With the internet at our fingertips, consumers are highly aware of their purchasing power and attuned to the policies, principles, and values of the brands they support. When it comes to major social issues, consumers don’t just want companies to address them in a statement. They demand action and accountability, expecting to see radical improvement throughout the supply chain. And they’re applying this level of scrutiny to most aspects of their life: from what they eat to who they vote for.
The narrowing gap between commercial real estate (CRE) firms and the end-user suggests that our industry is no exception. While most CRE firms have adopted a value-based approach for their corporate branding strategy, according to Sarah Barr, Director of Hickok Cole Creative, “The movement towards informed consumerism requires firms to embody their mission, wholeheartedly through philanthropy, hiring practices, and partnerships.” She adds, “This is an opportunity to reflect on core values, improve processes, and embrace transparency for future growth and success.”
When done effectively, CRE businesses can build brand equity and cultivate deeper connections with their end-users, who in turn serve as brand advocates, and valuable outlets for sourcing ideas and keeping abreast of major trends. Most importantly, purpose-driven brand strategies can influence how residents select their apartment communities or how tenants select their workplace.
Comparatively, potential residents and tenants may look beyond unit and office layout, pricing, and amenities, to conduct their own research into the property development teams, construction materials, and how the building is marketed.
“Consumers want to see commitment,” says Sarah. “How are you evaluating your supply chain to ensure your building’s brand purpose and story stack up? And once the building is complete, how does it live that purpose on a day-to-day basis?”
She references NOVEL South Capitol, co-developed by Crescent Communities and RCP, and managed by Bozzuto, whose brand strategy centers around being a community-driven and community-focused third place. The apartments sit above Chef Erik Bruner Yang’s ABC Pony, which at the onset of COVID, pivoted to help keep restaurant workers employed preparing meals for healthcare heroes, firefighters and those in need through a project called Power of 10 Initiative.
NOVEL publicly aligned itself with the project on social media and provided Erik an extended platform to promote the effort with an Instagram takeover and ongoing social media integrations. Through the takeover, followers and residents were able to connect with Erik’s story, learn more about the initiative, and if compelled, donate. “Though NOVEL is not directly tied to Power of 10 Initiative, Erik is part of NOVEL’s community and it’s who I think about when I think of NOVEL. The project aligned with NOVEL’s community-focused strategy, creating a sense of pride for current residents and interest for potential residents who want to be part of something bigger,” she concluded. NOVEL has continued to have programs to support their community through this strange time that goes beyond the traditional experience, as well as promoting the unique benefit of Erik’s restaurant just downstairs for a full work-from-home menu.
Apart from growth potential, your decisions can drive real change. Take LEED for example. At the start of the certification program, LEED played a major role in differentiating buildings in the marketplace. Organizations who identified as sustainably-focused began to seek out LEED-certified buildings as one way to solidify their commitment and live out their purpose—helping LEED grow in popularity and pave the way for other sustainability and wellness programs like WELL, Fitwel, and the Living Building Challenge.
It won’t be long before most tenants take into account what their broker, building owner, and property management team stand for when their lease is up for renewal. Whether you define the end-user as an association, commercial tenant, resident, dog-lover, decision-maker, social advocate, or a good neighbor, their decision-making process lies with the collective stories you tell and live. “This is no longer walking the walk,” Sarah adds. “It’s running an ultra-marathon.”
Well before the 2020 global pandemic, people were averaging 90% of their lives indoors. Now with mandatory shelter in place orders, social distancing, and encouraged remote working, this once appalling figure feels more accurate than ever. The unprecedented amount of time we’ve spent in our homes recently has fundamentally altered the role it plays in our everyday life, forcing it to serve more functions than ever before—high-performing workplace, flexible gym, stimulating school, entertainment hub, and safe haven. Stretching our personal space to its limits has shown a spotlight on what works and what doesn’t, and prompted the entire population to think more intentionally about how the residential environment meets their needs. How will this pivotal moment in history shape our relationships with our home, our community, and the environment as we look towards our return to society?
