As a teenager growing up on San Antonio’s sprawling Northwest side, I watched my childhood stomping grounds develop into single-family residential neighborhoods, big-box retail complexes, parking lots, and ever-expanding, congested roadways.
While I enjoyed some of the conveniences and economic opportunities that these changes brought, I worried about the negative impacts as well. During my college years at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I read in the newspaper about ceaseless battles between environmentalists and developers and thought, there must be a way we can achieve economic prosperity without destroying the environment. After all, businesses require access to the earth’s natural resources in order to produce the goods and services that keep a healthy economy running.
Business and development shouldn’t be at odds with the environment – their success depends on it.
Around that same time, the U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system, which strives to achieve the triple bottom line – looking at people, planet, and profits as interdependent indicators of a successful building project – and on a larger scale, a healthy economy.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to join Sustainable Perspectives Group, a local consulting business that specialized in the LEED certification process. My experience there gave me hope that humans can work together to create buildings that meet our needs while reducing environmental impacts. It also helped me to see new challenges that I had not previously considered. For example, a building may be designed and constructed to run efficiently, but it is critical for building operators to continuously monitor performance after occupancy to ensure that the expected results are realized.
So, in 2015, when the opportunity came to lead the San Antonio 2030 District, a group of property owners in downtown San Antonio who are teaming up to save money while reducing energy use, water use, transportation emissions, and stormwater runoff, I couldn’t resist.
District members pledge to benchmark and share building performance using the EPA’s free Energy Star Portfolio Manager online tool. Individual building data is kept confidential –the district’s performance is reported in aggregate. Last year, benchmarked member buildings in the San Antonio 2030 District Annual Report performed 22% better in aggregate compared to the baseline Energy Use Intensity, a savings in CO2 emissions equivalent to nearly 11 million pounds of coal burned.
Property owners and managers within the district boundary join for free. There are no prescriptive requirements to follow, and no penalties for buildings that underperform. The objective is to give property owners access to tools and resources to help them improve their building’s energy efficiency and their bottom line. Networking is a key component of San Antonio 2030 District activities. At a “Think and Drink” event last Spring, representatives from CPS Energy connected with the staff and mechanical design team of the San Antonio Museum of Art, and identified a number of rebate programs available that are currently being explored.
“We are members because we want to connect with downtown property owners and local agencies to exchange information and share experience on ways to decrease our energy and water consumption,” said Pam Hannah, chief operations officer at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
With an emphasis on return on investment and making the business case for sustainability, district members meet on a regular basis to share case studies and best practices to learn from peer experience.
Laurence Seiterle of Zurich International Properties said he became a founding member of the San Antonio 2030 District because "I’m interested in real data, real case studies, what works and what doesn’t.”
Jason McIntyre, national property operations manager for USAA Real Estate, another founding member, said the San Antonio-based insurance and banking company “makes a concentrated effort to optimize building operations and performance through energy efficiency efforts. Our two buildings downtown, One Riverwalk Place and the newly acquired Bank of America Plaza, jointly owned with Houston-based Patrinely Group, have made the commitment to participate in the San Antonio District 2030 and have already been achieving energy reductions through improved efficiencies. These efforts benefit the tenants and occupants, building ownership, and the environment.”
In addition to discussing strategies in energy efficiency, water conservation, alternative transportation, and low impact development, members work together to highlight issues of local interest and to break down barriers and potential roadblocks to success.
For example, recent member meetings have included discussions about the feasibility of tying into the SAWS downtown chilled water loop and the challenges of connecting rooftop solar photovoltaics within the downtown network grid, as well as conversations about innovative financing strategies such as PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy). A recent tour of the green roof at the Hipolito F. Garcia building led to the formation of a Green Roof Group, spearheaded by the San Antonio River Authority, to dig into the benefits of green roofs, such as reduced urban heat island effect, stormwater runoff reduction, energy savings, and tenant amenities, as well as the concerns that property owners have regarding maintenance, design challenges, and potential for return on investment.