Teaming up to “Walk the Talk” on Energy Efficiency: Unico Properties and Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA)

Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) interior

NEEA’s headquarters, located in Unico’s Commonwealth Building in Portland, Oregon, demonstrate a win-win when both landlord and tenant share a commitment to sustainability

Landlord Challenge:

Unico Properties sought to position the Commonwealth Building as a green, high-performance building.

Tenant Challenge:

NEEA was searching for a highly energy-efficient space that would allow the organization to remain fiscally prudent on behalf of its regional utility and energy-efficiency stakeholders.


Commonwealth Building, 421 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland, OR

Lease Type:

Triple Net (Tenant pays energy bills directly to the utility)

NEEA needed to find a new home in downtown Portland, Oregon, one that would allow the organization to create a showcase energy-efficient, green office. NEEA realized from the get-go the importance of bringing together key representatives from across the organization to guide the process, forming a team that included representatives from senior management and staff. And when the team was ready to hire a broker, they looked beyond the standard qualifications to find a partner who understood the organization’s unique goals and who would seek a property owner and manager willing to collaborate on and support NEEA’s energy performance focus.

"This partnership with NEEA represents a commitment between landlord and tenant. When you marry a green building with a sustainability-minded tenant, you create high-performing building systems that maximize environmental and economic efficiencies."

Ty Barker, General Manager, Unico Properties, LLC

In Unico Properties’ Commonwealth Building, NEEA found not only a suitable space, but a partner in its desire for top energy performance. Together, NEEA and Unico embarked on a unique negotiation process that ultimately benefited both organizations. Unico agreed to provide a turnkey tenant improvement that met NEEA’s specific requests for high-performance space, including more costly lighting than the standard package. Unico funded the upgrades – even those that cost more than an agreed-upon budget – because it felt confident that the investment would increase the value of the space and make it attractive to future tenants.

NEEA's office

At NEEA’s request, Unico agreed to benchmark the building’s energy and water consumption in EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and disclose the performance data to NEEA quarterly. Unico agreed to other important green practices as well, such as submetering NEEA’s space, forming a Tenant Sustainability Committee (which brings additional tenants into discussions about efficiency measures and other sustainability efforts), and pursuing ENERGY STAR certification for the Commonwealth Building. What does Unico get out of this arrangement? For one thing, NEEA has committed to a 10-year lease, longer than the standard for commercial office space. NEEA also agreed to follow sustainability practices in its space, and to let Unico pass through the costs of energy-efficiency improvements. Unico can position the Commonwealth Building as a hub for green businesses, helping to attract and retain tenants who share their passion for environmental sustainability.

Lessons Learned

  • When seeking a new space, form a selection team that includes senior management and staff. Make sustainability a key goal for the team.
  • Choose brokers and other external partners who understand the importance of achieving an organization’s sustainability goals.
  • Identify ways to achieve efficiency and sustainability goals that benefit both tenant and landlord, be willing to negotiate, and document agreed-upon measures.
  • Be responsive to the efficiency and sustainability ideas prospective tenants and landlords bring to the table.
  • Consider how efficiency improvements in tenant spaces – at build-out and beyond – can increase a building’s and organization’s value and attract and retain tenants.

The results are impressive. NEEA achieved LEED Commercial Interiors Platinum certification and enjoys 15% lower energy use for plug load and lighting systems than tenants with similar profiles in the same building. Unico’s Tenant Sustainability Committee has engaged other tenants in the building in sustainability initiatives, and some are requesting sub-metering as they seek to better understand their energy performance as well. NEEA’s efforts to achieve top performance in its space help Unico Properties maintain the building’s ENERGY STAR certification.

For more information about the NEEA/Unico collaboration, please read the Better Bricks article.