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[IMGCAP(1)]NEW YORK CITY-The US Department of Energy, commercial real estate executives and officers from the Buildings Owners and Managers Assoc. have launched a public-private initiative to reduce energy consumption and the resulting carbon footprint of the nation’s commercial buildings. The kickoff event for the Commercial Real Estate Energy Alliance was a meeting held Thursday afternoon at 7 World Trade Center, the first LEED Gold-certified office tower in Manhattan.

Despite increasingly sour times in the market, 18 representatives from some of the nation’s largest commercial real estate companies took part in the event. “You give evidence to this being the right time for this initiative by looking at who was here,” Richard D. Purtell, chair and CEO at BOMA tells GlobeSt.com. Purtell, also portfolio manager at Grubb & Ellis, stresses that “this is the time to do this: right now and not wait.”

Adds Diane Vrkic, COO of global energy sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle, “There could be a lot of growth around these alliances. It seemed as through all the different individuals here, who came to exchange ideas, seemed to benefit from these exchanges.”

Open to all interested commercial real estate organizations, CREEA is a collaboration of commercial real estate owners and operators who’ve volunteered to work directly with each other with the DOE serving as facilitator. Part of DOE’s Building Technologies Program, CREEA links building owners and operators with research and technologies being developed at the DOE’s national laboratories. The alliance plans to help lower the costs of technologies and overcome regulatory barriers.

Henry Chamberlain, BOMA president and COO tells GlobeSt.com, “As we drive down the use of energy, we can drive down greenhouse gasses while driving innovation in the marketplace. CREAA’s going to be a catalyst for long-term change, and we’re going to be able to change the marketplace faster than we could have individually.”

The amount of energy needed to light, cool, heat and keep commercial buildings running is estimated at 18 quads annually, producing 1.05 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the DOE. That means the estimated 75 billion square feet of commercial floor space is responsible for 18% of the entire nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Closer to home, analysis from New York City’s 2007 carbon inventory showed that 58 million tons of carbon emissions were produced each year, with 79% of that coming from buildings.

Chamberlain and other executives extol the financial benefits of a clearly growing energy movement. They say the recessed economy is actually a reason to look forward, noting the increased dollar values of energy efficient buildings that in turn are higher producing.

“It creates more value back to the owners, it creates more value back to the tenants and it drives value across the economy and as this all happens, we’re ultimately going to create some green jobs,” Chamberlain tells GlobeSt.com. He adds that the combination of market innovation, incentives and blending of interests will create the change.

[IMGCAP(2)]For its part, the DOE will act as integrator by bringing the real estate players together, Drury B. Crawley, team leader of commercial buildings R&D at the department, tells GlobeSt.com. He says DOE will “open its ears and listen to find out exactly what works in the marketplace, what the needs are,” and will then direct resources and technical experts at the national labs to help solve existing problems and forward effective innovation into fruition.

Crawley says the slow economy is a good time to be focused on adding the value of green to existing properties. “For so long, when the economy was booming, developers were putting up buildings as quickly as they could, since they were going to make money on them no matter what,” he says. Now, with the slower economy, they’re beginning to step back and look at greening, because energy is important, energy is dollars.”

Noting that cap and trade is very high on President Barack Obama’s agenda, Crawley says we’re going to see something related to carbon and energy on Capitol Hill this year. With that said, participants at the 7 WTC meeting tell GlobeSt.com it’s vital to not only identify what technology is working, but also what doesn’t work.

Karen W. Panfield, BOMA’s VP of advocacy, says the meeting’s owner/landlord attendees observed that the biggest barrier was not technology, but how best to educate tenants about their role in energy efficiency and sustainability. “We have to connect them to this issue,” she tells GlobeSt.com. “We can do that in a number of ways, with leases and incentives.” However, she adds, a landlord can’t force tenants to recycle or turn out the lights when they leave a room.

“One of the things we’re working on is existing building stock and incentives to retrofit many of those buildings that aren’t energy efficient now,” Penafiel tells GlobeSt.com. Citing the $500 million in national stimulus funds that have been allocated for green jobs, Crawley says “we’re trying to direct some of that money to training within the building industry, because that’s where the greening is going to happen. We’ve talked to a lot of the players, and there’s a lack of skilled technicians to service equipment or make sure it’s built and running correctly.”

Calling the meeting at 7 WTC “wonderful,” Vrkic tells GlobeSt.com that “as people find out about these alliances, they will grow, and the commercial real estate community will begin to access the information that the Department of Energy has to share with them.”

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