At first glance, the roof of the McKinney Green building looks like a collection of leftovers from the International Space Station.
Rows of photovoltaic panels are lined up across the office building's snow-white roof. But these electricity generators – and others that heat water – were never headed to outer space.
"We get 10 percent of our electricity from these panels. They do a great job," said Sandra Heffernan, vice president of building owner Wereldhave Management USA Inc.
The subsidiary of a Netherlands firm, Wereldhave built the McKinney Green office project west of North Central Expressway last year. The $11.4 million development may be the most eco-friendly multitenant office building in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The three-story structure does everything from recycle rainwater to limit outdoor light pollution. The building is full of recycled materials – even the carpets are made out of old pop bottles.
"We spent two years studying what we could do and keep the costs within reasonable bounds," Ms. Heffernan said. "We built this as a prototype for other projects we plan to do."
The building is a harbinger of a changing development business.
A few years ago, all you needed to build a green building was the right color of paint.
But with growing concerns about the environment and spiking energy costs, some in the commercial real estate industry are embracing the concept of green development with an array of new technologies.
Or maybe not so new. Included in the McKinney Green building are time-proven features including broad metal panels that shade the windows from the sun and giant cisterns to catch water from the downspouts.
"There are so many things you can do in a building that don't cost a lot, like adding extra insulation," Ms. Heffernan said. "Even if you can only do one thing, then why not do the one thing?"
Indeed, the decision to go green in a for-profit commercial building project often boils down to money. Surveys have shown for years that Americans are in favor of energy conservation and preserving the environment.
But getting them to pay significantly more for it is tough.
The McKinney Green building, for instance, costs about 50 percent more than if most of the eco and energy extras were left out. Together, they add up to about $60 a square foot out of the total building cost of $183 a square foot, Ms. Heffernan said.
"Yes, in Dallas you can find cheaper office space," she said.
But tenants in the project do get savings – interior green office construction cuts the energy cost by almost 60 percent.
Since the building opened last summer, it has been almost 50 percent leased, counting deals in the works – even though it is in a residential and retail area and not a traditional office district.
Not buying in
Real estate brokers say that while there is a lot of buzz in the market about green office buildings, getting businesses to foot the bill can be challenging.
"Everywhere I turn, I'm seeing and hearing about green buildings, so it's clearly a trend," said Jon Altschuler, president of Stream Realty's Dallas office. But in most cases, he said, "the only green the tenants are mentioning relates to dollar bills."
"I bet over the course of the next 10 years, green will become an important differentiator – or even, at times, the price of admission," Mr. Altschuler said. "I do not see it having a significant impact in the next 24 months."
A large percentage of businesses still aren't getting on the green building bandwagon. More than a third of real estate professionals say they have no immediate plans to use green construction techniques, a new survey found.
"The fact that the survey reveals such a substantial level of reluctance to embrace green construction is surprising," Barry Ross, a partner in Bryan Cave's Real Estate Group, said in the company's recent report.
"Previously viewed as prohibitively expensive by the real estate community, green construction is not universally gaining ground because the true cost-effectiveness of green construction is still a matter of debate."
The same research did show that developers in the Southwest are more likely than others in the U.S. to consider green building.
So far, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the construction has been limited.
The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council lists fewer than two dozen Dallas-Fort Worth area for-profit office buildings that have a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. And several of those projects are still under construction – like the One Victory Park tower in Uptown.
One of the most elaborate LEED projects is being built in Allen. Like the McKinney Green building, the Angel Field Center on Bethany Drive will have the highest certification, platinum.
The three-building complex will be constructed of Texas stone and glass in a park-like setting with native plants and water features.
Developer Philip Williams said the 166,000-square-foot campus will be particularly environmentally friendly in its use of recycled rainwater water.
"The only water that will leave the site is what we flush down the toilet," Mr. Williams said. "The only water we will get from the city will be the actual drinking water.
"Everything else will come from a giant cistern under the building."
To generate energy, glass panels on the outside will contain photovoltaic cells.
"Our tenants will save anywhere from 30 to 50 percent on their electric bills," he said.
The Allen project should attract attention at a time when business energy costs are soaring.
"I was just looking at a lease for a client comparing their current energy cost with three years ago, and there was a significant increase," said Greg Biggs, executive director with broker Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc. "Energy savings is a big deal."
Some companies also like to project a cleaner image, he said.
"Corporate America is looking to be much more conscientious about our environment," Mr. Biggs said. "These developers recognize that and are trying to entice those decision-makers to come to their green projects."
Dallas-based Koll Development Co. – one of the country's largest commercial builders – is taking its green building program on the road.
The company plans to develop more than a dozen of its so-called Intellicenter buildings in communities around the country. One has already been completed in Atlanta. At least two are in the works for the Dallas area.
The projects are specially built with raised flooring and other features to reduce cooling costs by almost 20 percent.
"We already have our sixth Intellicenter under way," said Koll Development chief executive Steve Van Amburgh. "I predict in the next 10 years, 90 percent of all office and government buildings will be green.
"It'll just be the way of doing business, and I'm surprised it's taken this long."