Justifying Your Sustainable Capital Improvement

Recouping the first-cost of an investment in sustainability features is easy IF you know how to market them to potential homebuyers


I was recently honored with the inaugural U.S. Green Building Council–Los Angeles’ Kevin Devine award. This award recognizes any individual who has made an outstanding contribution to sustainability in Southern California through existing buildings, whether as an owner, manager, operator, or any other role. The award was created to honor Kevin Devine, who we lost in 2017 to a tragic accident, and who had a significant impact on the commercial real estate industry and sustainability in the greater Los Angeles area.

Kevin started as a building operating engineer in Manhattan and worked his way up through the trades to eventually become VP of Operations for Brookfield Office Properties. He was not only a boss and mentor, but also a friend. Anyone who met Kevin was instantly drawn to his dynamic personality and felt his pure desire to make the industry and everyone around him better. He often challenged those around him to attain previously unreachable goals or completely think outside the box to do something not done before. But his real beauty was that he did not judge success on the results, he judged success on the process and the new ideas that came from that journey in accomplishing those goals. He influenced all of us to continue his legacy with making sustainability, energy efficiency and just doing the right thing our priority.

As one of the largest owner/operators in the Los Angeles area with over 13.6 million sq. ft. across nine properties and a high-rise residential property under construction, all these Brookfield properties have achieved LEED and Energy Star certifications. Some of our Green initiatives include, energy reduction, recycling, enhanced indoor air quality, environment-friendly cleaning products, and especially important to me, water conservation.

Water conservation is increasingly more important. Southern California suffered some of the worst drought conditions between 2011 and 2017, which led to a State-mandated 25 percent reduction in 2015. Our wet winters over the past two years fortunately erased much of the drought condition across the state. It’s not a question if we will have a drought again but when, which is why we need to act now and be prepared. Water is relatively cheap in California; a medium commercial property with less than 80 HCF (hundred cubic feet) consumption would pay around $10.15/hcf. Until water becomes expensive, I fear water conservation will not be taken seriously.

I oversee a 2.1 million sq. ft. property in Downtown Los Angeles and make water conservation a priority. We have instituted all the common efficiency measures such as; low flow urinals and water closets, touch free faucets, installation of high efficiency sprinkler heads and drip lines, and California native, drought resistant plants. With the low hanging fruit picked, I wanted to do more.

The new challenge for me is water harvesting. My property sits atop an eight-story subterranean parking structure. The bottom of this structure was designed with large tunnels to capture the ground water to prevent hydrostatic pressure build up which could result in the lower level cracking and or moving. This results in a minimum of 200,000 gallons of clean water being pumped into the sewer system annually. I’ve tried many ways to use this water and not send it directly into the sewer. I built a pumping system to use the water in our fountain pools, but the extreme hardness of the water resulted in the pools becoming extremely cloudy. I tried chemicals to help, but found that the extra chemicals and excessive buildup on the walls and spouts was not the success I was hoping for. We explored using the water for our on-site car wash. Once again, the hardness was an issue and with our water saving techniques the car wash was using a very small fraction of what we were recovering.

The answer is filtration.

Working in conjunction with our water treatment company we have developed a filtration system that can remove all the hardness from over 2400 TDS (total dissolved solids) down to zero. The filtration system’s net water yield will be 160,000 gallons from the recovered 200,000 gallons. Approximately 40,000 gallons will be used by the system for regeneration. The treated water will be used in the cooling towers as make- up water. Injecting the 0-TDS water will slightly lower the overall TDS in the cooling tower increasing cycles and efficiency. Installation of this system will be completed by years-end and is only in the first phase. We are looking into adding recovered condensate and storm drain water in the oversized systems in the future. The current system’s ROI is negligible at best, but it’s the right thing to do! I hope adding multiple collected sources and with increasing water cost that the system pays for itself in the not so near future. And I’m sure Kevin is watching.

Shane Eaton is the Chief Engineer for Brookfield Properties at Bank of America Plaza, where he has received numerous awards for operational excellence and environmental stewardship.

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