Commercial real estate professionals – from brokerages to institutional investors – know that the end-sum game to any project or portfolio is what the tenant wants. That was clear in a recent panel discussion during the Green Finance & Investment Forum in San Francisco.

Greg C. O’Brien, senior vice president of Transwestern, and based in Atlanta, has witnessed the increased demand for energy efficiency. “I’ve seen more and more corporations start to put [green specifications] in the rfps,” he said. In Atlanta’s trendy Midtown district, a large corporation sought to lease 175,000 sq. ft. of space but would only consider LEED-certified space, he said.

“The data are emerging that tenants want to be in more comfortable, more energy-efficient buildings and that there is a financial return associated with that,” said Leanne Tobias, founder and principal of Bethesda, Maryland-based Malachite LLC, an advisory company that specializes in development, financing, leasing and management of green real estate investments. Though the data is preliminary, it is compelling, Tobias noted.

For instance, a 2007 CoStar study that examined Energy Star and LEED buildings in its database from 2004 through early 2007 showed a strong preference for energy efficient structures. The buildings, constructed after 1970, were multi-tenant structures of at least 200,000 sq. ft.

“The Energy Star buildings had lower vacancy rates over the time frame and they showed stronger rental growth over the time frame,” said Tobias. “As of 2006, the Energy Star buildings were selling at pricing 30% above the non-energy star buildings, on average.”

An analysis of the CoStar data by RREEF released in November 2007 showed that LEED buildings had the lowest vacancies, Energy Star buildings were in the middle, and conventional buildings had higher vacancies comparatively, she added.

Over the past year, the green landscape has undergone a seismic shift, as corporations and institutions apparently warmed up to green building. Peter Belisle, president of Jones Lang LaSalle’s energy & sustainability services group, says a little over a year ago, a number of major institutional investment clients said, “We’re going to sit back. We think it’s the right thing to do. We realize there’s a benefit analysis that goes with it but we really want to sit back to see not only the owner/occupant side also what the tenant demand piece looks like.”

Today, those attitudes have changed, said Belisle. His firm has seen cases in which Fortune 1000 companies began to limit themselves geographically to markets where green space is available in an effort to lease property with at least a baseline green certification – LEED or Energy Star.

“We’ve got one client right now with a very large portfolio in New York that includes a number of landmark assets, and they are in the process of committing over a half-billion dollars of improvements specifically toward gaining LEED certification for assets,” Belisle said. The purpose? “To get some clear blue water between them and their competition.”