While government works at a fevered pitch to generate sustainability regulations and incentives for office buildings across the country, the private sector is busy sharing the cost of research that will ultimately yield best practices for the greening of office building portfolios.

The research is being compiled by Cambridge, Mass.-based Sustainability Roundtable Inc. (SRI), a private research firm whose goal is to accelerate the adoption of best practices for more sustainable buildings. Founded on Earth Day, April 22, 2008, SRI’s inaugural research, which is being launched this year, will focus on practices that demonstrate100% return on investment.

SRI brings together firms like ING Clarion, USAA Real Estate, JPMorgan Chase and Adobe Systems, says James Boyle, president and CEO of Sustainability Roundtable. “We can help them learn from each other so that they can move more quickly to deploy what’s proven to work best.”

Throughout this year, SRI will draw on information from 36 companies that have already implemented sustainable projects within their portfolios. A final report will be released during the company’s Summit on Sustainable Offices on Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C.

Founding members of SRI are also charter members of the Sustainable Offices Roundtable. The companies have been national leaders in the movement to create more sustainable offices. The list includes Adobe, JPMorgan, Siemens, ING Clarion, USAA Real Estate Co. and VISA, among others.

Companies can make important changes without necessarily expanding their staff, says David Gottfried, founder of both the U.S. Green Building Council and the World Green Building Council. He also sits on SRI’s advisory board. “What we’ve found in working with portfolios is that a lot of those practices [starting with energy management] might not even be technologies — they might be human capital investments, and training, and different ways of doing things that staff could do without even hiring people.”

In short, Gottfried explains, better property and asset management, data mining, intelligent controls and continuous commissioning can help bring down costs and make office buildings operate more efficiently. Gottfried also is CEO of sustainability advisory firm Regenerative Ventures based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

One charter member of SRI, San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe, has also developed unique cost-saving measures that the firm is sharing as part of SRI’s best practice research. Adobe has long served as a poster child for corporate sustainability, having achieved platinum LEED for Existing Building certification on four of its structures — three in San Jose and a fourth platinum rating on the historic Baker-Hamilton Building in San Francisco.

Randy Knox, director of workplace solutions for Adobe Systems, cites an example of one project that will be of interest to SRI members chasing ROI [return on investment] — the company’s almost 1 million sq. ft. parking garage in San Jose.

“Our garage fans were running 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Knox. “We brought an air quality expert in to do some measurements and he said that we only needed to run them for about 15 minutes an hour during the three hours of the morning commute and the three hours of the evening commute.”

The cost to reprogram the garage fans was $200. The savings that resulted from the reprogramming is $90,000 annually. “That’s our ROI champion,” says Knox.

Brenna Walraven, director of national property management at USAA Real Estate Co. and outgoing chair for BOMA International, says her company’s goal as a member of the Sustainable Offices Roundtable is to learn what other top organizations are doing to drive sustainability portfolio wide. “[We] also look to further drive the ‘business case’ whereby there is not only an environmental benefit but also a tenant comfort and financial benefit.”

USAA Real Estate’s 65 million sq. ft. portfolio is spread across office, industrial, hotel, retail and multifamily asset types, and has an estimated value of $5 billion. The firm has benchmarked all of its office and hotel properties using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. An impressive 85% of the company’s office building have achieved an Energy Star performance rating of 75 or higher, on a scale of 1 to 100.

According to Walraven, USAA has already tested a continuous commissioning platform on its FBI Regional Office building in Chicago. The building has achieved a platinum LEED for Existing Building: Operations & Maintenance certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“As important, the collective efforts surrounding LEED, Energy Star and continuous commissioning, led to a 20% improvement in energy efficiency,” explains Walraven. As a result, the building’s Energy Star rating jumped from 78, following the first 12 months of operation to a current score of 95, which denotes that the building is operating in the top 5% nationally in terms of energy efficiency.

In addition to developing best practices, SRI will also provide two regulatory updates annually for the Sustainable Offices Roundtable. These updates will cover relevant regulatory change in 20 of America's largest cities and on a state and federal level. For more information on membership or conferences, visit www.sustainround.com.