In today’s commercial construction market, tenants and building owners have come to expect their offices to be more than just spaces to conduct business. While elements of comfort and aesthetics have always been part of the equation, these days sustainability is as much a necessity as desks and chairs. Demand for green building certifications such as LEED and ENERGY STAR is on the rise, as is the desire for resource-efficient HVAC, lighting and plumbing systems.

Trends to Watch
At its core, sustainability means the development of a high-quality product that promotes resource conservation and tenant health. But constant advancements in technology and design render this definition dynamic. In today’s market, keeping ahead of the curve can often mean the difference between occupied and vacant space.

One technology quickly proliferating in the market is the dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS), which is 40 percent more energy efficient than a traditional variable air volume system meeting ASHRAE base standards. The compact size of the DOAS gives building owners another important benefit: space. A DOAS requires less top-to-bottom plenum space and less shaft ductwork, allowing developers to raise ceiling heights and expand floor plans. Initially considered too expensive to install, modifications in design and added competition among DOAS manufacturers have increased their affordability. These long-term economic advantages, plus tenant health-related benefits, have already increased their popularity.

Glass curtain walls also are being used more in new buildings. They let in tons of natural light, which can help decrease energy costs and promote greater productivity and overall employee satisfaction. With benefits like these, expect glass curtain walls to stick around.

But tenants these days want more than just looks; they want sustainability—people, planet and profit. A growing percentage of tenants are specifically looking to occupy LEED-certified buildings and are spending capital to improve energy efficiency in their spaces. Top building owners and contractors support these efforts by anticipating demand for sustainability long after construction is complete.

Tenants also are concerned with space utilization. A decade ago, telecommuting was all the rage. Nowadays, the prevalence of IT means greater concerns about employee accountability and data security, prompting companies to bring workers back to the office. This change doesn’t necessarily mean commercial space is getting larger. Instead, tenants are “right sizing,” or making efficient use of all space they lease while working to meet employee expectations for comfort and convenience. Right sizing can mean smaller executive offices, larger communal workspace and less storage. It’s not uncommon for newly constructed buildings to have smaller footprints, or for existing buildings to accommodate additional tenants.

Despite these trends, tenants still expect bells and whistles. Access to state-of-the-art gyms, conference rooms, rooftop decks and dining options is essential, as is proximity to public transit. Tenants now expect sustainability on top of all these amenities, not as a replacement for them.

Beyond Construction
For building owners, sustainability doesn’t stop at core and shell, nor does it stop at tenant occupancy. Sustainability emphasizes resource conservation and tenant health throughout the entire life of the building. Top contractors anticipate this and help prepare a property to optimize efficiency once occupied.

Owners and contractors alike are now hiring sustainability staff to drive building improvements, reduce operating costs and report savings. These staff members help buildings achieve green certifications such as LEED or ENERGY STAR. Through tools such as real-time monitoring and utility bill management, staff can identify additional opportunities to reduce energy costs.
As the tool kit for sustainable buildings continues to grow, one thing is clear: Tenants are no longer satisfied with simply occupying a building. They are now investing their own resources to make sustainability a reality.

What Owners Want

Today’s owners are looking for contractors that offer more than just the lowest bid. Owners want firms that are creative, consistently operate on the cutting edge and have a clear understanding of today’s high-tech construction environment. Success comes down to having the right people on the jobsite. If the staff has the experience and industry knowledge, particularly in sustainability, everyone wins.

While price is always important, owners want contractors that can deliver quality and provide good customer service. That said, no relationship is without obstacles. For building owners today, one major challenge is working with contractors that cannot stay on schedule. A number of factors can affect scheduling, including inventory management. Suppliers often keep limited inventory on hand instead of producing it as needed. Anticipating inventory shortages, production time frames and similar issues can help keep a project on schedule and strengthen the owner-contractor partnership.

In the end, sustainability in commercial construction is a delicate balance between less energy and environmental impact, and more amenities and access. Tenant expectations for sustainability are growing. As the costs of achieving sustainability are decreasing, it’s safe to predict these trends in commercial construction will hold well into the future.  

John Sadlik is vice president of construction for First Potomac Realty Trust. For more information, visit