Building Repositioning: Creating a Greener World
When it comes to building repositioning, what motivates developers to build green? Tune in as Curtis Brown, STOBG’s VP of Business Development explores that topic from all angles—from environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors to new emissions regulations—with Brian Geller, Senior Sustainability Manager at The Durst Organization, Brooks McDaniel, SVP of Building Repositioning at STO Building Group, and Jennifer Taranto, VP of Sustainability at STO Building Group.
Curtis BrownVP Business Development, STO Building Group
Brian GellerSenior Sustainability Manager, The Durst Organization
Brooks McDanielSVP of Building Repositioning, STO Building Group
Jennifer TarantoVP of Sustainability, STO Building Group
Welcome to Building Conversations, a construction podcast powered by the STO Building Group. On today’s episode, STO Building Group’s Vice President of Business Development, Curtis Brown, discusses the sustainability opportunities presented when repositioning buildings. Join Brian Geller, Senior Sustainability Manager at The Durst Organization, Brooks McDaniel, Senior Vice President of Building Repositioning at STO Building Group, and Jennifer Toronto, Vice President of Sustainability at STO Building Group, as they explore what motivates developers to invest in green building systems—from environmental, social and governance factors (or ESG) to new emissions regulations introduced by local laws in cities across the country.
Curtis Brown (01:02):
Welcome to Building Conversations, the STO Building Group podcast. I’m Curtis Brown, Vice President of Business Development at STO Building Group, and today we’ve assembled a great panel of industry experts to discuss how sustainability is becoming an important component in many building repositioning projects. First, let’s meet our panel. If you guys don’t mind, I’d like to have you introduce yourselves and give us a little background where you work, what you do in the industry, etc. Brian, do you mind if we start with you?
Brian Geller (01:32):
Sure. My name is Brian Geller. I am with the Durst Organization. I’m a Senior Sustainability Manager here. I’ve been here for just over four years. My career began in architecture. I went to Parsons School of Design, graduated with a master’s in architecture in 2005 and I had a couple of jobs practicing architecture. My second one was as a sustainability specialist within a larger firm, ZGF Architects. I then started a green building nonprofit in Seattle called the Seattle 2030 District, which was about applying the Architecture 2030 challenge over an entire area of downtown rather than individual buildings. I worked at Citigroup on their corporate sustainability team for three years and I’ve been here, as I said, for about four and a half years.
Curtis Brown (02:24):
Thanks Brian, Brooks?
Brooks McDaniel (02:25):
Hi everybody. My name is Brooke McDaniel. I’m the Senior Vice President of Building Repositioning here at the STO Building Group. I’m a licensed architect. I studied architecture with Brian 20 or so years ago. So, we’ve known each other for quite some time. I worked at several architecture firms, the most recent architecture firm I worked at was SHoP Architects where I was a project director for five years. I left SHoP in 2015 and joined Extell real estate development company as an in-house architect and VP of design and was there for about seven years and have joined the STO Building Group about six months ago. So, I’m relatively new, but excited to be here.
Curtis Brown (03:10):
All right. Great, welcome aboard Brooks.
Brooks McDaniel (03:11):
Curtis Brown (03:12):
Hey, Jenn, we’ll finish up with you.
Jennifer Taranto (03:15):
Sure. So, I’m Jennifer Toronto, I’m the Vice President of Sustainability for the STO Building Group. I started out as a superintendent out in the field in the early 2000s and I’ve been with the company for a little over 20 years now. So, my career path really took off into sustainability, probably in about the mid-2000s when we started to see some of our first LEED projects. And as a young field ops person, I was kind of handed the reins and said, go figure this out. And then began training other people in our organization to pass the LEED exam and then participating in projects across our entire portfolio. So here I am.
Curtis Brown (03:55):
Were you responsible for getting us certified? Structure Tone’s office in New York is WELL certified – did that fall under your umbrella?
Jennifer Taranto (04:04):
Yeah, it absolutely did. So when we were exploring moving our office, we were starting to look at health and wellness in the built environment and WELL cropped up as one of the best rating systems. So, we stuck our toe in the water and eventually became the first WELL-certified project in all of New York state.
Curtis Brown (04:25):
Great bragging rights. It’s a great place to work in, too. Sustainability is on everybody’s lips lately. So, in your mind, Brooks and Brian, what makes building repositioning an attractive option for developers from a sustainability perspective?
