Energy-Efficient Innovations in Commercial Real Estate

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Millennials, now the largest consumer demographic, have redefined how businesses serve their customers, from retail to real estate. With this demographic illustrating a very different set of consumer demands and expectations than the older Baby Boomer generation, the relationships that exist between utility companies, property managers, and manufacturers of household appliances; and the Millennials who use their services, has been redefined. This demographic, according to the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, is eager to take advantage of energy-saving innovations, ranging from alternative energy and solar, to smart appliances and smart home concepts. As a result, what was once considered alternative, has become mainstream.

Smart homes for example, are more than just a luxury, or a nerdy technology toy – smart homes save energy. And, as smart home technology becomes more mainstream and affordable, we’re seeing homes and apartments employing these devices, many of which can be easily installed on a do-it-yourself basis.

“Energy efficiency has become a mainstream goal in most commercial real estate,” according to the Property Manager of Chicago-based Beal Properties. “Millennial tenants especially place energy efficiency as one of the highest priorities when looking for a rental, and they do so for two reasons. Naturally they wish to save on energy usage – but even more importantly, this demographic is even more concerned about how their lifestyle impacts the environment and their personal carbon footprint.”

Hotels too are taking full advantage of eco-friendly innovations to cater to a younger demographic which demands it, but also to become more efficient users of energy. Hoteliers are saving big by cutting operating expenses for HVAC, and sensors are being put in place at several properties which can detect the number of people in any part of the property, which will lead to efficient usage of air conditioning and heating. One IoT pilot program at a hotel property led to $60,000 in annual savings from just a single location.

While homeowners are installing larger-scale, big-ticket items like solar panels, and innovations like geothermal energy, renters are not getting left out in the cold. In addition to property managers installing more eco-friendly and energy-saving devices in their rental properties, renters themselves now have more low-cost and portable green devices at their disposal. Smaller solar items for example, are offered by several US-based companies such as Outdoor Solar Store, with in-demand items such as solar spotlights and motion lights, solar lamp posts and solar street lights.

At Salsa Fresca Mexican Grill, a chain of fast-casual Mexican restaurants in New York and Connecticut, every one of their current and future sites is built with green in mind. In addition to simple things like biodegradable straws and cups, co-founder Seth Hirschel says, “We choose systems that are efficient as possible that reduce the use of fossil fuels right off the bat. One is that we use highly efficient heating and cooling systems for the stores. We use heat pump systems, we use systems that have higher energy efficiency ratings, and for all the products in the store, we use as much natural product as we can versus product that’s manufactured.” Seth also notes that all of their paints and stains used in the store all have low volatile organic compounds. “And that might be more expensive for the paint, but it’s not going to have fumes that can impact the customer experience.”

At Salsa Fresca, Seth has discovered that even though they are putting stores in existing real estate, there are still plenty of creative ways to green up even an older site. Beal Properties’ property manager has had the same experience: “Some alternative energy sources may be less practical for some apartments in the city, but developers can still make significant inroads into reducing the carbon footprint of their older buildings. Best practices for doing so start with regular routine maintenance, installation of modern Energy Star appliances. Also, installation of ceiling fans – an inexpensive and attractive addition that is easy to make – helps cut back on air-conditioning usage in the summer, while still keeping the room at a comfortable temperature.”

The technology has matured, and the demand is there. Smart Grid Consumer Collective notes that millennials are more willing to invest in renewable energy than other demographics. Two-thirds of Generation-Y respondents to a survey said they would be willing to pay for a smart grid to be able to better integrate renewable energy sources into the grid, and 30 percent of millennials said one of the most attractive features of a smart grid is the environmental benefit.

That tech-savvy younger generation has quickly embraced the Internet of Things – which, in addition to being a technology for connecting devices, lends itself firmly to eco-friendly and energy-saving policies. IoT-enabled smart homes are no longer just for the rich and famous – simple IoT tools, sometimes in the form of simple sensors and smartphone apps, save energy. Low-cost smart thermostats are a high-profile example, allowing heating and cooling to be remotely controlled, or to adjust automatically based on time of day or whether anybody is at home.

Smart home innovations, solar panels and other eco-friendly tools have moved firmly from being an expensive add-on, to low-cost mainstream, not only for homes and apartments, but for commercial real estate as well. With newer green policies and practices, property managers, hoteliers, and other large-scale users of energy are seeing a better bottom line – while also better serving their customers, and gaining the marketing advantage of providing the eco-friendly policies they are increasingly demanding from the providers with whom they do business.

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Dan Blacharski is a thought leader, advisor, industry observer and author of the book Dotcloud Boom. He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, fintech, cloud computing and crowdsourcing, and he is editor of NewsOrg.Org. Follow @Dan_Blacharski

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