Property owners and managers can ease into a green operations program by taking low-cost measures to conserve energy before committing to a complete green building renovation. That's the approach adopted by Rockville, Md.-based property manager BECO Management Inc., which begins energy improvements by replacing incandescent lights with fluorescent fixtures fitted with sensors that adjust to sunlight.

“We're going to start with the low-hanging fruit and then work our way up to the larger and higher-hanging fruit,” says Madeleine Abel, vice president for property management at BECO.

After addressing lighting, Abel's team looks for ways to reduce power consumed by a building's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. Rather than automatically running the HVAC every weekend, consider asking tenants if they need that service and shut down the mechanical system when it won't be needed. Next, consider installing variable frequency drives that allow the system's motors to run more slowly when possible, using less energy.

If the building has a recycling program that reduces the amount of trash sent to a landfill, ask the solid waste carrier to charge for removal by tonnage rather than per trip. “All these things do good by the environment,” Abel says. “Expenses are lower and your tenants are happier.”

Many of the green technologies developed in recent years, such as high efficiency lighting, have become a part of mainstream construction, says Scott Lenger, director of commercial real estate and lodging markets at Trane Inc.

Landlords need to understand that because some degree of enhanced energy efficiency has become the norm, pushing a building's performance to an even higher level of sustainability will likely require substantial equipment upgrades. Those improvements typically take three to five years to pay for themselves. Yet any management practice that reduces the volume of waste a building produces, or cuts the amount of water, gas or electricity it consumes, will add to cost savings.

Just closing the blinds can be a no-cost step toward lower utility bills. At the EPA's regional headquarters in Denver, office workers and building managers close the blinds in every window on the south and west sides of the building each Friday to reduce solar heat gain over the weekend.

“On Monday morning when we start up our systems, we have a lot less heat gain to overcome, a lot less hot air to condition,” says property manager Amy Smith of Opus Group. “And it costs nothing; just a couple of minutes.”