Brooks McDaniel (04:38):
Well, why don’t I jump in first. From a cost perspective, it’s substantially cheaper and quicker to reposition an existing building versus tearing it all the way down to the ground and building up and beyond that. Specifically with sustainability, if you’re not tearing the building down, you’re retaining all of that embodied carbon that was built into the existing building and adding on to it and creating, you know, a new vision for the building. And as you create that new vision for the building, you’re able to install the latest and greatest MEP systems, which are much more efficient than they were even a few years ago. You can put a high-performance facade on it, so you need less energy to heat and cool the building. And not only that, but you can eliminate your Local Law 97 fines by reducing the emissions of the existing building. So, these are a few of the reasons that make it attractive from a cost and sustainability perspective.
Brian Geller (05:40):
Yeah, I think it’s interesting. I saw in the news, I live near the Brooklyn Detention Center complex, which is being torn down this year. And I saw that the cost of demolishing that building, which is a high rise, is $59.7 million. So that’s just to tear the building down, you know, when you’re in a downtown core, when you talk about the value proposition, just the cost of demoing an old high rise is extraordinarily high. So, there’s certainly cost savings to be had there. I think from Durst’s perspective, it’s interesting for us because we are a build and hold developer. We own buildings that we’ve built going back to the late 1950s. And we do own one building that we purchased in the 1940s. It’s the only one we didn’t build, but we generally hold everything that we build. Maybe I’ll just give a brief introduction to Durst.
Brian Geller (06:24):
Durst is a family owned and run real estate company in New York. We’ve been around for over a hundred years and the family is still very much running the day-to-day of the business and in full control of what we do. And they really develop everything with a very long-term perspective in mind. And, you know, as you can hear from what I described are the first building that we built ourselves just down on 3rd Avenue and 42nd Street, we’ve owned since 1958 when it was built. So that kind of gives you an idea of the length of time perspective that we’ve got. So, for us, it’s great to be able to renovate an asset that earlier generations of the family had built and kind of maintain some of the character and mystery that goes along with an older building without having to tear it down and start all over again.
Curtis Brown (07:15):
Brooks, does that Local Law 97 only pertain to New York or do all municipalities and cities have something similar?
Brooks McDaniel (07:23):
Local Law 97 is specific to New York City, but there are similar laws on the books, such as in California and Colorado and others planned in other municipalities. I think it’s really the wave of the future and fines for carbon emissions I think you’re going to be seeing nationwide in the coming years.
Jennifer Taranto (07:44):
You know, for a long time, the Climate Mobilization Act was one of a kind, it stood very much on its own, but as Brooks said, there are other locations that are starting to ban fossil fuel use altogether. We’re starting to see that out in California, and then Boston similarly passed what they’re calling BERDO 2.0, the Building Energy Reporting Disclosure Ordinance. And this requires buildings that are over 20,000sf to annually report on their emissions. So very much in line with what we’re seeing with Local Law 97 and there are pretty steep fines that are going to go into effect. So, I think that, Brooks you are dead on, this is definitely something that we’re going to start seeing expand to other municipalities over time.
Brooks McDaniel (08:32):
I was reading that the city of London either has passed or is passing a similar law, but, in lieu of fines, buildings will not be able to sign new leases if they’re not compliant. Uh, so very, very strict rules in Europe these days as well.
Curtis Brown (08:49):
That rolls right into my next question, actually. Brian, I’ll stick with you. You mentioned Durst being a long-term build and hold developer. How does that influence their thinking about building refurbishment?
Brian Geller (09:01):
So, I think what it does generally is it plays into an overall strategy of keeping our buildings, our assets, as competitive as possible. And assuming that they’re going to be around for as long as possible, we don’t really have a finite lifespan in mind when we build a building. So repositioning is just kind of a step in the process of maintaining our assets and keeping them current and keeping them as competitive as possible.
Brooks McDaniel (09:32):
Brian, I’m curious when you think about building repositioning or building refurbishment, do you have an established schedule that every, you know, 20 years you’re going to do a major overhaul of a building? Or do you just sort of take it as it comes?
Brian Geller (09:48):
No, we take it as it comes. We’ve just completed the core and shell renovation of a building, 825 Third Avenue, which is really the first project of that type that we’ve done on our portfolio, generally speaking, because we maintain our buildings to a very high standard. It’s not often that we decide to make the call to, to essentially gut renovate a building. So we don’t really have a set schedule on when it happens.
