Building a Better, More Sustainable Future in Los Angeles (Part 1)
Part 1: Building A Model of Sustainability Through Innovation
By Dennis Kaiser
A perplexing global health pandemic, unsettling civil unrest and a polarizing Presidential election captured the consciousness of America in 2020. On top of all that, wildfires spread across ever wider swaths of California and the West Coast this year, serving as stark reminders that climate change remains a critical challenge to address in order to create a path to a brighter future.
On the heels of these challenges, optimism and proactivity are expected to take center stage in the coming year for commercial real estate owners and operators, with a focus on recovery and resilience. In that spirit, we examine in the first of a two-part series the ways the Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge (LABBC) is showcasing buildings that have navigated the challenges of health, safety and sustainability best over the past year at its upcoming 7th Annual Innovation Awards. Nominations for what has become Southern California’s most prestigious sustainability awards program are open now through January 15, 2021.
Awards Align with Building Practices
An elite network of L.A. buildings committed to reducing energy and water use in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and science-based targets laid out in the city’s sustainability plan, the LABBC will recognize buildings that demonstrate best practices in balancing between meeting environmental and social governance (ESG) goals with navigating the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. Participation is free and open to buildings of all types within the City of Los Angeles.
LABBC Executive Director David Hodgins notes that, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, bright spots emerged across the city as building owners and managers continued to develop, share and adopt best practices in sustainability while adjusting to new mandates and rules aimed at preventing the spread of the virus at properties.
“There has always been a nexus between building performance and human health, but the pandemic has elevated the importance of indoor air quality, which now is a key component of sustainability considerations because tenant health and safety is top priority for owners and managers,” says Hodgins.
In light of COVID-19, the LABBC made several adjustments to the categories and criteria of its awards program this year that align well with the ways owners have innovated building operations and practices in response to the challenges they are facing. In addition to celebrating energy and water performance, Hodgins says, “Categories now take into consideration the ways buildings are managing through the unprecedented disruption caused by the pandemic, and how they’re preparing to reopen safely while keeping energy and water use trending down. Our affordable multifamily building performance award, for instance, recognizes steps taken to protect residents’ health and safety as so many Angelenos stay safer at home.”
Other changes this year include a new “Industry Leadership” award, which takes into account forward momentum on social impact priorities. There’s also a new category called the “Hometown Hero,” which will recognize a small- or medium-sized business.
Tenant Health & Safety
Hodgins says excellence in property management has become even more visible as tenants place a higher priority on sanitization and other aspects of well-being, as well as incorporation of touchless technologies or cameras to manage building or elevator access. Creating healthier and safer indoor environments often means that HVAC systems must run at higher rates to help change out the air. Not only does that work the system harder, it requires more energy to clean the air.
“Owners and managers must find ways to enhance the health and safety of a building for occupants, while not ignoring efficiency targets that they’ve established for an asset,” says Hodgins. “It requires careful planning and execution to achieve the desired indoor air quality without sacrificing sustainability. That’s the kind of teamwork and creativity we want to celebrate.”
The “S” in ESG
Social issues have also come to the forefront of the public discourse in 2020. “The collective understanding of what sustainability means has evolved, and we felt we needed to reflect that in our program. There is no sustainability without social equity, so judges will consider equity-related metrics as well.”
The LABBC will honor partners who have made social impacts in the community and have proudly played a role in improving the lives of the people who work in their buildings. Hodgins admits that these will be more difficult to quantify, but says he intends to try, nonetheless. “We need to start thinking more holistically about the consequences of our actions, positive and negative, and develop solutions that optimize across multiple objectives. Hopefully this can serve as that starting point.”
Here is part two of this series, where we examine the role LABBC honorees will play as sustainability models for the nation as the Biden administration gears up to implement an environmentally progressive agenda in the coming year.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Dennis Kaiser