wear the way concrete does. Where possible, we would always choose the longer lasting product. For warehouse walls plywood is more expensive than gib board – but more durable. And the more durable the product, the kinder on the planet.

MONITORING:  One of the simplest ways in which to reduce environment impact, but often the least used, is monitoring. By utilising the old adage “what we can measure we can manage”  building users are able to monitor energy consumption and water use. Simple tasks such as fixing leaking toilets and water pipe leaks may seem small, but over time add up.

DESIGN: We are constantly learning about the way in which building design can be kind on the planet – or not. The traditional ratio of clearlite to steel in a warehouse roof has allowed plenty of natural light - but also contributes to heat buildup, which can then mean expending energy on cooling. Reducing the amount of clearlite – or even eliminating totally - will mean more energy has to be expended on lighting. But with the advent of LED lighting, and even motion sensors to determine when lighting is required, that energy is minimised.