COVER STORY, JUNE 2012
How the “cleanweb” will transform real estate.
With the digital equivalent of a switch being flipped, comprehensive data on more than 30,000 commercial and mixed-use buildings in San Francisco was released to the public on May 24. The release includes the first-ever compliance map of San Francisco’s energy benchmarking law, labeling all compliant, pending and non-compliant commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet.
This could be dismissed as an isolated initiative from a city known for progressive policies, but HonestBuildings.com, the website releasing the data, already catalogues more than 400,000 buildings across the U.S. The website serves up building data, including square footage, building ownership and management, as well as projects and renovations that have been performed on a building.
Additional cities across the Western states, including Los Angeles and Seattle, are currently planning similar data releases through Honest Buildings’ platform.
“Aggregating and releasing this building information provides a new level of transparency around buildings that helps everyone make smarter and faster real estate decisions,” said Riggs Kubiak, CEO of Honest Buildings and former global head of sustainability for Tishman Speyer. “We are bringing together government, private business and individuals, connecting the entire commercial real estate market so they can do more business more efficiently. It makes financial sense, and it also makes sense for the environment, as buildings now have to compete with each other to be more energy efficient.”
By making public data easily accessible to decision-makers at no cost, Honest Buildings isn't just "outing" inefficient buildings. Owners and managers can use Honest Buildings to find the best company to carry out a required energy audit. They can also use it to find companies that specialize in energy monitoring, lighting and other energy efficiencies that will help them lower their energy use and save significant amounts of money on operating expenses. An RFP component will eventually be available, giving owners an easy way to collect bids from service providers.
This trend of bringing web, mobile and social media strategies to more traditional brick-and-mortar industries is part of the “cleanweb,” a term coined by Sunil Paul of Spring Ventures, an investor in Honest Buildings. “The cleanweb has the potential to fundamentally change industries like real estate, transportation, and travel in the same way social media and mobile technologies have transformed journalism, music and countless other businesses,” Paul said. “Honest Buildings is streamlining the costly and inefficient process building owners and managers have to find service providers for their next project, and in turn that’s accelerating the adoption of high-performance buildings.”
Online real estate innovation reaches beyond sustainability: a startup called Popularise recently expanded to Seattle, and uses crowdsourcing to help owners fill vacancies by asking people to contribute ideas and vote on desirable commercial tenants. Kimco is filling vacancies through Kimco Entrepreneurs Year Start (KEYS) program, which launched at more than 110 shopping centers in California, offering retail startups a year of free rent and additional discounts and business resources.
The volume of real estate data that is packaged and available online (and the resulting transparency) makes it increasingly important for owners and managers to claim and manage their “virtual assets” to maintain relevance and credibility in the marketplace, access new resources and make wise business decisions.
Karla Zens is sustainability and marketing director with Capital Pacific.
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