With the exception of its palm trees and lush Everglades, there’s not a lot of green in South Florida. Suburban sprawl, water-chugging golf courses and polluted urban runoff tends to overshadow most environmentally sensitive construction that exists in the region. But that is beginning to change, at least in the commercial real estate industry.
It’s been a slow start, but Florida builders are starting to catch up with those in other densely populated areas of the country in terms of LEED-certified construction projects. According to the South Florida chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the area officially topped the 200-project milestone in mid-November and has a total of 204 as of early December. Not bad for a region that only had its first LEED certification in 2009.
The most recent LEED-certified project in the region is the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, a six-acre biotechnology laboratory complex located at Florida Atlantic University, in Jupiter, Fla. The 100,000-square-foot structure, built by the Weitz Co., opened on Dec. 5 with LEED Gold status for its several symbiotic energy conservation features.
Laboratory and office spaces, for example, have large windows on the north side to bring in maximum daylight, while south-facing offices have external sunshades calibrated to minimizing heat and glare. The site includes mechanical energy recovery wheels to capture useable energy from the building’s exhaust. Moisture in the notoriously humid Florida climate is removed by dehumidifiers, which contribute water to the building’s cooling system. Also, the landscaping around the building includes drought-tolerant native plant species that are irrigated by reclaimed water.
In 2012 alone, the USBGC South Florida chapter notes, a record-high 61 LEED projects were certified in the area, which had a population of more than 5.5 million in the 2010 census. The total 204-project figure only includes those projects that are publicly disclosed; many other commercial and residential structures also meet the strict LEED building codes.
“We applaud the companies, owners, municipalities and everyone who played even a small part in this effort to deliver environmentally responsible, healthy and resource-efficient buildings in 2012 and prior,” said Paul Carty, president of the local USGBC chapter, in a statement. “It’s unquestionably the right thing to do for the communities in which we live, work and play.”
Some notable 2012 LEED Platinum certifications for new construction in the South Florida region include the Hypower Maintenance Facility in Pompano Beach (June); a new branch of TD Bank in Lake Worth (September); and the Palmetto Bay Municipal Center in Palmetto Bay (October). Each of these projects feature solar panel arrays for energy generation, the use of daylight to reduce electricity usage and rainwater collection systems for use as irrigation on the landscaping, and several other green amenities. See the full list here for the region’s projects in each LEED category.
Engineer Mike Pella of Kamm Consulting in Deerfield Beach, Fla., told the Orlando Sentinel that the recent South Florida surge in LEED construction is coming mostly from government buildings and high-end office spaces that are seeking ways to cut operational costs, rather than the small, private initiatives that tended to file for certification before the Great Recession. Pella, who is currently working on more than a dozen LEED projects, also said the cache of LEED and the lower energy costs are enabling some building owners to lure more eco-conscious tenants and charge higher rents.