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LEED-Certified The Bloc Is First US BREEAM Development

blocThe Bloc development in downtown Los Angeles has already achieved LEED Silver green building certification and it’s working on WELL Building Standard certification for its healthy building features. Now the huge redevelopment project — it occupies an entire city block — also holds the distinction of being the first US building to participate in the BREEAM In-Use (BiU) green building assessment and the first and (so far) only development in the US to participate in all three green building programs.

The Bloc is in the final stages of completion. Owner and developer The Ratkovich Company has transformed the almost 2 million square foot property, which now includes a 478-room Sheraton hotel, a 250,000-square-foot Macy’s Department Store, more than 150,000-square-feet of retail shops and restaurants, an open-air, multi-level public plaza and a 33-story, 700,000-square-foot office tower with rooftop garden lounge.

It also includes a higher-quality air filtration system, an energy-efficient HVAC and all LED lighting. The development has a free gym for tenants, fresh farmer’s market produce delivered every week and doctors host quarterly brown bag lunches on various health and wellness topics.

In an interview with Environmental Leader, Clare De Briere, chief operating officer and executive VP at The Ratkovich Company said although the project is currently LEED Silver certified, it will soon achieve the US Green Building Council’s LEED Gold in addition to WELL Building certifications for the entire development. It expects to achieve BiU certification by the end of the month or early November — a milestone announced yesterday in conjunction with the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

Green Building as Competitive Advantage

“One of our corporate core values is the environment, from being one of the original chairs of the Urban Land Institute’s smart growth advisory group to our early embracing of LEED certification to being early adapters and users of the WELL certification,” De Briere said, adding that LEED, WELL and now BREEAM certifications are “a way for us to really focus on our core corporate values of building projects that are good for the environment, good for the people who use them and good for the cities where we build them.”

These certifications also give The Ratkovich Company a competitive edge, helping the firm attracting tenants that are willing to pay a premium for the buildings’ sustainability features.

“From a purely marketing standpoint, we love to be the first that is working to become BREEAM certified,” De Briere said. “We’ll also be the only — for a short run that has BREEAM and LEED certification. We’ve been touting LEED certification and WELL certification from day one and we’ll start to tout BREEAM as soon as it’s completed. That gives us a competitive advantage and frankly, I think we’re already seeing the impact of that. We’ve leased over 300,000 square feet in the last 19 months and that’s pretty significant.”

This echoes a report released last month by the US Green Building Council and Dodge Data & Analytics tha looks at this new trend in green building: better designed, healthier buildings. Constructing healthier buildings for occupants is of interest to about two-thirds of US building owners, according to the report, which also found that 79 percent believe such buildings will lead to improved employee satisfaction and engagement as evidenced by owners’ ability to increase leasing rates (73 percent) and realize higher asset values (62 percent).

First US BREEAM Building Assessment

BREEAM, the leading UK green-building rating system, arrived in the US in June. The acronym stands for the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology, and the program is managed by London-based Building Research Establishment, or BRE.

BRE partnered with BuildingWise, a US-based LEED certification consultancy to bring BREEAM to the US. The organizations say BREEAM USA will focus on the BiU standard to address the 5.6 million existing commercial buildings in the US that are not currently benchmarking their sustainability efforts using a “scientifically-based green building certification” such as LEED for Existing Buildings, or LEED EB.

Like LEED EB, the BiU assessment process measures such factors as energy and water use, materials, pollution, land use, health and well-being, waste, transport and management. But the BRE and BuildingWise say BiU is easier and less expensive than LEED EB.

This is significant because despite numerous studies showing the financial benefits of green building, such as reduced energy costs and total lifecycle costs, the no. 1 obstacle to green building is higher perceived first costs. About 70 percent of US respondents say this is the biggest challenge, according to a report published earlier this year by Dodge Data & Analytics and United Technologies Corporation.

De Briere says the project’s green building features provide an immediate payback. Upon completion of all the efficiency improvements, the company expects to save 20 percent on energy bills alone at The Bloc.

“The cost to do what we’re doing it not more than the savings we’re achieving by doing it,” she said. “It’s also offset by the leasing of the space and the premium in rent we get. Even if it’s only a few extra cents per foot per month, we wouldn’t be getting it if we didn’t have these certifications.”

Why Certifications Matter

Plus, she says, institutional investors like Prudential and Invesco are increasingly buying green and healthy buildings. “Every year, more institutional equity investors will only buy properties with these certifications. You’re taking a certain chunk of your future potential value by not doing it.”

De Briere said completing the BiU assessment was made easier because The Ratkovich Company already had much of the relevant data from the LEED and WELL assessments. She suggests developers and property owners hire a consultant to help them navigate the BREEAM process just as they would hire someone to help with LEED certification. The Ratkovich Company is working with BuildingWise as a LEED consultant, and Healthy Buildings for BREEAM consulting and indoor air quality testing.

“[BREEAM] is an opportunity for property owners who maybe can’t make it through the whole LEED certification process,” De Briere said. “BREEAM is a little less expensive and more accessible to smaller buildings that are older. It gives everybody the chance to reach for that gold star and say here is what we are doing to help the environment.”

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