Curtis Brown (10:14):
While we’re on that subject, what are some examples of recent successful sustainable repositioning projects that you guys have been involved with?
Brooks McDaniel (10:22):
Well, Brian, I’d love to hear more about 825 Third Avenue. I know that project well, I saw the finished result and I think it’s a great looking building. You did a great job with it, but maybe you can tell us more about the sustainable aspects of it.
Brian Geller (10:35):
Sure. So, a little background on that building – that building was built in 1969 originally, Emery Roth & Sons were the architects. It’s 40 floors and 530,000sf. And again, we were the original developers of it. We’ve owned it since it was built. We think it’s been a very successful project because we had the chance, as all of you on the panel have alluded to when you’re doing a full renovation, we had the chance to really think about what we want to maintain and what we want to replace and to fully modernize all of the systems within the building. So, some of the most interesting things that we’ve done is we actually replaced all of the central plant equipment. The building was originally on ConEd steam for both heating and cooling with steam-driven chillers, and actually had a modular chiller and boiler plant built offsite, and built a concrete support system for it over the existing loading dock and installed the entire new plant there, which saved a lot of time, it saved space within the building, and that new plant combined with the full replacement of pretty much all of the other equipment inside the building, according to our energy model is going to reduce energy use by 44% from where the building was before the renovation happened.
Brian Geller (11:46):
So, we think that by itself is a really big deal. That really puts the building much closer to in line with what you would see in a new construction commercial office building. We were also able to replace the induction units around the perimeter of the offices with an active chilled beam system and fin tube radiators, which reduces the amount of space that this equipment required. So, we’ve actually got a little bit more space on each floor and we have it right at the perimeter where you would really want it. And we’ve installed view dynamic glass in the mid- and high-rise portions of the tower, so you can actually control the opacity of the windows. So, a lot more comfort, a lot more efficient, see, but still have that charm of the late madman era, you know, late mid-century modern design, which would be very hard to replicate if you were building a brand-new building.
Curtis Brown (12:44):
Yeah. Agreed. That’s a cool building. I have a question for you. The new chiller plant, you guys forecasted a 44% energy savings. Did that take into consideration the smart glass or is that above and beyond that?
Brian Geller (12:56):
No, the view glass is part of it, but that’s a number of things. That’s basically a replacement of everything inside the building—everything from fans to pumps, to piping controls, new BMS, it’s really all of the system upgrades that went into the building that is contributing to energy use reduction.
Curtis Brown (13:15):
It’s a great number. I mean, it won’t take long to pay back that investment at that rate.
Brian Geller (13:19):
Yeah. It is a good number and we’re happy about that.
Brooks McDaniel (13:23):
Yeah, that is impressive. You know, it’s funny all of those era buildings in Midtown, so many of them were designed by Emery Roth & Sons who, we used to see them all the time as an architecture firm, but the firm no longer exists, which is surprising. A firm that was as prolific as they were for them to just no longer be around is kind of a surprise.
Brian Geller (13:47):
That’s true. And we have four of them all along 3rd Avenue that Durst built when the 3rd Avenue L came down. 655 Third Avenue, 675, 733, and 825 are all buildings of ours that were designed by Emory Roth that were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Curtis Brown (14:03):
How about 1155 Avenue of the Americas, Brian?
Brian Geller (14:07):
I think those are also Emory Roth buildings, 1133 and 1155 Avenue of the Americas. Yes, that’s correct.
Curtis Brown (14:14):
Yeah. You guys just repositioned 1155, didn’t you? It looks really nice.
Brian Geller (14:17):
We did. Yeah, we did quite a bit of work on that one. It wasn’t quite as extensive as 825, but it was extensive enough that yeah, I would also call that a repositioning.
Curtis Brown (14:28):
Yeah. I toured that a couple years ago with one of your leasing brokers and I was very impressed with your little bee farm on the roof.
Brian Geller (14:34):
Yeah, well, that’s one thing that’s been very rewarding about 825. I really only talked about the mechanical systems and the energy savings, which is obviously a very big deal, but Durst has a very comprehensive approach to sustainability. We have beehives on the roofs of our buildings, the other three buildings that I mentioned on 3rd Avenue, along with 205 East 42nd Street. You can kind of pick them out on Google Earth because you can see they all have green roofs on them, wherever we can put the vegetation. So, you can see which buildings are ours. And we really have a very strong focus on material quality and the interior health of our buildings. So, we have our own criteria that goes above and beyond LEED, or really even above WELL, and the Living Building Challenge for chemical exclusions and you know, not having any toxic chemicals in the building products that we use. So, when we redid 825, because we’re replacing basically everything inside, it was an opportunity to bring all of the interior finishes, all of the interior materials up to that standard that we now use for the new buildings.
