For the past three years the Department of Energy (DOE) has hosted an annual event called the Better Buildings Summit. The Summit is a gathering place for organizations focused on advancing energy efficiency within the built environment, and includes Department of Energy staff, representatives from Better Buildings Alliance partners, leading thinkers from our National Laboratories, and service providers to the industry. I attended the event and, together with Kimco’s manager of energy services Nate Mitten, participated in commercial real estate working sessions, panel discussions, and a recognition ceremony.

This year’s Summit kicked off with formal remarks by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. In his presentation, the Secretary provided important context on how our nation’s energy supply and demand equation is evolving. He noted in particular the significant cost and environmental savings that industrial and commercial building owners have achieved within the past several years – meaningfully contributing to reductions in emissions and, in part, reducing our reliance on non-domestic energy sources.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz delivers the Opening Plenary

A key theme in the Secretary’s remarks, and throughout the event, was overcoming barriers to energy efficiency in buildings. As a member of the Better Buildings Alliance since 2011 and an Energy Star® Partner, Kimco has taken an active interest in overcoming such obstacles within our large portfolio of shopping center properties. Barriers to energy efficiency can be numerous – but as an organization we’ve recently been focused on three in particular: The impact of lease structures on promoting building efficiency, the availability to whole-building utility performance data, and technologies that can readily scale across large property portfolios.

Below are a few highlights from the conference that hit on these three themes:

Promoting sustainability through commercial leases

A lease is the legal document that governs virtually all of the activities taking place at a retail shopping center or other type of commercial property. It defines the roles and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant, and through a variety of means can promote or dis-incentivize specific types of behavior by the two parties.

In the commercial real estate industry, leases are often cited as one of the most significant determinants of success when it comes to sustainability. In fact, entire sectors of the industry – such as commercial offices – have seen significant advancements in building efficiency driven in large part by a historical lease structure that promotes greater landlord and tenant attention to these issues.

For many years landlords and tenants across the industry have pursued incremental lease changes to promote energy efficiency and other sustainable building enhancements, but have lacked an overall framework for what constitutes a “green” or “high performance” lease. Last year, the Department of Energy and Institute for Market Transformation took on the task of establishing a standardized definition of, and then recognizing leaders in, this emerging concept.

Pictured left to right: Representatives from Kimco, Oxford Properties Group, Liberty Property Trust, Institute for Market Transformation, Tower Companies, Department of Energy, and Regency Centers gather at the Better Buildings Summit

At the Better Buildings Summit, DOE and IMT recognized their inaugural class of Green Lease Leaders – landlords, tenants and real estate brokers who have successfully incorporated greener provisions into new or existing leases. Kimco was recognized alongside a handful of other national owners on the basis of work completed over the past several years to modify and enhance its base form lease to incorporate clauses that promote greater sustainability at our retail properties.

Securing access to whole-building performance data

One of the major obstacles to achieving efficiency goals is that owners do not have consistent access to information quantifying the energy use (and potentially, savings) at their properties. Data is invaluable for improving day-to-day management and informing capital spending. Increasingly, reporting of energy data to cities, states, and counties is also a mandatory requirement – as we’ve seen via the passage of 12 such building benchmarking and disclosure laws across the U.S. in just a few short years.

Unfortunately, access to whole-building energy and other utility data can prove challenging in multi-tenant commercial buildings. In net lease situations, which are typical in retail, industrial and other building types, tenants often pay for utility costs directly and have no obligation to share related data with landlords. Their utility providers, who are bound by customer privacy requirements often dictated by state utility commissions, often have their hands tied and cannot release such data to landlords without written tenant consent. As a result, obtaining access to this information as a landlord, even when legally bound to report it, can prove difficult or impossible at some properties.

I participated in a panel discussion on this subject, together with Andrew Burr from the Institute for Market Transformation and Nicole Ballinger from the City of Seattle, and explored these issues with an audience of industry stakeholders. Although there is no silver bullet solution to issues of data access yet, Kimco and several industry peers recently co-authored an open letter to utility and other participants in the Better Buildings Energy Data Accelerator working group clarifying our perspective on what landlords want when it comes to data access.

Leveraging scalable technologies to improve building efficiency

Last but certainly not least, my colleague Nate Mitten shared some of the successes from our award-winning Property Gateway Initiative. Over the past several years, Nate has overseen the design, installation, and overall management of this national initiative aimed at leveraging cost-effective wireless building control technology to improve the management of our shopping center portfolio across the country.

This program has been a huge success for Kimco – significantly reducing energy consumption and providing property managers with remote access to their shopping centers via an innovative iPad application. But the program has also served as a proof-of-concept for other property improvement initiatives that leverage advanced technology and are rapidly scalable across multiple locations. As a result of this initial success, we are now piloting irrigation and video-based extensions to the Gateway platform and are pursuing other national initiatives whose implementation approach would mirror this rollout.

For more details on this and more of our sustainability efforts, stay tuned to the Kimco blog.