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Transforming DC’s Buildings: A Conversation with Industry Leaders

The Hub is dedicated to changing the way we think about buildings in the District, and one of the best ways we can help do this is by convening the city’s bright minds to address and overcome challenges to building performance. Recently, the Hub held our first Industry Leadership Forum, a roundtable discussion for local sustainability influencers. We structured the conversation simply around identifying the barriers to high-performing buildings, and solutions that overcome those barriers.

Members of the Hub's Industry Leadership Forum in discussion

Members of the Hub’s Industry Leadership Forum in discussion

Market Barriers

What are the biggest barriers to making high-performing buildings standard practice in your work?

Overwhelmingly, the theme of “disconnect” emerged throughout the conversation.

The disconnect between cost, risk, and value. The cost of high-performance building appears higher when 1) it’s not included at the outset of a project under consideration at the investor level, and 2) when consumers don’t recognize the value of it. Additionally, insurance companies are starting to incorporate climate risk into their models, but that doesn’t mean that developers and banks are necessarily adjusting their approach accordingly.

The disconnect between development and operations. When development and operations budgets are not analyzed together, the long-term value is not recognized.

The disconnect between how we speak about sustainability and how decision-makers think about it. Practitioners need to learn to speak the language of the finance industry so that the value of high-performance buildings is more readily understood.

Disconnect between information and action. There may be a lot of education happening, but the action doesn’t always follow.

Disconnect between the market leaders and those who follow. There are plenty of people who have made high-performance buildings part of their standard practice. The next step is to get in front of those who are curious, but don’t yet know what action to take. The market leaders need to focus on scaling success.

Disconnect between incremental and an all-or-nothing approach. Yes, governments and high-profile companies are setting targets to be “net zero” but industry can achieve significant and meaningful reductions even without that kind of ambitious commitment. Many changes require minimal effort and still produce a large cumulative impact.

Market Solutions

What are the solutions to overcome those barriers?

Use the right language. In order to effectively communicate the value of high-performance buildings, practitioners need to use the right language for the right audience. For example, referencing a company’s ESG goals when it comes to decision-making, using financial terminology with developers, and highlighting ways to create asset value outside the proforma.

Find examples. Find the market leaders who are already dong this and use their terminology. Talk to the decision-makers and ask how the early adopters actually make these decisions, and when.

Branch out beyond the “sustainability people.” Talk to those who are not intimately involved in these conversations normally, and help them understand and quantify the value. Help craft stories for them to share.

Drive demand. Leverage the workforce by positioning a building in a way that drives talent to a business or space. Make sure that what we’re selling is marketed to maximize consumer understanding and tie high-performance buildings to an increase in quality of life.

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