CRB Encourages Life Sciences Companies to Take Advantage of Sustainability Incentives
By Erika Riley
January 24, 2023
Sustainability is more than just a buzzword these days: it’s a core part of companies’ mission statements and workplace culture. As the climate change crisis continues to worsen, local, state, and federal governments have started offering incentives for companies to incorporate sustainability into their buildings and practices. And many companies have been doing so.
But life sciences companies don’t always take advantage of these sustainability incentives. CRB, the global full-service facility design, engineering, construction and consulting firm with an office here in Rockville, Maryland, is trying to change that.
The firm has found that many life sciences companies they work with aren’t aware of the incentives available for new projects and renovations. CRB has been working to make its clients aware of the options available to them.
“There are incentives at the national level that are more frequently in the news. But then at the state and county level, there are often many more options than people are aware of. The frequency of folks tapping into those options is where we see the most opportunity [for growth],” said Maya DeHart, Energy and Sustainability Specialist at CRB.
Zachary Page-Belknap, another Energy and Sustainability Specialist at CRB, said that many of CRB’s clients already know about incentives regarding energy and equipment, such as rebates from utility companies like Pepco. However, the company is still trying to raise more awareness of the government tax credits and state-level grant funding available for new construction/major renovation projects, such as those from the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA).
Companies in hospitality and light commercial are typically more likely than life sciences companies to go after those larger energy efficiency-related tax incentives, according to Page-Belknap. But that doesn’t mean obtaining them is more difficult for life sciences companies. Page-Belknap says that correspondents within the rebate programs get excited when they get to work with life sciences companies based on the high energy intensity of typical life science facilities.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s unrealistic or would bar life sciences from being able to go after these types of incentives,” Page-Belknap said.
Building sustainability into the process
CRB incorporates sustainability into their projects from the very beginning, said DeHart. That way, they can keep the client and all involved parties on the same page about what is doable within the project’s timeline and budget.
“We aim to start all of our big projects with a sustainability charette to be able to have a discussion up front on the industry trends around sustainability, to be able to establish if they have corporate and site-level goals for sustainability and how those impact the project Conditions of Satisfaction,” DeHart said. “Even if a client doesn’t have those goals, we have suggested goals that make sense for the scope of the project.”
Often, working towards these sustainability goals does not cost as much as the clients expect, especially if implemented from the beginning of the process.
“If [sustainability] is something that’s done from the beginning, it can lead to even more conversations about synergies or efficiencies in the building, and it can cost the same or even less,” DeHart said. “So having those up-front conversations is the best way to maximize opportunity.”
When discussing these sustainability goals, CRB also encourages investigating incentives that they can tap into at the county, state, or national level. These incentives can also help CRB, and the client pick what equipment they’d like to utilize in the building.
CRB typically partners with other firms like Spectrum Energy, LLC and Affinity Engineering that focus on filing and navigating the specific rebates, incentives, and tax law to help their clients get the most possible from their sustainability efforts.
Incorporating employee wellness
It’s becoming increasingly common for life sciences companies to incorporate sustainability initiatives into their goals, Page-Belknap says. But they’re also attempting to incorporate more elements of employee health and wellness, which are outlined in the WELL Building Standard.
WELL buildings set standards for air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind standards to improve occupants’ wellness. This can mean setting up cleaning protocols or systems for air quality management.
“Health and wellness are of utmost importance to our clients, as we work in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries,” says DeHart. “… It’s clearly established that they are focused on the health of the patient using their product, but their focus on health and wellness extends to the way they’re building their buildings and establishing their workplaces to ensure their employees and customers know that they’re dedicated to it in a real way.”
CRB has been working on the design and construction for a building in Montgomery County that’s focused on WELL, in particular, this year. Leaning into WELL standards helps prioritize the “people” element of sustainability, which Page-Belknap says usually garners the least amount of attention from a corporate perspective. Designing with wellness in mind can be a significant driver in attracting top talent. Healthy work environments foster innovation.
“That’s a local project that we’re pretty proud of because especially in life sciences, going after WELL certifications is something of a rarity,” Page-Belknap said. “LEED certifications or simply energy-efficient buildings are much more common whereas really focusing on occupant well-being hasn’t been as much, historically.”
Overall, CRB hopes to de-mystify the conversations around incorporating sustainability for their clients, especially those in the life sciences field.
“The marriage of building certifications, larger sustainability conversation, and the various incentive and rebate options is something that’s smooth and painless and hopefully will reap many dividends for the company on the back end. It’s all very possible to pull together into one,” DeHart said.
Available programs in Maryland
There are several sustainability incentive programs available within the biohealth capital region for life sciences companies to pursue.
To find sustainability incentives for your area, visit the database at DSIRE. Here are a few examples of nationwide programs:
- Business Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC)
- Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC)
- Energy-Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction
- Federal Tax Bonus Depreciation (2020 Update)
- Not contingent on sustainable design, businesses cannot have taken IRC 163j exception to be eligible
The MEA has many grant, loan, rebate, and tax credit programs available to Maryland businesses. Here are a few that could be of interest to life sciences companies:
- Open Energy Grant Program: Grants for ideas that fall outside the MEA’s proposed grants
- FY23 Commercial Clean Energy Rebate Program: For companies that install clean energy systems on facilities within the state
- Commercial, Industrial & Agricultural Grant Program: For companies that implement energy efficiency improvement projects to their facilities
- FY23 Jane E. Lawton Conservation Loan Program: For businesses to implement cost-effective energy efficiency and conservation improvements for existing or to-be constructed facilities
- FY23 Solar Canopy and Dual Use Technology Grant Program: Grant to support the installation of solar canopies over parking lots
- EmPOWER Maryland: Rebate programs available through BGE, DelMarVa Power, Pepco, Potomac Edison, SMECO, and Washington Gas
- Maryland Energy Storage Income Tax Credit: For companies and individuals who have installed an energy storage system on their property
- PACE: Provides loans to property owners for clean energy or sustainable projects
Montgomery County offers the High Performance Building Property Tax Credit, which rewards buildings that have obtained different levels of LEED certification and energy efficiency over building code. Commercial buildings can qualify under the “Energy & Environmental Design” category of the tax credit, which can be granted against the General County real property tax and special service area taxes. Buildings displaying a 10% energy efficiency improvement over code are eligible, with bonus credits available with a gold or platinum rating on the LEED-NC, LEED-CS, or LEED-EB rating systems.
Montgomery County also recently passed a Building Energy Performance Standard, which set a minimum energy performance threshold for buildings of 25,000 square feet or greater. There is an exception for buildings dedicating at least 50% of space to manufacturing. Many of the programs above can help MoCo companies get their buildings’ energy performance up to the county’s minimum standards at a lower cost.
Frederick City and other municipalities also have similar grant programs.