Environmental Consciousness: Shaping Offices of the Future

Posted by Kris Lindahl on Wednesday, April 10th, 2019 at 9:37am.

he City of Minneapolis is a Green Leader in Environmental DevelopmentMinneapolis scores high on the list of top-ranking environmentally friendly cities in the U.S., capturing sixth place on a list compiled by CommercialCafe. But, what exactly does that entail, and what does it say about future development?

More than half the world's population had migrated to cities by the year 2007, a turning point in world history. By 2030, based on United Nations estimates, two-thirds of the world will call a city home. Cities are, by their very nature, energy hogs. The need to supply apartment dwellers and office workers with their future needs involves new kinds of energy and services at all levels. Electricity and water consumption, of course, are the first to come to mind, but transportation, waste removal, building and development, green space and air quality, food supply and recreational facilities are also overwhelming concerns for city planners. It's not just energy consumpion, but lifestyle needs and the work environment that must be addressed.

What Minneapolis Does Right

The study awarded points for such things as energy use from sustainable sources that include hydropower, geothermal, solar, wind and biomass, along with inverse points for a decreasing dependence on carbon-emitting fuel sources. Points were deducted for high levels of CO2 emissions. Transportation was factored in, with consideration given to the availability of EV charging stations, as well as how well cities supply public transportation needs, and how attuned the population is to walking, bicycling and such concepts as ride-sharing.

West Coast cities, notably San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, CA, and San Diego garnered the top four slots, with Boston ranking number five. Minneapolis edged out Boulder, CO, for sixth place, followed by Eugene, OR, Washington, DC, and Hayward, CA to round out the top ten.

Interestingly, while states like California and Colorado have mandated green energy initiatives and, in some cases, held companies responsible financially for not meeting goals, the Minneapolis rating was based largely on points earned for low CO2 emissions and a high concentration of EV charging stations. While the city generates some of its energy through solar and wind, there is no applicable reliance on geothermal or hydroelectric. Seattle, on the other hand, is more than 80 percent hydro-powered, and another four percent wind-powered. Only seven percent of its needs are supplied by nuclear, coal and gas, combined. Minneapolis does have a highly effective and well-used public transportation system.

Minneapolis, despite its winter weather, boasts high walking and bike scores. The rating is attributable perhaps to the concentration of residential units in the downtown core, and the location of parks, trails and recreational destinations near residential and business centers. The city's downtown Skywalk network, open spaces and mixed use developments are conducive to lowered reliance on personal vehicles. In addition, a functional light rail and bus system addresses transportation needs. More than 50,000 residents now live within the central business district.

Building Innovations of Note

Minneapolis is also a green leader in building and development circles. Even though the city didn't make the list of metropolitan areas with a high percentage of LEED-certified building, Minneapolis has the first major office building to be constructed of renewable materials in the past 100 years. Built as part of the T3 Project initiated by Hines, the global real estate investment, development and management firm.

T3 stands for "Timber, Transit and Technology" and is designed to show that vintage style can be efficiently modern and green at the same time. The building, completed in November 2016, is a multi-story, multi-use building in the city's North Loop as part of a Hines three-phase plan. Built entirely of renewable resources—wood—the building is LEED gold-certified and features 12,000 square feet of retail space on ground level, as well as expansive amenity spaces including a fitness center, social networking and collaborative work areas, 100 bike parking stalls and a rooftop patio. Small business are also on the ban-wagon with solar power electrical generation.

Structural timbers and floor decking are all wood. The construction materials provide enhanced acoustics and the building features large windows to supply abundant natural light to the interiors. The T3 building is situated near Target Field Station, the light rail transportation hub that serves Metro Blue and Green lines as well as Northstar Commuter Rail. It also offers access to the city's downtown Skywalk, and it's close to Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins.

T3 represents a collaboration between Hines and the AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust, a partnership which also developed the nearby Dock Street Flats Apartments. A third 100,000 square-foot parcel is available for future development. Subsequent T3 commercial projects have been planned in Atlanta and in Chicago. Both will be larger than the Minneapolis building.

According to information supplied by Hines, the wood construction that characterizes T3 has the potential to reduce pollution by the equivalent of 996 vehicles removed from the road for a year, and it takes just 15 minutes for renewable-growth forests in the U.S. and Canada to grow the amount of wood needed for the building.

As Minneapolis and commercial buildings in Itasca County continue to expand, there will no doubt be even more innovative development plans on the drawing board.

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