After serving 12 years with Minneapolis-based mortgage banking firm NorthMarq, Lisa Dongoske has been promoted to executive vice president of the firm’s property management group. In this new role, she will lead the transition team for the firm’s recent acquisition of Opus Property Management that brings contracts to manage 170 properties, 11 of which are LEED certified.

The new position is a nice fit for Dongoske who has been leading the charge to green NorthMarq’s portfolio over the past few years. Excluding the Opus purchase, NorthMarq’s portfolio of managed properties includes two LEED-certified buildings and several others are in the process of obtaining LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance certifications. Another 14 NorthMarq properties have achieved EnergyStar and the firm is working to achieve the same designation for 20 more.

The Green Sheet spoke to Dongoske about her new job and efforts to reach higher sustainability goals for the expanded portfolio.

NREI: How did you become interested in commercial real estate sustainability?
Dongoske: More than three years ago, when we started learning about sustainability, we launched a green team and explored a lot of things that we felt we should do from a corporate responsibility perspective. That lent itself to looking at our whole property management group and our managed portfolio.

We hired somebody to come in and tell us about getting more accreditation, which entailed learning about LEED. But then we really took it a step further and had a lot of discussions with our sister company, United Properties, and the developers there. And that’s how we ended up where we are today. We’ve made a declaration that all properties managed by NorthMarq will have an energy audit completed by Dec. 31, 2009.

NREI: What does your energy audit entail?
Dongoske: We have a combined checklist for office, industrial and retail that we’ve developed internally here, which is proprietary. The checklist looks at all the really easy things, the low-cost, no-cost ways to promote sustainability, save energy costs and water consumption at our properties.

NREI: Can you give us an example of an energy audit in your portfolio?
Dongoske: As a result of completing the re-commissioning study for 8300 Tower, an office building in Minneapolis, it was found that the building envelope, specifically the perimeter roofline of the building, was allowing heat to escape. By insulating the perimeter roofline, the heat loss has stopped, non-essential heating hours have been stopped, and controlling the entire building by eliminating the “stack effect” (cold or warm air infiltration in a building) is an easily manageable task. As a result, energy savings have occurred.

NREI: Why did you develop with an in-house energy audit checklist as opposed to utilizing an existing program like EnergyStar?
Dongoske: We found there was a lot of information out there, and the U.S. Green Building Council did a great job of helping people really understand the certification process. Of course, their [sustainability checklists] are very detailed and they’re very specific about each particular project.

Our best practices sustainable task force team in our property management group developed the list because it was easy to implement over our entire portfolio, which not only includes office buildings but also retail and industrial. Now with the Opus projects coming into our fold, it’s just another step that we can take to extend that program.

NREI: NorthMarq recently acquired Opus Property Services. From a green property management perspective, what changes do you plan to make?
Dongoske: Opus has a history of developing and constructing LEED-certified buildings. It’s very ingrained in their development team and the Opus portfolio of managed properties that we acquired. Our program is easy to roll out across the portion of the Opus portfolio that is not certified.

NREI: Have you been able to achieve higher rents for your green space?
Dongoske: I have not been able to quantify whether that’s the case. I think in this climate, where the market is so tough, any distinguishable feature that you have at your property will set you apart. Our brokerage manager at NorthMarq, Mike Ohmes, has said that nearly every RFP (request for proposal) coming to our brokers has a LEED sustainability component to it. Whether tenants are willing to pay more or not, they’re certainly asking about it.