The theme of the upcoming ULI Spring Meeting, “The Power to Lead, the Energy to Thrive,” emphasizes the Institute’s ongoing commitment to leadership in environmentally conscious, energy-efficient building practices. It plays on ULI’s enduring leadership in the sustainable development movement, defined by the critical assessment of industry best practices associated with land conservation, smart growth strategies, place making, workforce housing, and the energy efficiency of buildings and neighborhoods.

Guiding ULI’s recent work on sustainability has been the Climate Change, Land Use, and Energy (CLUE) initiative, started by ULI Chairman Todd Mansfield in 2007. In its early stages, CLUE highlighted the importance of land use and location in determining long-term community energy outcomes, most notably through the publications Growing Cooler and Moving Cooler, which focused on reducing auto emissions by building in a way that minimizes the need to drive. This point was underscored in subsequent research linking the economic and environmental ramifications of housing workers far from employment centers.

CLUE’s current focus has shifted to the relationship between capital markets and ongoing real estate investments necessary to make buildings energy efficient. This effort was kicked off in June 2010 at a ULI forum on financing green retrofits held at the Empire State Building, which at the time was undergoing a major renovation to improve its energy efficiency and sustainability. The forum complemented the ULI book Retro­fitting Office Buildings to Be Green and Energy-Efficient, which provides a broad set of case studies.

Since then, the issue of energy efficiency retrofits has gained visibility, certainly in the United States as a priority of the Obama administration, but also at the local level as more states and municipalities require disclosure of energy use in buildings. The trend of making the ongoing energy performance of buildings more “visible” is now being driven by market demand. Investors, lenders, owners, and tenants are seeking deeper knowledge of the energy performance of assets and portfolios, making energy use and carbon emissions a market differentiator and raising key implications for determining property value.

ULI is responding to this trend—and enhancing its broader work on CLUE-related issues—with the creation of the ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance. Earlier this year, we announced the transfer of the activities of the Greenprint Foundation into the new ULI Greenprint Center. In doing this, we are supporting the Greenprint Foundation’s company-to-company information exchange, through which leading real estate firms from around the world share information and measure individual building and portfolio performance on the basis of energy use and carbon emissions. Greenprint’s flagship product is its Greenprint Performance Report, which includes the Greenprint Carbon Index™, a tool used by Greenprint members to gauge relative progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions over time. The international scope and size of the report makes it one of the real estate industry’s largest and most verifiable, transparent, and comprehensive energy benchmarking tools.

In the rapidly evolving marketplace of high-­performance buildings, Greenprint’s approach provides a verifiable system for measuring, benchmarking, and tracking building energy use and emissions on an ongoing basis. The concept behind ­Greenprint—the voluntary exchange of information and data—is typical of ULI’s time-tested tradition of sharing what works and what doesn’t in a market-enhancing manner.

In taking this step with the Greenprint Center, ULI is drawing on its past to move forward. Seventy-five years ago, when ULI was founded, no organization existed to research and analyze what constitutes sound real estate development practices. ULI filled the knowledge gap, over the years producing such landmark data sets as Dollars & Cents of Shopping Centers, a thick publication of detailed measurements of retail center performance, all based on information contributed by property owners and managers.

Greenprint is a 21st-century extension of this process, one in which the data collected on different asset types—office, industrial, retail, multifamily, and hotel—will not only record performance, but also help determine value. Through Greenprint, we aim to show that environmentally sound building practices make economic sense. ULI will again fill an information void that will lead to better professional practices benefiting not just the real estate industry, but also the tenants and communities it serves.

I’m very excited about the promise Greenprint holds for ULI. Adding this center to our program of work reflects the entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to excellence in which the Institute was created. It shows that as we evolve in the constantly changing world of land use, we are staying true to our mission, with the result being a smarter, more influential, more effective ULI—one that is ready for the future.

Charlotte, North Carolina is the host city for the  ULI 2012 Spring Meeting  to be held May 8-10, 2012. Register now.