Forest City: Using Technology to Meet Portfolio-Wide Energy Reduction Goals
Sustainability is a core value for Forest City, a national real estate company with a diverse portfolio of commercial and residential properties. The company is continuously researching and vetting new technologies to help its properties reach its energy reduction goals. The Integrative Design Services (IDS) group works in coordination with asset management and sourcing groups to evaluate and recommend best practices for each building’s unique design and facilities management. The group’s objective is to not only improve building performance on an individual basis, but to bring new technologies to portfolio-wide adoption, further strengthening the company’s financial position for its associates and investors.
Forest City business operations are divided into project development and investment. To ensure energy is integrated in each step, the company has developed a process that allows innovation and capital planning to coexist, aligning design aspirations with company goals to leverage business and deploy capital. The implementation model follows Forest City’s overall sourcing policy for equipment and materials. As a project is identified and the scope is developed, early system and material design is cross-checked with internal Energy & Sustainability Standard Operating Procedures, cyber security policies and our risk management strategies. Projects are developed within the guidelines of Forest City’s Energy & Sustainability Policy.
Forest City reviews business plans and property requirements with asset managers throughout the planning cycle. As the first step to introducing new technologies, property needs are matched with a technology that fits building programming and design.
The IDS team is informed of the latest technology developments that are relevant to our industry in various ways, including attending industry conferences throughout the year and meeting with manufacturers and vendors to learn about new or improved products. After assessing and identifying a technology that is most suitable for the property, a pilot project is then put into place to determine its effectiveness. The IDS, facilities, and sourcing teams combine their efforts to follow a prescriptive path to introduce new technologies to properties, with a goal of implementing the most successful technologies on a broad scale.
Step 1. Auditing and Assessment
New technology implementation starts with understanding the building systems involved in the properties. Specialists use the following criteria to audit and assess each building:
- Review building system design elements (e.g. type of HVAC system)
- Perform an equipment inventory and high level assessment
- Collect photos of equipment and nameplates
- Identify age and condition of building equipment where possible
- Conduct interviews with building operators to better understand the building operation, maintenance practices, and pain points
- Further investigate items where IDS can provide valuable insight, such as:
- Energy and water use analysis
- Utility incentive identification
- Existing capital plan review for end of life equipment, life safety upgrades and efficiency opportunities
Step 2. Research New Technologies
Members of the IDS team learn about new technologies by attending numerous conferences throughout the year, such as those hosted by RealComm, ASHRAE, and the USGBC; the annual Building Energy Summit in Washington DC; and GE Minds and Machines. IDS team members take responsibility for maintaining vendor relationships from a technical perspective. If the team discerns that a technology is appropriate, they will engage in further vetting, including:
- Creating a list of technical questions/concerns regarding the product and conducting an interview with the appropriate product representative
- Requesting from the vendor a list of references where the technology has been installed
- Conducting interviews with property staff to better understand their experience with the products
- Consult with the sourcing team on all known vendors who provide this product and the business health and viability of each vendor
- If possible, visiting a property with the equipment installed to better understand installation and operation requirements
Step 3. Pilot Phase
Whenever practical, the IDS team sets up pilots to gather data on a new technology’s impact, ease of operation, and resolution of intended purposes. In some circumstances a pilot is not feasible or cost effective, such as testing new central HVAC systems, but in other situations, testing is well worth the effort. View one of Forest City’s technology test hosts.
Step 4. Making the Business Case
As part of thorough change management, the IDS team convenes a group of stakeholders to hear presentations from vendors and to ask questions directly. Professionals from asset management, budgeting, IT, procurement and IDS will provide input, and help refine sourcing criteria. Installation and potential latent costs are also explored.
Project teams create spreadsheet models of inputs and outputs for technology projects in order to compare implementation costs with potential savings streams. These might include reduced operation, maintenance, energy, and water costs. Once the asset management team approves the model, it can be used on future projects. The technology model’s metrics align with other real estate metrics used throughout the business, such as those for new construction projects or market repositioning of properties.
Step 5. Develop Financing Plan and Negotiate Vendor Agreements
An integral component to project planning is our thorough review of all financing and cash management options. Forest City will map the implementation schedule, including material order and when progress or full payments are needed to vendors for installation. Optimally, operational savings begin in the same year that project costs begin. More options may be discovered by bringing vendors and other stakeholders into the conversation about timing, cash flow and overall financial goals.
Step 6. Broad Scale Implementation
The IDS team brings the procurement department’s sourcing team on board to assist with establishing the boundaries and terms of a contractual vendor relationship. Financial placeholders are entered into the following year’s budget, or a phased, multi-year plan is developed. Engineering and design then takes place in preparation for actual implementation. Designing the year before the project is budgeted helps speed up implementation.
The IDS team provides oversight and is accountable for assisting regional and property-level management staff with implementation and ongoing use of the technology by conducting site visits, commissioning, and providing punch list items.
Step 7. Benchmarking Performance
The IDS group discusses the measures for success of each technology before implementation. These include performance indicators such as: timeliness, budget alignment, customer (i.e., property) satisfaction, and maintenance and utility savings.