Brooks McDaniel (15:39):
Brian, just a quick question on the beehives. Do you have a beekeeper on staff full-time?
Brian Geller (15:44):
Not full-time, but we do have a beekeeper, an outside person that we’ve used for many years, that everybody loves who tends to the bees. And we do produce Durst Honey, which is an award-winning honey that we give to people, it’s quite delicious and people do really get a kick out of it. We even have a bee cam, where you can see in our Midtown buildings during the summer when the bees are active, you can see exactly what they’re up to on the roof, coming and going.
Brooks McDaniel (16:12):
Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, please put me down for a jar of honey.
Brian Geller (16:16):
Curtis Brown (16:16):
Yeah. Send me the link to the bee cam. When I’m not doing anything, that might be my Zen moment.
Brian Geller (16:21):
You got it.
Curtis Brown (16:22):
Were we going to discuss Hudson commons?
Brooks McDaniel (16:24):
Yeah, I’d love to. That’s a project that we reconstructed with Cove Properties, and it was a real success story. Cove Properties bought it from Emblem Health. The building originally was built in 1962 as an eight-story warehouse and Emblem Health bought it and repositioned it in 1983, they were ahead of the curve, from a warehouse into an office space. But left it as the eight-story building and then Cove Properties bought it and hired our brand Pavarini McGovern to manage the construction of rebuilding, redeveloping, sorry, repositioning and expanding the building, which was finished in 2019. So, the base was retained, and the core was relocated and expanded and 17 stories were added on top. So, it’s a building that has been repositioned multiple times, but it is the only the third LEED Platinum building in New York City. So, sustainability was a major focus with highly efficient systems, you know, new facade and a focus on being as green as possible. And it was very successful for the developer as well. They just sold the building for a billion dollars, made a nice return on their investment. So there is value in spending more on sustainability. It’ll come back to you.
Jennifer Taranto (17:48):
Yeah and just sort of to tie a nice bow on all that, I think that what we’re seeing across the market in general is building repositioning pays, right? So, Brooks, you hit on it earlier with the embodied carbon, the retention of the embodied carbon and the existing building structure and components, and being able to reuse as much of that as possible, but there’s also other components like material circularity and whatever could be salvaged out of those buildings as they’re being repositioned. Are there opportunities for materials to be reused either within that project or within other projects across the cities? And some of that material circularity can also sort of lend itself to help with some of our supply chain woes that we’re feeling, right? If you can pull 300 wood doors out of a space and give them off to another project with just a little bit of refurbishment, it’s kind of is a win-win for everyone. We talked a little bit about the electrification of buildings, right? So, no time is better than when you’re doing a gut renovation to consider moving toward the electrification of building, to cutting the cord with fossil fuels, so to speak. And then that biodiversity piece, we’ve seen a lot of conversation, with both beehives and green roofs and trying to stitch together as much green space within an urban fabric as possible.
Curtis Brown (19:11):
I have a question. Do you think that, Hudson Common’s elevated resale price was due to the fact that it’s sustainable? Do you think that that’s in Vogue, and a worthwhile investment for investors now?
Jennifer Taranto (19:26):
We’ve done our sustainability survey for a number of years in the row. The last one we did was in, it was in 2019, and at the time, 74% of our end users still said that LEED was a valuable market differentiator for them and there have been studies since that show that LEED buildings sell for more, that they garner higher rent than other buildings. So, I would say far and away that third-party certifications still hold a lot of value in the market.
Curtis Brown (19:57):
So, we’re hearing they sell for more, they rent for more, and they are run cheaper. That’s a pretty good argument right there for sustainability.
Brooks McDaniel (20:09):
Absolutely. And the fourth point Curtis is typically the cost of capital is cheaper for sustainable or green projects – that lenders are more interested in putting their money in a project that has green credentials to it.
Curtis Brown (20:24):
Now, are there local municipalities or incentives for lenders to do that?
