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[IMGCAP(1)]Sustainable development today is still so noteworthy that it has rapidly joined the criteria for awards from major trade associations. But just how long that will last is anyone’s guess, given the inspiration of rewards and economic value of green building. At some point in the not-too-distant future, most observers say, “Wow!” will become “So What?”

Not even a consideration five years ago, “green” design and building practices joined the factors considered when recognizing outstanding developments and developer. Green design is good design, says a recent honoree.

“A lot of architects are loving this. It’s just good design,” says Jim Lutz, senior vp of development of Malvern, Pa.-based Liberty Property Trust. His company was recently named Developer of the Year by the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, in part because of its long-standing commitment to sustainability. The company also has been honored in recent years by ULI and CoreNet Global for its green initiatives, which now include 37 LEED-certified buildings completed or in the development process.

The recognition of sustainability has come rapidly, much like the overall awareness of the value of green building and maintenance practices. Awareness is continuing to progress fast. “Five years ago, this was hardly a blip on the radar screen,” said Thomas J. Bisacquino, president of Herndon, Va.-based NAIOP. “[But] within the next three to five years, the definition of class A space, almost will be sustainable.”

Associations note that sustainable practices and developments are not mandated for their awards–but they certainly help to differentiate an entrant from its competition. “Recognition is our way of highlighting best practices,” said David Takesuye, director of awards of the Urban Land Institute, which annually honors outstanding developments in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe. “We pioneered the concept of smart growth. That has morphed into a more sophisticated thinking and understanding of ‘green’, using the state of the art of what works.”

Retail developments–because of the complexities regarding the varying practices and needs of individual tenants–have always been more challenging in terms of practicing and evaluating sustainability. Yet the juries of the International Design and Development Awards given by the International Council of Shopping Centers have created a system where up to five bonus points are given to acknowledge environmentally friendly practices, awarded by a separate jury from the main set of judges.

“The five bonus points could take a project that was not a winner into a certificate of merit recipient, or a merit recipient into an award winner,” explains Ronald Altoon, a principal of Los Angeles-based Altoon & Porter Architects, and a frequent ICSC awards recipient and judge.

But, all judges emphasize, sustainable development is just one of many criteria considered when honoring a developer or development. For most, what truly makes a company or development award-worthy is a commitment to the long-term viability of a project or portfolio. “A company like Liberty has been doing this for a while, and doing it a lot,” Bisacquino said. “It’s the level of commitment that’s pretty outstanding. It’s differentiating.”

Sustainability is pretty much differentiating only in North America, Bisacquino noted. Takesuye observes that sustainability is a baseline in Europe and for new development in Asia and Australia. “Potential entrants in Europe and Australia practice this every day,” ULI’s Takesuye said. “It’s not only standard, it’s mandated by the government.”

Awards are not a company’s only motive. Sustainable buildings are more likely to be fully leased and attain higher rents, says Liberty’s Lutz. And that, rather than honorifics, will inspire the construction of more environmentally friendly buildings. “When things are successful, other people copy them,” Lutz says. “I don’t see that as a bad thing.”

As a result, sustainability may not be differentiating for too much longer, following in the steps of Europe and Asia. Some estimate that in five years, green practices will be the rule, not the award-winning exception. Much will depend on the building codes and manufacturers.

“When the goals of the U.S.G.B.C. are embedded in building, that’s when we should be dissolving the point system,” Altoon said. “[Also,] when manufacturers begin producing only products that meet LEED certification. We need to continue to make an issue of it for the next five years.”

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