Forest City tracks all utility efficiency projects in a data warehouse that contains project descriptions, implementation years, and expected annual savings. In our utility bill payment and sustainability tracking tool, utility accounts affected by technology changes are noted so we can account for its changes in future utility forecasts.
Step 8. Lessons Learned
The IDS team hosts a “lessons-learned” meeting and issues a follow up report summarizing findings, celebrating the successes and challenges experienced during the development of the project and presenting improvement opportunities throughout the project life cycle. Documenting challenges helps the team improve communication and collaboration for future design and implementation projects.
Typical discoveries in a new technology project:
- Familiar metrics should be used in making the business case for decision makers or else the approval process may be longer than necessary
- Lessons from other companies who have used the technology are useful, when possible seek feedback
- A comprehensive audit is needed to uncover true field conditions
- Hiring experienced, qualified installers is essential for project success
- Adequate training time for local property staff should be planned and conducted
- Expect surprises during the initial roll-out, which offers valuable learning experiences. For example, an LED retrofit fixture on parking lot poles may not be compatible and additional bracket support is needed.
Specific examples from Building Diagnostics Platform:
- Determine the requirements of a future platform first, then find a vendor to fit your requirements
- Conduct structured vendor demonstrations in order to compare vendors fairly
- Check installation and configuration of metering devices for quality control
Any process or equipment change requires a team effort, and every level of the organization is needed to support the technology implementation model, including:
- Executive sponsorship for a pilot project provides significant support from the early testing stage to broader scale implementation.
- Sourcing plays an instrumental role in determining how to implement programs from coast to coast for the new technology by establishing multi-year pricing agreements and frequent business reviews.
- IDS works with property-level management to provide assistance with new technologies by conducting site visits, commissioning equipment, creating punch lists, and compiling post-installation lessons learned.
Tools & Resources
The technologies detailed in the attached resource were vetted by Forest City’s internal process and are not regularly recommended at Forest City properties:
- Variable Refrigerant Flow
- DC Powered LED Luminaires
- Building Diagnostics Platforms
This document helps to quickly collect and describe key lessons learned from new technology demonstrations for the purpose of evaluating future deployment.
In order to measure success, Forest City tracks all energy-related projects by date of implementation and compares the properties’ energy usage from a prior year to a full twelve month cycle. In order to measure effectiveness and strategically plan future renovations that improve overall asset performance, Forest City tracks percentage improvement in consumption of energy and water. A cash-on-cost return analysis provides an indicator of project success and is used as a measure to prioritize initiatives. Technology improvements can positively affect cash flows within the same year of implementation.
Savings to the organization can come in many forms. In addition to energy conversation, the Forest City teams track changes to overall work practices, labor resource efficiency, contractor service, and maintenance requirements. Success is also measured by how easily the new technology is embraced by the operators who must maintain it. Property management teams have expressed that the one-on-one experiences with IDS team members has enhanced their awareness of how to optimize building operation.
Ultimately, if a technology project is incorporated into the budgeting process without further proof of concept, and future similar projects are scheduled routinely, then the IDS department has successfully planted into reoccurring business practices.
Through technology, the resident and tenant experience is enhanced by improved space comfort and convenience. Although cost savings can be achieved, it varies by technology. The average expected return for a new technology implementation ranges from 10 to 25 percent, and paybacks can range from six months to three years.
Technologies piloted and implemented on a broad scale:
- Variable Supply Technologies (VRF, VFDs) (five projects, 20+% return)
- Smart Irrigation Drip Control (five projects, 20% savings)
- Building Diagnostics Platforms (ten projects, over $100,000 annual savings identified to date)
- LED Luminaires (standard for all future lighting projects, both retrofit and new development)
- Electrical Vehicle Charging Stations (available at many Forest City regional malls)
Technologies currently in pilot stage:
- Smart Glass
- DC Powered Lighting and Electrical Panels
- Battery Walls
- In-unit Smart Thermostats
- Aqua Mizer® Fill Valve & Flapper
Technologies to be analyzed or tested:
- Graywater Reuse
- High Velocity HVAC Flexible Duct Systems
- Rooftop Unit VFD Retrofit (Multi Stage Air Volume)
- Central Plant Optimization
- Combined Heat and Power
- Heat Pump Water Heaters
- Natural Gas Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners
- Small Tonnage Ice Storage Systems
- Smart Lighting
Technology identification and implementation is an iterative process. The Forest City teams are constantly researching the latest and greatest technologies in the buildings industry, and the lists shown above will continue to grow and be refined over time.
Forest City Realty Trust created an internal Integrative Design Services group to research and evaluate new technologies and best practices for energy efficiency, resulting in increased building performance, portfolio-wide technology adoption, and a stronger financial position for associates and investors.
Adopting new energy efficiency technologies on portfolio-wide basis
The Integrative Design Services group researches and vets new market offerings to pilot, monitor, and bring technology implementation to scale
New technologies improve building performance, enhance service delivery, and strengthen the company’s financial position