Brooks McDaniel (20:29):
You know, I think it comes from the marketplace. So many of the end users, the corporations, have ESG principles that are part of their brand or a part of their mission statement and their decision making for green issues extends to their choices in real estate. And a lot of the big lenders, their money is going to come from a big pension fund or some large entity that is also focused on ESG. So, the desire and the drive for sustainability is really coming from all directions.
Jennifer Taranto (20:59):
Right. So, if you think about it from the perspective of a client who has net zero carbon goals, you know, we know that 39% of the global carbon emissions come from buildings. And so, if that is part of their goal, then they have to have a real estate portfolio that helps them reduce their overall carbon emissions in order to meet those ESG goals that Brooks was talking about.
Curtis Brown (21:25):
Well, we’ve heard about all the good things about sustainability. Let me ask you what are some of the biggest challenges associated with sustainable repositioning?
Brooks McDaniel (21:34):
Doing a wholesale revision of the systems in your building is certainly a lot of work. If you are doing an occupied repositioning of a building, meaning that some or all of the tenants are staying in the building, it is a real challenge to completely gut the building of systems and put the new generation of systems in. Verging on too challenging. If you have an empty building and you’re going to do a full refit, then by all means from top to bottom, take everything out and start new. And you can go with an all-electric air source heat pump with a DOAS system and have no carbon use for your heating and cooling, have high-quality ventilation air in the building. Your risers have a smaller footprint. You’re using way less energy. Your operational costs are lower. So those are all good things. If the building is occupied, it’s hard to get all of those systems into the building and keep the building operational so that’s one of the challenges.
Curtis Brown (22:37):
Brian was 825 Third occupied or did you do that as a vacant repositioning?
Brian Geller (22:43):
No, it was done as a vacant repositioning, which did make a lot of the things that Brooks mentioned easier. I think something that I’ll add is the challenges of sustainability really depend on how far past the market’s typical practices you want to push. If you’re doing things that are kind of in line with a LEED Silver building, or maybe a LEED Gold building, it might not be that hard. If you’re doing things where you are requesting practices or materials or products that the team might not be familiar with, or things that have not been done before, then it’s much more challenging. And that’s where we sometimes run into challenges at Durst, because we have, again, such strict requirements for the products that we use in our buildings. And I’ll just give an example, this isn’t for 825, this is for the residential buildings that we’re building.
Brian Geller (23:34):
When we buy cabinetry for those buildings, we have to preapprove all of the components that make up the pieces of the cabinet before we award the job. Once we’ve done that, we actually make the winning bid build a mockup of that cabinet and then send it to a lab for emissions testing to ensure that it passes the strictest emissions testing standards that are out there. Once we’ve done that and the building is under construction, we will then randomly pull one of each type of cabinet from the construction site and send it again, this time on our own to a lab, just to make sure that none of the components were switched between that mockup design and production. So, what I’ve just described is not something that you would typically do. That takes a lot of education of the construction manager and of the bidder
Brian Geller (24:27):
that’s building the cabinetry and really of everybody else that’s involved in that process. So, when you push to that degree, then sustainability can be challenging, but the rewards of it, you know, if we pay more attention to the products that go into, whether it’s the cabinets or the walls or everything else, we might be putting more time into the design and the specification review, but we get a higher quality product out of it. In addition to the sustainability benefits, we just have much more control of exactly what’s going into the building, how it’s being designed, inspect, but it does take more education of the team up front in order to make that happen.
Jennifer Taranto (25:02):
Yeah, I would agree with what Brian said. I think that depending on how far you’re looking to push the envelope, it certainly does bring on more challenges, more worthwhile challenges. But if we’re looking even to the simple LEED Silver, LEED Gold goals for buildings, I would say that the biggest challenge is still that perception of first cost. You know, thinking only in terms of first cost and not necessarily thinking of it as holistic in terms of what is the return on the investment. There are still plenty of times where we run into this hurdle.
Curtis Brown (25:38):
Brian, you brought up sustainable residential projects, which I hadn’t really even thought about. I was kind of more on the commercial, but I’d be interested to know, do you see bigger returns and, um, demand on your sustainable residential buildings?
Brian Geller (25:52):
I think that awareness on the residential side is still picking up compared to commercial. I think for Class A commercial, there’s been an expectation that you would have a pretty decent LEED rating for some time now for a Class A building in a major metropolitan area. I don’t think that’s been the expectation for residential until fairly recently, for really big, high-quality, luxury, apartments, but I think it is starting. And we do find that once the residents get a taste for the features that are in the building and understand what we’ve done, they tend to start asking more and more and wanting to get more and more involved because it’s their home, it’s where they live. It’s more personal than the office setting.
