Distribution Centers and Warehouses Turn a Light (Industrial) Shade of Green

In Syska’s recently published Corporate Sustainability Report, we talked about several commercial properties that achieved high standards of energy efficiency. We didn’t include any examples of light industrial facilities with similar targets, but we probably will next year: They are becoming increasingly common. Senior principal Keith Fitzpatrick and senior sustainability specialist George Miroshnikov, who are working on light industrial projects in Boston, New York, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), and St. Louis, told us more about efforts to integrate sustainability into the design and construction of these facilities.

Connections: Light industrial properties attracted developers during the pandemic as people began relying more and more on deliveries via last-mile distribution. When did sustainability of these properties emerge as a consideration?

Keith: At first the focus was on speed of construction to keep up with consumer demand. But eventually we noticed more openness on the part of developers toward incorporating sustainability into their projects. Many developers are eco-minded. So are target tenants: Big players like Amazon, FedEx, and UPS all have ambitious Net Zero goals that they track and report to their various stakeholders.

Connections: What steps can developers take to promote sustainability in light industrial facilities?

George: They can focus on reducing both embodied and operational carbon. Embodied carbon refers to building materials, and operational carbon refers to on-site usage of energy. In the case of light industrial facilities, embodied carbon is of greater concern. To decrease it, developers can use less concrete and steel, replacing these materials with alternatives like mass timber. But they can take important steps on the operational side as well. For example, they can choose electrification wherever possible, using, say, heat pumps instead of gas furnaces. They can also incorporate principles of passive house design, install rooftop solar panels to generate clean power, or take advantage of geothermal piles if pile foundations are already part of the project.

Keith: Generally speaking, at the beginning of every project we take a pause and think about how we can build not only quickly, but also sustainably. We work closely with structural engineers and architects to look at all possibilities on the embodied and operational fronts as well as the building envelope.

Connections: To what extent will sustainability play a role in future development of light industrial facilities?

Keith: Its role is only going to increase as the industry matures. More and more developers will ask themselves how they can improve performance from a carbon perspective. We already find that developers appreciate Syska’s inclusion high-performance specialists on every project team for light industrial. This is one of the reasons the practice has grown rapidly over the past three years.

George: Developers are also paying close attention to legislation surrounding sustainability and building performance. In many jurisdictions, the performance standards are higher for larger buildings, and light industrial facilities tend to be larger. We’re working with developers to future-enable their properties so it will be easier to comply with existing laws and potential new ones that are likely to be passed in the near future.

Keith: Future-enabling facilities also includes voltage service for the wider use of electric vehicles and chargers. We make sure that there are sufficient conduits and infrastructure underground so that developers don’t face unexpected costs. Given the rapid pace of change in the light industrial sector, it’s smart to size MEP equipment to meet not only the needs of today, but also of tomorrow.

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