A view of the Blairs community buildings

In Silver Spring, Tower thinks long term on sustainability

May 24, 2016 ,

Energy and water savings are high priorities for this multi-use area of Downtown Silver Spring.

The Tower Companies is a multi-generational, family-owned real estate and property management company based in Rockville. In the mid-20th century, Tower purchased the land and developed The Blairs District, a 30-acre campus in Silver Spring consisting of commercial office space, retail shopping, and multi-family apartment buildings with more than 1,000 rental units combined. Both the company and its properties are beacons of sustainability in Montgomery County and beyond.

Tower Companies and The Blairs logos

Thinking Long Term

It’s entirely realistic to expect significant energy savings from building performance upgrades, but these positive outcomes do not always happen overnight. Luckily for Tower, they see environmental progress as a long-term goal.

“At Tower, we view sustainability not only as a responsibility but also as an opportunity to improve operations, reduce operating costs, train staff, and attract like-minded clients,” said Eugenia Gregorio, Tower’s director of corporate responsibility. “We have a long-term view that has allowed the company to make thoughtful and strategic investments around sustainability, and in fact, one of our company goals is to lead by example and be a resource for the industry on related topics.”

They’ve certainly enjoyed plenty of success with this approach, with the company’s sustainability commitment recognized by groups such as the U.S. Green Building Council, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

With more than 5 million total square feet of property in its portfolio, there are certainly a lot of opportunities for the company to effect change. One way they are tackling these opportunities is through DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, through which participating companies pledge to reduce energy and water use 20 percent by 2020. Tower has already seen a 15 percent reduction. This voluntary commitment helps create healthy competition in the industry and transparency through benchmarking data.

So far, The Blairs’ residential community team has reduced close to 15 percent of both its energy and water consumption since 2010 and recognized similar results across the entire portfolio. What’s more, three of The Blairs’ high-rise residential buildings are LEED Gold and ENERGY STAR® certified with scores above 80, out of a possible 100. Blair Towns, a mid-rise apartment building in the same Blairs community, is LEED Platinum Certified and was the first in the world to achieve this type of designation.

 

Entrance to The Blairs in Silver Spring

The entrance to The Blairs in Silver Spring.

 

Energy Conservation Measures

As evidenced by progress with energy reductions to date, The Blairs team strives to run a very energy-efficient operation. One of the more notable efforts is what Gregorio refers to as the “real-time energy-management program,” which involves daily analysis of energy usage—and corresponding adjustments, as needed—throughout the buildings.

“Our engineers are trained to review daily energy reports, look for operational anomalies, and recognize potential equipment modifications due to weather changes to ensure efficient operations,” Gregorio said.

Some of The Blairs’ other energy-conservation measures include:

  • Electric vehicle charging stations on the property
  • Lighting, appliance, and equipment upgrades to improve efficiency
  • Demand response programs
  • Upcoming plans for both onsite and offsite renewable energy projects

 

Aerial view of The Blairs

An aerial view of The Blairs.

Water Savings Measures

Plumbing is perhaps the most obvious area for improvement when it comes to saving water. That’s certainly a part of the picture, but there’s a much bigger culprit when it comes to large buildings with central plants, like you would find at The Blairs.

“Cooling towers can be one of the biggest users of water at our properties,” Gregorio said. “It’s important to have daily, weekly, and monthly preventative maintenance activities to maintain water efficiency for the building’s cooling system. We have an ongoing maintenance contract with a specialized vendor who completes monthly site visits and offers training to staff, too.”

Other water-conservation measures include:

  • Using water fixtures that carry the EPA’s WaterSense label. WaterSense requires that showerheads use up to two gallons per minute, toilets use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush, and bathroom sink faucets release no more than 1.5 gallons per minute.
  • Robust preventive maintenance programs to help equipment operate better and have a longer life-span.
  • Repairing leaks immediately upon detection and encouraging residents to report leaks to building team.

Their efforts around water, energy savings, and green-construction standards are impressive but so, too, are their other, perhaps less-obvious initiatives. For example, each occupied apartment unit and each apartment building floor contain special receptacles for composting, which includes different food waste and other compostable materials. Even the bin liners are compostable. Since the program started in 2013, 35,000 pounds of compost have been collected, Gregorio estimated.

 

Rendering of The Pearl which is currently under construction

Rendering of The Pearl, which is currently under construction.

 

Looking in the future, The Tower Companies is working on a 20-year master plan redevelopment of The Blairs and has already started construction of a new high-rise apartment building called The Pearl. This building will pursue a LEED Gold Certification and will have a variety of unique sustainability features including green roofs and solar photovoltaic panels.

If their previous entries on the Silver Spring landscape are any indication, Tower’s new developments and ongoing improvements will serve as positive additions to the city’s ever-improving sustainability profile.

For more information about Tower and their corporate responsibility efforts, visit their website at http://towercompanies.com/corporate-responsibility/.

 

Scott Harris is a freelance writer who lives in Montgomery County and covers the environment and other topics. Scott may be reached at scottharriswriter@gmail.com.

 

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