Real life challenges and rewards to efficiency: CFL use in construction

Charlotte Matthews is the Vice President of Sustainability at Related, a leading real estate company based in New York City. A few months back she wrote a blog post on the Urban Green Council’s website that illustrated with a real world example some of the “devil is in the detail” challenges and opportunities of energy efficiency measures.

Charlotte proposed the use of CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp – an energy saving technology when compared to traditional incandescent lighting) for temporary construction lighting on a major project that Related was undertaking at the time.  (Remember that whole thing about energy efficiency being sexy?  How’s that building for a job site…?)

Apart from the large dollar savings realized, what is perhaps most striking about her post is the resistance to specific energy measures even from those advocating for their use.

Some key observations from Charlotte’s post are below:

  • Impact: Related managed to save $310,000 over 400 days of construction via the use of CFLs. The higher cost turned out not to be an issue, as is commonly assumed.
  • Physical Problems: Construction sites use left-threaded bulbs to prevent theft. All other bulbs have a right-thread, so there must be specialty product created for construction use of CFLs.
  • Personnel Challenges: The electrical contractor wouldn’t charge a premium for the use of CFLs but he would require Related to cover theft. Most of the concerns involved how much petty theft would occur.
  • Failure of Traditional Tech: On a taller building, traditional incandescent bulbs burn out so quickly that by the time the contractor has installed the upper floors’ temporary lighting, the bottom floors’ bulbs have already burnt out and must be replaced.

It is worth noting that this post has served as a strong catalyst across the energy efficiency and real estate space. We have heard reports of other real estate firms having read the blog post and immediately asking why they were not pursuing the same measures. This fact presents a useful insight into the mindset of the real estate industry. Relative competitive positioning does matter. Firms do respond to the actions of competitors. Real estate as a whole has a tendency to follow the pioneering leaders. A few forward thinkers will incrementally push the boundaries of the accepted practices and techniques, and as their findings become better understood, the rest of the industry will move to prevent any competitive advantage from developing.

This is both a blessing and a curse for efficiency measures. Once a few key leaders are able to demonstrate that energy efficiency can be easily integrated in a way that ties back to key real estate metrics such as net-operating income or increased rental uptake, others will be more likely to move quickly.

Charlotte’s blog post is a must read for those focused on efficiency, and we commend her for her leadership in this space.

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