Nonprofit Centers Go Green

There is a relative newcomer to the green movement, a newcomer which is quietly, yet powerfully, raising awareness in urban neighborhoods across the United States of the benefits of green living. Increasingly, non-profit organizations are taking the lead in using best practices and sustainable design to develop attractive, affordable multi-tenant centers. The environmentally friendly “co-locations” benefit both the nonprofits and the surrounding neighborhoods as they provide affordable rents for community groups, technological support that would otherwise be out of reach for most tenants, added security for the neighborhood, renovation and reuse of a major community structure, and new economic development opportunities.

There is a relative newcomer to the green movement, a newcomer which is quietly, yet powerfully, raising awareness in urban neighborhoods across the United States of the benefits of green living. Increasingly, non-profit organizations are taking the lead in using best practices and sustainable design to develop attractive, affordable multi-tenant centers. The environmentally friendly “co-locations” benefit both the nonprofits and the surrounding neighborhoods as they provide affordable rents for community groups, technological support that would otherwise be out of reach for most tenants, added security for the neighborhood, renovation and reuse of a major community structure, and new economic development opportunities.

In explaining the movement, Diane Kaplan Vinokur, associate professor of social work at University of Michigan and creator of the Under One Roof Project, says of her research, “After years of relatively few known new co-locations, we have seen a surge since the mid-1990s reflected in our [study] sample. Of the dozens of co-locations for which we know the date of formation, over half have been established since 1993.” The Under One Roof Project is a comprehensive research initiative on the development processes, management systems, shared services and impacts of multi-tenant nonprofit centers.

According to China Brotsky, executive director of the NonprofitCenters Network, multi-tenant centers are economic development catalysts, important employers, and community assets – and are some of the most exciting new examples of sustainable “green” building design. (FYI many of them are in historically preserved buildings, thus also diminishing the waste stream.) It is that quiet revolution that, in one corner of the United States, has led to the realization of a 10-year vision to develop a “green” home for Boston’s social change organizations. In 2004, TSNE MissionWorks, as a progressive nonprofit itself, purchased an eight-floor building in downtown Boston with the aim of developing affordable office space using sustainable design.

New Ideas for Building Healthy

Interested in starting your own multi-tenant center? Read The ABCs of Nonprofit Center Development and learn how to set your organization on the path.


"The NonProfit Center, the first mission-based multi-tenant center in Massachusetts, has been developed with an eye toward generating new ideas in the area of sustainable design,” states Executive Director Jonathan Spack. “Our goal is to create a healthy work environment for the non-profit community and widely share what we learn with other nonprofits, government and the business community. From the outset, our intention has been to create an energy-efficient, environmentally-sound building with low incremental cost, low operating cost and potentially an initial cost savings.”

TSNE worked with Mark Kelley of the Hickory Consortium, on the sustainable reconstruction of One Lincoln Plaza. The architects and engineers selected for the NonProfit Center project, Symmes Maini & McKee Associates Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., shared the same desire to pursue sustainable design goals and principles, as did TSNE’s general contractor, Commodore Builders, and owner’s representative, Jennifer Pinck, also a Hickory Consortium member. The team worked closely with TSNE.

Best Practices

The team assembled by TSNE MissionWorks ensured the early inclusion of important features crucial to sustainability and cost effectiveness. It followed the USGBC’s LEED guidelines for Commercial Interiors. During its early development, the project received funding from the BRA’s Green Building Feasibility Study Program to evaluate and assess the inclusion of green and renewable energy technologies.

“The NonProfit Center was created through best practices and sustainable design,” explains Mr. Spack. “It boasts systems that save energy, minimize maintenance, contribute to low operating costs, and provide real health benefits for tenant members and the larger community. We have installed Energy Star high efficiency lighting fixtures at .9 watts per square foot and just under 50 ft. candles. Day lighting and motion sensor controls are seen throughout the center. All heat pumps are being replaced with higher efficiency heat pumps, and we are planning for digital control systems for our boilers, hot water heaters, pumps, cooling and ventilation.”

TSNE has upgraded the air delivery system, and fresh air now flows through the heat pumps and is delivered directly to each space in appropriate quantities, exceeding code requirements for fresh air. The nonprofit is also installing a bio-diesel combined heat and power system. New high efficiency boilers and pumps, domestic hot water system and new cooling towers will particularly save energy.

A major goal of the project has been the reuse of much of the existing construction materials, including doors, hardware, ceilings, interior glazing systems and furniture. All flooring consists of recycled carpet, marmoleum and no VOC paints. Proximity to South Station, the urban site and reuse of an existing building, all helped to enhance the overall sustainability of the project.

The NonProfit Center’s LEED-CI-Certification scorecard now shows 14 points (2/3) secured, with an additional 17 possible points. The center’s development team needs to reach 10 of those 17 points to be certified and anticipates that they will be able to do that.

Multiple Benefits

The NonProfit Center has eight floors of approximately 14,000 square feet per floor, a finished lower level and a beautifully landscaped courtyard. In addition to benefiting from a healthy environment, tenants enjoy:

  • Long-term dependability with affordable, stable rents
  • An environment that fosters non-profit collaboration
  • Greater community visibility for non-profit issues
  • Low/no-cost access to conference rooms and training facilities
  • Shared kitchens and break rooms
  • Mutual learning opportunities
  • Building-wide communications infrastructure

“What attracted us to the NonProfit Center was a combination of convenient location, attractive space and a reasonable price,” explains Stephen M. Pratt, president of Boston After School & Beyond. “The fact that the building was environmentally friendly and that we would be surrounded by other organizations committed to community improvement was a real bonus.”

Speaking about why the city of Boston awarded a Green Building Feasibility Study grant to the TSNE development project, Mayor Thomas M. Menino commented, “This is an exciting, tangible step forward for our city as we continue to make strides in our efforts to promote green building initiatives in Boston.”

With the addition of new Community Meeting and Training rooms and shared space and shared services for small non-profit organizations, the NonProfit Center has become the home for progressive social change and model for green development in Greater Boston.

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