Curtis Brown (26:32):
Yeah. As a parent of a 20-year-old and a late teenager, I am pretty confident they would pay an extra amount to live in a sustainable building.
Brian Geller (26:41):
And they may. Especially, again, because we focus on occupant health now that people are spending more time at home, some people are working from home at least part-time, I think there is a bit more of a focus on the home environment than there used to be.
Jennifer Taranto (26:54):
Yeah, I was just going to ask in the residential market, do you think that it’s about environmentalism or health and wellness? Like what do you see as the top interest for residential?
Brian Geller (27:05):
I think it’s a combination. I think it depends on the resident. I think there are some groups that will still really care about the environmental global impact, but I think that occupant health is certainly becoming more and more important. So, I don’t know if I could really put one above the other, but I know a lot of residents when we do talk to them, they are interested in the fact that when we tour them through our new building and we ask them if they smell anything, they don’t really think about it. And then until we point out, look, you’re in a brand-new building and you can’t smell anything. There’s no paint smell, there’s no glue smell. That takes a lot of work and that’s very good for you. We provide ventilation above minimum code requirements. We have resiliency features in the building. It’s just a lot of things that they might not realize or think about when they first walk in, but once we point them out, then there’s definitely a kind of, oh, tell me more, give me more attitude.
Curtis Brown (27:57):
So, what advice would you guys have for clients looking to get the most out of their building repositioning projects in terms of maintaining design intent, function, and achieving all your sustainability goals?
Brooks McDaniel (28:09):
Well, we find that the most important first step is to get a great team behind you. You want to get a great architecture firm, engineers, firms that have done this type of work before. There are a lot of firms out there that know how to do this and not all of them do, so make sure you’re picking a great architecture team and a great engineer. So, I would say that’s the first step in making sure that you’re going to achieve your design intent and your sustainability goals at the end of the job.
Curtis Brown (28:38):
What about a contractor capable of sustainability? No plug there?
Brooks McDaniel (28:43):
I’m so glad you mentioned that. Yeah. Your second call should be to the best contractor in the business, which of course is us. We’ve done this a number of times and we’re very good at it. And please give us a call.
Jennifer Taranto (28:58):
Yeah, the other thing that I would add is to really be clear about what your sustainability goals are. Different clients have different cultures and different things that are most important to them. So, citing, for example, whether it is environmentalism or health and wellness that really are where you want to put most of your efforts. I think that helps your really good design team and your really a good contractor help you hone in on what we know works and what we can prove at the end of the day to make your project a success.
Brian Geller (29:35):
Yeah, I would agree with all those things. They’re all great points. You need to have a great team and you need to have those priorities and goals set from the beginning. And I think I can just give some examples from 825 Third Avenue. For example, we wanted a lobby for the building that looked modern and clean and up to date, but we didn’t want to simply lose everything that was there from the original lobby. So, the flooring is new. A lot of the elements of the lobby are new, but there are these gorgeous travertine walls that are original from 1969 that go floor to ceiling that we cleaned and restored and maintained and are still part of the lobby. Behind the walls, we replaced pretty much all of the systems, but it was a big cost and time savings to try to keep the original, ductwork at least the main in trunks going through the building.
Brian Geller (30:23):
But they’re from 1969, there was concerns about them leaking. So, we wanted to seal them with something called Aeroseal, which is a product that you can basically blow through duct work, and it will seal small leaks and cracks, seal them permanently. Aeroseal, they’re good company. They gave us all the data that we wanted on their product. We weren’t fully sure about the occupant health of it. So, we actually hired an industrial hygienist to monitor the air quality in the building during, and immediately after the ceiling of one sections that we could actually see what sort of off gassing, if you will, we would get and the results were incredibly low. We were very comfortable with it. We were very happy. And then we gave the green light to proceed with the rest of the building so that we were able to keep that duct work, bring it up to the performance standards that we wanted, but didn’t have to compromise on our overall sustainability and occupant health goals. So, again, going back to the points made, just having those goals in mind, as early as possible and working together to achieve them is really important.
Curtis Brown (31:29):
It sounds like that was sort of a new approach with sealing the ductwork. Are there any other new trends you’re seeing, coming to the sustainability field in repositioning?
