This article was originally featured in The New York Times on July 14, 2020.
As technology costs have declined, more developers are creating buildings that can benefit the Earth by tackling pollution and save money by producing their own power.
For a couple of decades, many in the real estate industry have been trying to make buildings “green,” replacing conventionally made materials with sustainable ones and installing energy-efficient systems. Buildings have a heavy environmental footprint, so the upshot of all this tinkering has been structures that are less harmful to the planet.
Now some developers are going further with “deep green” buildings that are actually good for it.
The new approach has been pioneered by nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and mission-driven owner occupants seeking to show that buildings can, say, generate all their own power or turn waste from toilets into garden fertilizer. Now commercial real estate is taking up the baton, with projects that uphold ever-higher environmental standards, and sometimes even tackle knotty public problems like local sources of water pollution.
“We’re at a place where science is telling us to take action and the financials are telling us it’s doable,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president for the Greenprint Center for Building Performance at the Urban Land Institute.
Recent events may well bolster such development, with the coronavirus pandemic spurring interest in the sorts of healthy interiors that are found in deep-green buildings and the protests against racial injustice prompting real estate investors to double down on assets that advance the greater good.