Time spent working at home has meant that our daily commutes, team lunches, and run-ins at the water cooler have been eliminated – or replaced by virtual means. Between work, news, Netflix, Zoom happy hours, and social media, people are spending an exorbitant amount of time in front of screens, and it’s beginning to wear them down. Deprived of human interaction, people are craving DIY activities and connections with nature. As restricted access to shared amenity spaces lift, already highly sought after green spaces will become more popular than ever, serving as space for screen-time reprieves. To meet demands, we are exploring how rooftops, terraces, and courtyards in residential environments can evolve to accommodate urban farms and community gardens geared towards providing healthy, fresh foods to residents. The availability of these outdoor hobbies would support community wellbeing and relaxation while reducing the time residents spend in grocery stores or other enclosed market spaces.
Work from Home
Space comes at a premium in any big city, but lack of space while working from home is associated with poor ergonomics, decreased productivity, and increases in stress, migraines, and joint or muscle pain. The teleworking trend shows no signs of slowing down, placing emphasis on innovation and creative use of space as we approach the next chapter of multifamily design. To accommodate more time spent working at home, we expect to see an increase in dual purpose rooms and flexible furniture, including built-in desks and bookshelves, walk-in closets that double as office space, or flip up desks at windows sills that double as storage space. Shared amenities will include multiple co-working lounges throughout the building with access to natural light and widely dispersed workstations with excellent acoustics, in addition to outdoor work spaces immersed in greenery.
Co-working is not the only amenity evolving towards increased outdoor use. With fitness facilities and amenities closed during the pandemic, many residents have adjusted their exercise regimen, picking up jogging and cycling outside as a result. Some have gotten creative by utilizing staircases for sprints and squats or taking to Zoom for streamed workouts in their living rooms. To accommodate new styles of exercise and ensure proper sanitation of all work out spaces, we expect to see more variety in fitness design including indoor/outdoor features, an increase in smaller, segmented interior spaces with streaming capabilities for private use, as well as fewer cardio stations that sit farther apart. If a new fitness facility is not an option, management might consider investing in the aesthetics of stairwells – fresh paint, engaging wall art – to encourage their use, both as an alternative to elevators and for exercise.
Coronavirus has emphasized the effect of socioeconomic factors on human health and we must implement procedures to guarantee clean air and a safe environment for all. Studies show that air pollution is linked to higher rates of Coronavirus deaths while exposure to air pollution is typically linked to lower income neighborhoods and communities of color. To mitigate the spread of germs and bacteria, we anticipate air quality tests and filtration processes will be held to a higher standard moving forward. Increased air filtration can lead to higher upfront and operational costs, so engineers will be called upon to utilize innovative strategies to provide higher filtration without increasing energy consumption. Developers and operators should play an active role to ensure residents across their portfolio have access to clean air. Further care should be taken as they relate to minimizing and eliminating indoor contaminants by selecting materials with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), easy to clean high touch surfaces, and green cleaning products. Finally, building operators can incorporate signage that highlights the importance of indoor air quality, water quality, and natural light to their occupants, as well as communicate what actions they’re taking to maintain a healthy environment for their community.
Access to the internet is no longer a luxury but a vital part of our existence in society, a fact that has become more prevalent in our socially-distant world. Those without internet access are disproportionately at risk of missing out on educational and career opportunities. Residential environments may consider incorporating Wi-Fi or broadband into their utilities or amenity services. Additionally, they may offer desktop computers for public use or tablets and laptops for rent.
Social distancing has generated a deeper appreciation for real life experiences and human connection. Despite living in isolation, we continue to host virtual graduations, reunions, and happy hours. We’re reaching out to old friends, keeping in touch with distant family and forming stronger bonds with our community through volunteer work. While video chat, phone calls, and social media have helped keep us connected, they’re no replacement for face-to-face interaction. As we emerge from this experience, we expect to see a surge in social activity and multifamily should be prepared to meet demand with amenity spaces and programming that promote community building, entertainment, and collaboration among neighbors in a safe and meaningful way.
The pandemic has underscored some of the more glaring inefficiencies within urban planning. Traditional zoning policies segregate business districts from residential ones, resulting in economic dead zones and a disparity between areas with tall, dense development and areas with 2-3 story low rise development, further contributing to a lack of available and affordable housing. One solution is to establish zoning adjustments that would allow for more diverse developments or hybrid opportunities, developments that combine residential and commercial use. Not only would these opportunities help breed safer and more economically active communities, but they could help prevent the creation of hot-spots or vulnerable areas with higher walkability scores and increased accessibility to 80% of our basic human needs, including schools, parks, retail, and above all, healthcare services.
A recording of the webinar and a copy of the presentation are available for download, here.
