Q&A: PTM’s Nicholas Pantuliano On DC As World’s First LEED Platinum City

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In 2017, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) designated Washington, D.C., as the world’s first-ever LEED Platinum city, as the District made unprecedented strides towards creating a cleaner, more sustainable future.

When the USGBC recently announced the top 10 states for LEED in 2020, D.C. wasn’t ranked due to its status as a federal district, even though the region had the third-highest LEED certifications in 2020, continuing its impressive sustainability achievements.

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PTM Partners, a real estate investment and development firm that focuses solely on qualified opportunity zones across the U.S. and prioritizes green building practices, anticipates more traction in the D.C. market in the months ahead, when it comes to LEED and green building in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area.

For example, Watermark, the 453-unit, 11-story, mixed-use development located at 1900 Half Street SW, was recently awarded LEED Gold by the USGBC. Co-developed by Douglas Development and PTM Partners, the project showcases the design, construction and development team’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and human health. 

Nicholas Pantuliano, chief operations officer for PTM Partners, recently spoke to Commercial Observer about how he works with project teams to achieve LEED status, incorporating responsible building materials, and implementing wellness in new development.

Commercial Observer: Why is green building design more important than ever?

Nicholas Pantuliano: Forty percent of CO2 emissions come from buildings. As such, green building practices are essential to minimizing the carbon footprint of our built environment. 

What is your company philosophy regarding this? 

Our philosophy at PTM Partners is to be very hands-on in every stage of projects. We believe it is our responsibility as developers and investors to strategize ways to meet green building goals and think outside the box to overcome any hurdles to achieving such measures. 

Myself and my partners learned a great deal about how to provide real, meaningful environmental impact when developing a project during our experience working on the 1 Hotel South Beach, which became the benchmark when it comes to building a sustainable, repurposed structure into a LEED-certified project.

D.C. is gaining a reputation as the world’s first LEED Platinum City; why is that such an important designation?

LEED Platinum is the highest ranking used by USGBC, making it an impressive designation for the nation’s capital and sets the bar for smart cities around the world. The District’s recognition is a transparent display of its stakeholder’s commitment to leveraging technology and data that meets sustainability and resiliency goals, enabling healthier communities.

What are some of the reasons that D.C. has been bestowed that title?

D.C. attained LEED Platinum status in 2017 by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, supporting clean energy innovation and focusing on inclusive prosperity and livability across the District, among other measures. 

How do you work with project teams to achieve LEED status?

At PTM Partners, we thoroughly evaluate the environmental impact of all projects we are involved with throughout each phase, including the design, development and construction process. We work endlessly with project team members, asking questions and suggesting ideas that will prioritize the health and safety of each project’s future occupants. 

Talk about some of the aspects of the Watermark that resulted in its LEED status.

Watermark, now a 453-unit rental in D.C.’s Buzzard Point neighborhood, achieved LEED Gold status by the result of a team effort with our co-developer Douglas Development and the rest of the project team. Together, we ensured green building methodologies were in place, including material selection, minimizing water and energy usage, and prioritizing indoor air quality, among other practices. 

Drew Turner, development and project manager at Douglas Development, was monumental in our achieving LEED for Watermark. Some areas that scored exceptionally well included implementing outdoor spaces, water-efficient landscaping, low-emitting and reusable building materials, quality control for stormwater design and more. 

Furthermore, Watermark is an adaptive reuse project that also sits in an opportunity zone. Formerly an over 600,000-square-foot office building home to the U.S. Coast Guard, Watermark was transformed into a 400,000-square-foot residential building. Repurposing a massive structure, not hauling away and repouring thousands of tons of concrete, in and of itself, has a tremendous environmental impact. The former site had been unoccupied for years and will now welcome over 1,000 residents who will contribute to the area’s vitality.

What sort of building materials are being utilized in D.C. developments with green building in mind?

Utilizing low-emitting building materials for things like adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, flooring systems and more will result in improved indoor environmental quality. At Watermark, we utilized all of these strategies, including low-emitting composite wood and agrifiber products. One of the neatest elements the Watermark project has is a green roof-stormwater management system that D.C. projects now incorporate and make a real impact.  

In terms of specific green building materials, there are many options for projects, including reclaimed wood, steel, stone, slate, insulated concrete, and many more.

How important is implementing wellness in these projects?

In addition to green building practices that prioritize the environment, wellness amenities and features are essential to improving quality of life for the end-user (i.e., the building occupants). For example, at residential projects like Watermark, we incorporated state-of-the-art, air filtration systems; copious outdoor spaces for quiet meditation; fitness and yoga studios; and more. 

How has COVID impacted things?

Overall, project teams are reevaluating layouts and square footage, implementing more outdoor spaces in the home and amenity areas. Building materials are shifting as well. We are seeing an increase in UV lighting for the purpose of sanitizing, such as UV air purifiers that bring in filtered outside air.

In terms of construction, teams have certainly had to shift their approach. At Watermark, Davis Construction created six individual work zones in the project, with separate entrances to minimize contact between the construction team members. Workers wore different color T-shirts to keep track of groups. All of these efforts made contact tracing and sanitization processes easier when need be — creating a safer, more comfortable environment for the teams, which is paramount during a time like this.