Sustainable commercial development heating up

Ben Meyers

Boston Properties is the largest owner, manager, and developer of office and mixed-use properties in the United States. Ben Myers serves as its sustainability director, with responsibilities covering energy and water management, green building development strategy, distributed generation and storage, energy conservation measure implementation, resiliency planning, sustainability education, communication and public reporting.

“I’ve seen interest in sustainable development double in the last five years,” Myers said. Boston Properties’ strategy focuses on cutting operating costs, protecting asset value, and growing socially responsible investment.

Myers’ May 9 talk at Woodwell Climate Research Center (formerly Woods Hole Research Center), Commercial Real Estate Development in the Era of Climate Action: The Personal and Portfolio Growth of a Green Building Strategist, was part of WHRC’s 2019 Lecture Series: Climate Change Action in the Private Sector, with support from the Cape Cod Foundation.

Boston Properties has taken on sustainability challenges in both new and older buildings, and has reduced the carbon intensity of its operations 39% over the last ten years. Its Salesforce Tower, which opened in 2018 and is San Francisco’s tallest building, earned more points under the LEED Version 3 rating system than any other project in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the highest rated new skyscraper in the State of California. The Tower also features the largest on-site water recycling system in a commercial high-rise building in the country. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) awarded it “best tall building worldwide,” citing its sustainable elements.

Meanwhile, retrofitting older buildings poses a challenge. Using one of New England’s best-known buildings as an example, Myers talked about the obstacles in making 200 Clarendon (the former Hancock Tower) more energy efficient. The 60-story, 790-foot building, Boston’s tallest, has around 5,000 blue reflective glass panels – all single-pane. Even as sun blasts the south side, north-facing panels may remain below freezing, presenting a huge challenge to keep office space at a comfortable temperature.

Myers thinks we need better policies and incentives to encourage building sustainability, particularly in regards to moving towards electric heating and carbon neutral operations. “In our global efforts to decarbonize the built environment, we are only going to get so far with voluntary initiatives by companies like Boston Properties. You need the right incentives and regulations,” Myers said.

Meanwhile, his company is leading by example. “We’re currently offsetting our carbon footprint with wind energy from West Texas, but my vision is to have the Prudential Center (owned by Boston Properties) powered by local generation, like Vineyard Wind,” Myers said.

Myers also commended Woods Hole Research Center’s sustainable facility, praising its wind turbine and solar arrays. “When I look at the [Woodwell Climate] energy dashboard showing you’re at net zero, taking no power off the grid, that’s the coolest thing in the world – it makes me love this place even more,” he said.

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