As the building and construction sector improve operational carbon efficiency to address global GHG emissions, embodied carbon will make up an increasingly significant share of a building’s total life cycle emissions (up to 50%, from approximately 28%, today). While policy and code changes are on the horizon, it’s clear we need immediate action if we are to reverse the damage already inflicted by the built environment.
In honor of Earth Day this month, we asked our partners to share what steps they believe the industry can take today to help move the needle towards carbon neutrality and net zero carbon projects.
“Investors drive demand on the front end – informing building owners and developers about their priorities and expectations. More than ever, investors are prioritizing ESG goals and requiring building owners to report against sustainability targets. Tenants are the customers on the back end – and they need to use their consumer power to demand spaces and buildings that meet rigorous sustainability requirements. This consumer demand, while increasing, has not hit scale yet.
There is potential to increase demand for high-performance buildings in both groups, but the key is to talk about concerns that resonate. Investors care about their reputation and about remaining in business no matter what climate or natural disasters strike. Tenants generally don’t choose buildings based on performance; for them, it might be more important that a building is beautiful, resilient to power disruption and designed to keep them healthy and safe. Environmentalists in the building industry need to translate the benefits of high-performing buildings into value for those who have the power to influence the outcomes.”
“Not only does embodied carbon make up an increasing share of total carbon, but as things currently stand, embodied carbon is projected to represent 50% of the global carbon emissions for new buildings from today by 2050. In other words, at least half of the impact of new construction, in the timeframe that matters to fight climate change, is in building materials.
Reducing embodied carbon can be done at the material or component level itself, as with the composition of concrete, and by implementing the circular economy. Circulating materials minimizes the volume of production and therefore emissions, as they get reused and recycled, while generating revenue in new ways. Even better than reducing carbon is storing it in natural products such as straw or sustainably sourced wood. Many solutions are available now, and at little cost, but they require changes in habit. This is why, progressively, governments should procure only zero or negative carbon materials, while projects, owners, and manufacturers explore the value that lies within the circular economy. As designers, we should continue talking about embodied carbon and be proactive in advocating for low carbon design solutions.”
As designers, we should continue talking about embodied carbon and be proactive in advocating for low carbon design solutions.
Melanie DeCola, Manager, Architectural Research, The American Institute of Architects
“The AIA has pivoted its mission, slightly to be primarily climate focused. The COTE Top 10 has now been re-established as the Framework for Design Excellence and is being included as criteria for awards across the organization. The AIA has also created a spreadsheet for architects to download and input predicted and measured data in order to understand the carbon impact of their projects; this spreadsheet directly matches the 10 categories in the Framework.
We’re also planning the 2020 Intersections Research Conference this fall, in conjunction with ACSA, which will be entirely focused on issues around carbon and carbon management. This will be a chance not only for architects to come together and share the knowledge needed to solve some of these massive planetary challenges and share lessons learned, but for academia to present the latest research on life-cycle analysis, decarbonized grids, materials science, and more.”
Mark Fretz, Associate Director of Outreach, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon
“Designing for carbon is designing for health. We need to reframe the conversation of carbon in buildings to be less abstract and technical and more about the health of individuals, communities, and the planet impacted by GHG emissions.
At the University of Oregon, we launched the Institute for Health in the Built Environment to synthesize these vast scales of health, through radical interdisciplinary and industry relationships that move beyond typical integrated design practices to connect architects, engineers and contractors with biologists, chemists, physicians, and environmental health experts. Through our industry research consortium, Build Health, we are developing and conducting an impactful research agenda together with design firms, such as Hickok Cole, manufacturers and other built environment stakeholders, who can then translate the findings into design, construction and operation practices. Furthermore, through Build Health, design students here at the University of Oregon have the opportunity to work with industry to visualize and design for the unseen in buildings, including performing whole-building life-cycle assessment (WBLCA) on real projects to identify sources of high embodied carbon and develop lower carbon alternative solutions.
This ecosystem of research collaboration across industry and academia, coupled with the integration of research findings into design education, will be how we move the needle towards carbon neutral and net zero carbon projects now as we focus on developing healthier individuals, communities, and planet.”
“The most straightforward way to reduce embodied carbon now is by repurposing existing buildings or using existing materials to build new buildings so you aren’t using a bunch of energy to harvest new materials. These methods can make economic sense for developers now, using smart design and construction methods to keep costs down. Until embodied carbon is linked to some kind of cost metric, it’s not going to be widely adopted. Once that happens, there will be a tipping point where demand for materials that encase or sequester carbon increases dramatically.
