Denver Launches 2030 District

From: ECOBUILDING Pulse 2013


We check in with the chair of the district's board of directors to see what it might mean for the city.

By:  Katie Weeks

After more than a year of development work behind the scenes, the Denver 2030 District was officially launched last week. It joins Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles and in creating downtown areas that are uniting private property owners to reduce overall energy, water, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transportation according to specific targets that progress in stringency between now and the year 2030. The ultimate goal: a 50 percent reduction in energy use, water use and CO2 emissions from auto and freight by 2030. I recently spoke with Adam Knoff, sustainability project manager for Unico Properties in Boulder, Colo., and chair of the Denver 2030 District’s board of directors, about the launch of the latest 2030 district.

EBP: What is the size and composition of the Denver 2030 District? Knoff: We’re currently at 14.4 Million square feet of commercial real estate. When you break that down, it’s 32 properties, 14 distinct property owners and manager members, five community stakeholder members, and three professional stakeholders. All 2030 districts have three membership types: property owner or manager, community stakeholder, and professional stakeholder. Community stakeholder is the non-profit and public sectors.

So, 14.4 million square feet have been signed on so far. Does that space sit within a larger district such as Pittsburgh’s 2030 District? Yes. Our district map is basically the Denver commercial business district with a couple of spurs. The total square footage within that district is something we’re still hammering out right now.

How does this District compare to the other 2030 Districts in terms of composition or size? Well, all 2030 Districts now account for over 100 million square feet of commercial real estate, stretching from L.A. to Toronto, which is the next up and coming one. We’re smaller but we’re obviously brand new, but there’s a ton of momentum in Denver.

Participating members are granted access to an assessment of building performance relative to District goals. How is that being monitored? It is through Portfolio Manager?

All property members share their building data anonymously through Portfolio Manager. We never put out identifiers as to whose building is whose, so if a property manager wants to see a comparison as to where their building stands in energy use intensity compared to other buildings, we’ll label the buildings A, B, and C so that it’s anonymous. Most of the time, we’re aggregating the data with the goal of driving down water and energy use intensity, as well as transportation-related CO2 emissions on the district scale. We’re more concerned about the aggregate number.

How often will you check in on member performance? It’s a constant comparison against the baseline. There are set benchmarks for the 2030 District Challenge. By 2015, it’s a 10 percent reduction over the baseline for the district. Step one right now is determining the district’s overall square footage and building types, which will allow us to set a baseline. From there, we can aggregate the property and gauge the district’s overall performance. Once we do that, we’ll have an idea as to where the district is and can begin to flesh out individual opportunities to increase efficiency.

What initiatives are coming down the line for members to help them work toward these goals? The idea behind Denver 2030 is to leverage this motivated and active property manager base to create exclusive member benefits to help them increase efficiency. Some benefits we have in the works right now include a pilot on a building analytics platform system to allow property owners to see how their building is performing in a lot more granularity. We’re working on electric vehicle charging stations for district members. We’re working on incentives such as energy efficiency finance programs and education programs that will be specific to members.

What’s the motivation for this 2030 District? The 2030 Districts aim to reduce energy, water, and transportation-related CO2 emissions to address climate issues but also, in this case, to make Denver more economically competitive. It gets there by reducing the cost of doing business, which in this case is lowering utility bills and stimulating 21st century jobs through building retrofits and improvements. The idea is that through an effort like this, Denver becomes a much more competitive city for attracting and retaining businesses.

Does it apply mainly to existing buildings? It does, but there’s also a district goal for new construction. That’s an immediate 60 percent reduction over the national median, which we calculate using Energy Star Portfolio Manager and the Target Finder app. The bulk of it is existing buildings but we’re really hoping to get enough momentum that when people start building ground-up development in Denver, they’ll look at this and build their building to the Denver 2030 District standard.

Are there any unique challenges to pursuing this initiative in Denver? Denver is fairly unique to this effort because we’re the only district in the arid Southwest and water is a huge constraint. It’s on everyone’s mind all the time. Along with energy and transportation emissions, we want to show cost-effective, significant water reductions and show that it can be done at this scale.

So, what’s next? Things are going great so far, but obviously we have a long way to go. Like any burgeoning initiative, fundraising is our biggest challenge. We’re constantly looking for grant support and partnerships, as well as corporate sponsors. We’ll continue to build up benefits, and then the real work starts. We need to start increasing our efficiency and identifying opportunities to do that and then get some projects underway.