by Dan Rafter
Earlier this year, Transwestern signed eight leases totaling 88,900 square feet at 200 W. Madison St. in Chicago’s West Loop. This burst of activity at the 45-story office tower wasn’t solely because the building is one of the greenest office spaces in the city, having recently earned recertification to the LEED Gold level from the U.S. Green Building Council.
But the tower’s green reputation certainly didn’t hurt.
It’s no secret that green buildings attract tenants. Yes, a building’s aesthetics, location and interior spaces are the most important factors in bringing in a steady stream of tenants. But many companies today also want to work in buildings that are environmentally kind. Employers also realize that green buildings tend to be spaces in which employees are happier and healthier.
And such employees tend to be more productive, providing a boost to the companies that employ them.
“It all depends on the building, where it is and who the tenants are, but during the last 10 years, having a green building has become more of a selling point,” said Allan Skodowski, managing senior vice president and director of LEED and sustainability services at Transwestern.
“When I started working in this field, building owners viewed qualifying for LEED certification as a painful process at best,” Skodowski said. “Now we are seeing owners take a more intent look at where things are from an energy standpoint. And it’s moving even closer toward what having a green building means for employees and their health. Owners are wondering how having a green building can make their employees more productive.”
Busy times in the West Loop
200 West Madison is an example of a building that offers plenty of positives, everything from a solid location in the West Loop to recent building improvements to a strong LEED rating.
Combine those positives and you end up with the kind of solid leasing performance that this building recently celebrated.
With the eight new leases, the 928,040-square-foot tower’s occupancy rate jumped to 92.5 percent. That boost coincides with a $5 million recent capital improvement program and the building’s jump to LEED Gold status.
Transwestern has managed this tower since 2011, and the building was recently named The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) by BOMA/Chicago for excellence in property management and operations.
Transwestern is now leading a $5 million renovation that includes an updated lobby with new art, a 30-foot green wall and added seating areas; modernized elevators; a new tenant lounge and club room; and an expanded fitness center complete with a yoga room.
These improvements, along with the building’s lofty green status, are a major selling point when it comes to bringing in new tenants, say Transwestern officials.
“The improvements at 200 West Madison are indicative of a broader trend in the downtown office market – particularly in the West Loop – where owners are upgrading existing buildings to attract and retain tenants that use their office space as a recruiting tool,” said Michael Lirtzman, executive vice president with Transwestern. “By adding the latest technologies and amenities, owners are seeing heightened interest in their properties, even those that were developed 20 or 30 years ago.”
The dynamic plaque
The office tower is home, too, to a LEED Dynamic Plaque, which measures and displays the building’s performance across five key categories: energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience. The plaque generates a constantly evolving performance score — on a 100-point scale — so that visitors and workers to 200 W. Madison St. can see just how well the building is performing.
Buildings can generate a maximum performance score of 33 in energy, 15 in water, eight in waste, 14 in transportation and 20 in human experience. Each building starts with a base score of 10. A building’s current score is compiled by adding all the individual scores together, for a maximum performance score of 100.
Buildings with performance scores from 40 to 49 are ranked as LEED Certified. Those with scores of 50 to 59 are LEED Silver. Buildings that earn performance scores of 69 to 79 are LEED GOld, while those with scores of 80 or more are LEED Platinum. A buiding with a Dynamic Plaque will rely on smart meters and building automation systems to track its energy and water use and CO2 data to provide some of the key numbers to the plaque.
“The plaque is an important measuring tool,” said Skodowski. “It measures how your energy use and water use compare to other properties. It tracks what your actual recycling ratio has been over a 12-month period. What do the tests for indoor air quality show? Your building’s cleanliness, the transportation options the employees have, it all goes into a building’s score.”
Skodowski said that 200 W. Madison St. was the second office tower in the world to use the LEED Dynamic Plaque to recertify to a higher LEED level.
“Earning high LEED certification levels has become more important for companies in or near the Fortune 500,” Skodowski said. “There is a social responsibility component that these companies want to honor. Today, companies are asking landlords what they are doing to help keep their employees healthy, happy and productive. It’s not just about how much lower operating and energy expenses are at a building. It’s more about what these green initiatives can do for a company and its workers.”
Skodowski said that the country’s most innovative companies are focusing on how they can make their employees more productive by offering them benefits that boost their health and happiness levels. Company executives, then, are asking landlords what amenities their buildings offer that can strengthen the morale of their workers. Many of these morale-boosting amenities, of course, will be green ones.
“Is there a fitness center in the building or near it? What are you doing for your building’s air quality? Are you doing regular water testing in the building? These are the questions that are more frequently being asked today,” Skodowski said. “It is moving from an environmental movement to save the planet to a discussion about health and wellness and how buildings impact employees.”