Imagine you’re negotiating a real estate lease for a global firm that does most of its work overseas. How do you assess off-hour HVAC/power usage requirements or factor energy use intensity provisions into your lease deal?
“If you are managing real estate portfolios, understanding energy consumption patterns is key,” says Christine McHugh, who manages global real estate teams.
Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic reignited the tracking of building automation systems, like those governing air quality, into focus, but it has also influenced laws like New York City’s Local Law 97, which governs carbon emissions.
To navigate these risks, McHugh draws from extensive experience working on corporate real estate teams where, she says, she’s been at the forefront of the industry, looking to apply the latest practices of property technology, or “PropTech,” to assess energy, air quality and occupancy analytics.
“Decisions based on actionable energy intelligence will be the roadmap for tomorrow’s industry leaders,” McHugh says. “With a focus towards corporate wellness and sustainability, decisions based on indoor data intelligence will become standard.”
In a nutshell, she says PropTech is an overlay of data mapping applications used to build automation systems that monitor and analyze the internal building environment. Based on data collected from sensors used to promote sustainability and wellness, experts like McHugh can create system-wide efficiencies which will result in energy savings, as well as provide a healthier working environment.
According to McHugh, these building automation systems will be accessible as a living document—covering everything from MEP and lighting to occupancy, metering and security systems—that can be used to track and adjust real-time patterns.
“The potential of this data can be transformational,” McHugh says. “Global Climate Efficiency Trading, based on carbon emission analytics, will play a major part of the future of the real estate industry.”
PropTech is fast becoming an industry baseline, she says, and right in the thick of it is McHugh. As a PropTech advocate, she partakes in many professional roundtables, conducts beta testing of PropTech platforms, and writes industry whitepapers.
“Applying transformative tech to the environment is specialty CRE consulting,” McHugh says. “With demand-side management, we can standardize continued commissioning to maximize performance.”
Local Law 97
Indeed, it pays to monitor buildings’ data analytics with modernized trends in technology.
As McHugh explains, the U.S. produced 5.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2018, the second largest amount in the world after China and among the highest when measured by greenhouse gas emissions per person.
NYC’s Local 97—the Climate Mobilization Act of New York City—was an emissions law passed in 2019 requiring property owners to reduce carbon emissions in buildings larger than 25,000 square feet. This law affects 57,000 city buildings and is the foundation of the city reducing its carbon footprint.
McHugh recommends landlord-tenant collaboration through thought leadership, adding “early adopters will be able to look at usage patterns and reduce energy accordingly,” McHugh says.
Developing new standards
With the convergence of the pandemic and the climate crisis, many see a green recovery not only as crucial to the environment, but also of benefit to public health and the economy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, those considerations go beyond emissions. Metrics surrounding mechanical systems for ventilation, filtration and purification also contribute to what experts call a “wellness quotient”—now a major focus for building occupants.
Smart building amenities—including a dashboard showing complex building operations that include sustainability and wellness ratings and initiatives—can be a positive differentiator, McHugh says. It’s so important, she explains, that seminars are dedicated to green leasing structure and resiliency strategies—all she’s a part of them.
In this era of interest and in the spirit of knowledge-sharing, McHugh was recently named to Pace University’s advisory board, where she looks forward to sharing her industry insights with students and working professionals alike.
“PropTech will become the new normal as the industry progresses,” she says. “We will see more technology advancement in the next five years than we’ve seen in the past two decades.”
Acquiring a skill set
As she keeps pace with the latest technologies, McHugh’s says she, too, has evolved.
As a real estate consultant, she guides clients through the decision-making process and oversees design and construction. Project tasks she manages include program development, site evaluations, design floorplans, budgeting, bidding and contracts—then tying it all back to financials and schedules.
“Communication is key,” McHugh says. “It’s an all-encompassing look at every aspect of the commercial real estate industry.”
On the procurement side, her responsibilities can include producing mock-ups, supply chain management and sourcing, as well as sustainability and inclusion initiatives.
“There are many facets to the CRE industry. I’m not an expert, but more of a generalist—and I know where to get an answer,” she says. “I’m the conduit between the client and the design and construction teams.”
Transitions in technology
Through education and experience, McHugh says she was equipped with a technical mind. Moving back to NYC after finishing college, she became a manager of design and construction CRE at Arthur Anderson, running its NYC portfolio.
Inspiring her career choice was her grandfather, Edward McHugh, an Irish immigrant who worked 40 years in construction. Following his lead, she embarked upon her career, earning a bachelor’s degree in design and construction management from Boston’s Wentworth Institute of Technology College of Architecture.
When the job market bottomed out after graduation in 1990, getting a job was tough, McHugh recalls. Looking for a differentiator, she taught AutoCAD for Autodesk.
“I was drawing floor plans on a computer back when the industry was still drawing by hand,” she says. This path became a foundation for what was to follow.
It was experience in AutoCAD that opened doors for her with large corporate clients including Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Siemens, Royal Bank of Canada, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse and Evercore.
Later, McHugh adopted the use of computer-aided facility management software, which linked the floorplans to spreadsheets to support corporate asset management and rent allocation.
As technology evolved, so did advancement in construction management software, which serves as a means of document control and increases collaboration and accountability by providing real-time project details. Corporations, she finds, are motivated to make data-driven decisions.
“I’ve always been into big data and was interested in finding ways to link building plans and infrastructure back to databases,” she says. “It helps us understand and monitor assets, factoring in everything from construction insurance coverage to depreciation schedules.”
Digging deep to gain an understanding of how things work is McHugh’s personal philosophy—one she shares in her current post at a prominent global financial advisory firm.
It’s been McHugh’s practice throughout her career to contribute and shape the NYC real estate environment. Offering expertise in tenant engagement strategies and risk mitigation preparedness, she offers her clients the latest insights into smart building advancements.
Her involvement garnered her a 2019 IFMA Professional Achievement Award, as well as the 2020 Woman of Valor Award from the St. Francis Food Pantry, an organization that supports a network of NYC charitable programs.
McHugh’s goal is to impart her industry experience by teaching, publishing articles and serving on advisory boards. Currently on the Ambassador Council of Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW)—a NYC organization committed to promoting union job opportunities for tradeswomen—she also supports the nonprofit Helmets to Hardhats, which works to transition military personnel into the construction trades.
“Through these programs we as a nation build strength in our tomorrows,” McHugh says. “It is a heartwarming experience to foster opportunities for inclusion. Organizations like these strengthen individuals, families and communities.”
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