Industrial Property and Going Green

Katy Pilling

Aug 6, 2020

Environmental Impacts of Industrial Property

According to the EPA, the electrical usage for industrial property and equipment accounts for almost a third of the United States’ total annual electricity usage. From the data the EPA collected on manufacturing facilities, more than half of that electricity is used for machine operations, followed by heating, cooling, and electro-chemical processes. Natural gases and coal make up the majority of the energy sources used for industrial production and machine usage. Renewable energy, such as solar and wind, constitutes a small percentage of the overall energy output. With industrial properties representing a major percentage of energy consumption in the United States, it follows that these properties represent one of highest contributors to pollution, waste, and environmental damage.

A 2016 study conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) concluded that more than 5.5 million people worldwide die every year from air pollution, excluding deaths through other environmental pollution possibilities such as water supply contamination. In China and India – two countries with the fastest-growing economies – the death toll in those countries attributed to air pollution is half of the amount that the AAAS estimated in its study, due in large part to the industrial factories and production plants in those countries that produce deadly smog.

With pollution contributing to environmental devastation and deaths of millions worldwide (and the industrial sector representing a major contributor to this issue), industrial property owners must begin contemplating how they can be a part of the solution. As technology improves and consumers look for more environmentally-aware companies, industrial property owners can take numerous steps to help reduce their contribution to the pollution statistic.

Going Green

Below, we offer a few examples of ways industrial properties can introduce sustainable practices.

Building changes

Bamboo remains a popular product implemented in sustainable buildings for its quickly-renewable supply. An additional option is to reuse any materials from other buildings. Using drywall that’s otherwise perfect except for broken corners or ripped insulation that can be repaired remains a viable and more economical option than buying new. This practice prevents near-perfect materials from being thrown away and wasted.

Apply architectural films

Adding a thin layer of protective film to windows offers many benefits. Not only does it reduce heating and energy costs by reducing the effect of the sun’s heat streaming through the windows, but also protects interior materials (furniture, tiles, walls) from fading due to ultraviolet rays.

Employ renewable energy practices

Renewable energy sources create energy and save money as well. While up-front implementation costs may appear to be more expensive (such as solar panels or wind turbines), these solutions save a lot more for the company in the long run by reducing energy costs.

Business practices and smaller space changes

Buy materials from or sell to sustainable companies

Green practices don’t just have to apply to an immediate space. These practices should start before and continue after the building is built. Selling or buying materials from other sustainable companies helps to continue the cycle and can encourage others to adopt those practices.

Research alternative energy methods

Implementing renewable, alternative energy sources into a building can be expensive. If your company is on a coast or near a major water source, tidal energy may be more viable than solar power. Additionally, exploring bio fuels for transportation such as ethanol instead of fossil fuels may represent a viable option.

Reduce waste

This practice can involve anything from turning off lights or machines when they’re not being used, going paperless to reduce paper waste and cut costs on printed materials, or to changing traditional light bulbs to energy-efficient bulbs. There are many simple ways to reduce waste that will have a large impact on the overall sustainability of the building.

Employ green cleaning

Depending on the type of industry, it may be possible to switch from harsh chemical cleaners to cleaner, greener products, especially in offices or other human-frequented spaces. While in some locations - such as laboratories - stringent chemicals will still be required to meet safety standards. In others, where possible, switching to safer, more sustainable products is better for the environment and better for workers.

Adopt green travel policies

For companies where employees travel for work, or there is a significant number of employees who commute from long-distances to get to work, reducing the amount of travel can help offset a company’s carbon footprint. If the company provides car for its employees, switching to hybrids can help reduce emissions. Using video conferencing more often instead of requiring commutes to work, conferences, or meetings; booking non-stop flights for longer-distance travel; and encouraging public transportation all represent viable options to help reduce a company’s carbon contribution.

Connect with other businesses

Talk to other businesses - whether they’re in a similar category or not - to see what they are doing to implement a sustainable business model to inspire and shape your own green and sustainable business practices.

A Local Green Industrial Business

John Edel, owner of Bubbly Dynamics LLC, represents an exceptional example of an ecologically responsible and sustainable local business owner in Chicago. His business, Bubbly Dynamics, focuses on developing and implementing sustainable practices in industrial properties through renovation instead of destruction of existing infrastructure. An example of this business model is The Plant, a research facility comprised of small, local businesses in the Back of The Yards neighborhood in Chicago. This collaborative facility exists in the old Peer Foods meat-processing plant, which was renovated to fit the needs of the tenants. Instead of completely demolishing the existing structure, Bubbly and John Edel used broken drywall pieces, unused, leftover paint, and other building materials in his building that other businesses would have just sent to landfills.

Moreover, The Plant endeavors to be sustainable in every way. The waste accumulated from the many businesses housed there (such as the yeast-contaminated carbon-dioxide waste that the microbrewery Whiner Beer Company produces) is put back into powering The Plant. Production heat is filtered back to heat the building. Excess water is filtered through natural elements and reused in the agriculture throughout the building. The Plant also is completing an anaerobic digester which will help with the food-waste from production and from the community, and convert it into valuable other outputs. The Plant is closing waste loops and exploring strategies that could be helpful to other businesses.

When asked about his reasons for adopting this sustainable business model, John Edel said he “saw the value” in not wasting things when he looked “at the waste stream around us and saw good stuff going into landfills.” The amount of perfectly-good materials that were wasted because of small imperfections - which could otherwise be fixed - inspired him to create Bubbly Dynamics LLC in 2002. Edel says of the current method of building unsustainable industrial properties that “not only is it an environmental disaster, because you have to recreate all these materials brand new, which involves resource extraction, transportation and energy…but there is also the economic aspect to it where if you can take an existing building or an existing material that’s already been made and revitalize it, then that’s a vastly more green or sustainable approach to doing it.” His sustainability model saves money, saves resources from ending up in landfills, and helps to reduce the pollution statistic for industrial buildings.

Tax Advantages for a Sustainable Business

To provide incentives to industrial business owners to implement sustainable products or practices in their buildings, local and state governments often create tax breaks or other economic benefits. DSIRE provides a database of all local, state and federal tax advantages for sustainability practices. It outlines financial incentives and regulatory policies to find the best options for each industrial business, and to help make going greener easier.

Final Thoughts

The economy rests on the backs of the industrial sector of property, and through the evolution and implementation of green energy and other sustainable practices, and the reduction of their overall carbon footprint, industrial owners can make significant contributions to help reduce the effects of greenhouse gases and other harmful pollution. The benefits of sustainability on the environment should be reason enough to implement the practices, but there are other benefits as well. A Harvard study found that there was a positive increase in cognitive function and focus for workers who worked in green buildings. Going green helps the environment, includes the possibility for owners to earn tax breaks, and has a positive effect on workers, making the decision to implement sustainable practices a smart business decision going forward.

Additional resources of note

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