Brian Geller (31:39):
I mean, that was one, there’s another one. This is the first time we’ve been able to do this on an existing building, but we’ve kind of piloted what we call a closed loop drywall recycling system, where we started this in our new construction projects, when we have drywall scraps, which usually in a big building, there’s several hundred tons of them. Rather than send them to a landfill or a cycling facility that will typically use them as alternative daily cover in a landfill, we actually partnered with a company in Pennsylvania that will take the scraps, remove the paper and reprocess all of the gypsum inside and then send that back to drywall manufacturers to be made into new drywall. So, it’s a fully closed loop system. We’ve done this on a number of new construction projects, but 825 was the first time that we were actually able to do it on the demolition side.
Brian Geller (32:31):
So, between the demolition and construction, we were able to send about 800 tons of both demolished drywall and new drywall scraps, to this processor and keep it in a closed loop system. So, I know it was mentioned earlier, but I think we’re going to see more and more of a trend toward closed loop systems. As Jenn had mentioned, people really want to pay more attention to the material streams in the buildings. And we were happy that we were able to do that at 825 and hope to continue doing it on other major renovation projects as they come up.
Jennifer Taranto (32:06):
Yeah, we’ve had a lot of good success with that closed loop gypsum wallboard process and have also started to do it with carpet, getting carpet back to the carpet manufacturers to make into new carpet or to be able to upcycled into insulation, as the case may be. I think that that is probably one of the places where the industry is going start to push the envelope is how do we create some zero waste systems.
Brian Geller (33:33):
Yes, I think that’s absolutely correct. And that’s why with carpet, we never use broad loom carpet. We always go with tiles. We’re very particular about how they’re adhered so that they can always be easily removed and recycled, so carpet is definitely another good one to focus on.
Curtis Brown (33:49):
Brooks, any comments on that?
Brooks McDaniel (33:50):
Yeah, I mean the big one that comes to mind to me is all electric buildings, which we’ve touched on a little bit. Local Law 154 was recently passed in New York, where there’s a phased timeline, but starting in mid-2027, large buildings will be required to be all electric with a few exceptions. You can still have a fossil fuel powered backup emergency generator, but for your day to day heating and cooling of a building, no gas anymore, and steam is allowed. But steam is probably going away in 15 or so years from ConEd. So, you’re left with heat pumps, electric heat pumps. And we’re seeing a lot of our clients who are looking at repositioning large, million square foot office buildings in Midtown are doing it ahead of the requirement, even though they’re not required to do it until 2027. We have several projects in the works that will be all electric buildings. We think that it’s the right thing to do. The market is asking for it and it saves energy and eliminates that source of carbon from the building.
Jennifer Taranto (35:04):
One other thing, you know, we’ve talked a lot about environmental sustainability. We’ve touched on ESG a little bit, so I want to move a little bit into the S while I talk about what I think are trends. I think that diversity and inclusion is a huge trend in the market as well. And this has to do not only with service provider organizations becoming more diverse, but also for our supply chain to become more diverse and to really start to look at underutilized businesses in the places where we do business and how do we do a more engagement, and get more of those businesses involved in our projects. And another movement that is also happening simultaneously is called Design For Freedom.
Jennifer Taranto (35:56):
I don’t know if anyone’s heard of Design For Freedom, but this is really about trying the effort to specify materials in a way where we’re looking to remove forced labor from the global material supply chain, right? And we know that modern slavery is still an issue in many of the markets where we do business. So I think that those are other trends that are simultaneously moving forward along with environmental sustainability, to sort of help round out that whole ESG component.
Curtis Brown (36:32):
That’s a really good point. Jenn, I’m glad you made that. This has been a great conversation. I appreciate you guys taking the time to have this discussion on the podcast.
Brian Geller (36:41):
Yeah. Thank you very much. This was very interesting. It’s great, especially to talk to someone on the construction side, who is this interested and motivated in this because it’s all too easy to put a lot of work in on the design side and have all these aspirations and have them not come through when you don’t have a contractor who is educated and fully committed to it. So, very exciting that you guys are looking so closely at this.
Brooks McDaniel (37:07):
I think that’s a great way to end it, which is to say that we are proud to be building and developing structures that we will be proud to put into the universe and will make this world a better place for our children and future generations.
Curtis Brown (37:26):
Well said, Brooks. On that note, I think we can call it a wrap.
Thanks for listening to Building Conversations. For more episodes like this, you can find us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Audible, and the STO Building Group website.