In the meantime, our industry can invest in material research, mock ups, tests and use cases for new or re-discovered building materials that encase or sequester carbon. A prime example is mass timber, which is rapidly gaining traction in the design world for its aesthetic beauty and sustainable properties. An emerging example is alternative cement, or cement made of fly ash (fine particles formed when coal is burned in power plants) in lieu of the traditional carbon-intensive burning of limestone. At DPR Construction, we are investing in these methods and collaborating with our industry colleagues to research and raise embodied carbon awareness. For example, we contributed to Integral Group’s “The Total Carbon Study” back in 2015, which established key metrics for whole building life-cycle elements. More recently, we built our sixth net zero energy designed office out of mass timber in Sacramento. There’s a lot to consider when developing real estate, and we are working to ensure embodied carbon is part of the conversation.”
“In our culture, we use the phrase ‘paradigm shift’ readily and, most likely, too superficially. Having said that, I believe that designing with the intent to minimize the embodied carbon content of our buildings, is a radically different approach to creating architecture – a real paradigm shift!
What does this approach look like? It places value on the source, production process, and inherent qualities of each material that will be used and specified. This background data—the amount of energy used to create and ship a material to a job site—does not even fully exist yet. Modelling the amount of carbon in a building is another tool just now emerging. Designers will develop a new lexicon of materiality. For one client, we created imagery of local materials at the early concept phase. The standard and expected interior finishes—especially those that convey expense and exclusivity—will evolve. Beauty will still be the elusive goal. The palette will merely have been updated to something better for the planet.”
Beauty will still be the elusive goal. The palette will merely have been updated to something better for the planet.
“There are three BIG steps that the industry must take. The first is that owners must buy the maximum level of green power available through their local utility. The cost of renewable energy is increasingly a bargain compared to efficiency savings through cutting edge building design. You can have both, so commit to renewables! Next, designers must eliminate combustion on site. When you look at the Global Warming Potential (GWP) contribution of leakage in the natural gas delivery grid, it doubles the impact of the fossil fuel burned on site. Stop setting things on fire and promote electrification! Finally, Contractors and manufacturers must require Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and volume takeoffs for all materials significantly contributing to the project’s embodied carbon. This will require commitment from owners with designers’ specifying accordingly. You cannot manage what you do not measure!
Implementing these steps requires patience, but if we want to slow global temperature rise, we must do this important work now, before it’s too late.“
“With a recent increase in my time for introspection, I was thinking back (nearly a decade now) to the first time I tried to wrap my head around these vague definitions of ‘Zero’ targets, while completing a campus zero waste strategy during a Graduate Assistantship. How on earth was I supposed to develop a plan for an entire campus to divert all of their waste? Only to learn that zero waste was widely accepted to mean only 90% diversion – signaling that close was good enough. A more complex language has since emerged with operational energy. Which NZE/ZNE/ZE definition will you follow? Are you including source energy calculations, or is site energy good enough?
Coming back to current day, embodied carbon is now starting to get some air time, not on every project, but gaining some ground every week. On a recent Living Future webinar, the term, Integrated Carbon, was used to emphasize the importance of evaluating embodied and operational carbon in tandem throughout the design process, not allowing them to stay in their current silos. Ming Hu’s recent book, Net Zero Energy Buildings: Predicted and Unintended Consequences introduces the term, Zero Impact Buildings, which also highlights the need to include calculation of occupant transport choices. While I don’t have the perfect phrase or term to use today – I challenge our design community to take the rest of 2020 to tackle the linguistics challenge of clearly and consistently communicating carbon management impacts throughout design, construction and operations of buildings. When we talk about carbon, we will talk about ALL carbon impacts and possible reduction strategies, not just the ones that will earn the project a new plaque in the building lobby after a year of operation.”
I challenge our design community to take the rest of 2020 to tackle the linguistics challenge of clearly and consistently communicating carbon management impacts throughout design, construction and operations of buildings.
DC POLICY CENTER — Will Millennials stay in the District when they start a family? D.C. policymakers have been fighting for decades to get young people to move downtown. They sure did come, and more of them than policymakers ever expected. But the long-term growth of D.C.’s population and tax base depends on them staying into their thirties and forties—and that depends on there being enough family-sized housing that today’s young people can afford.