2019 REITworld ESG panel
The 2019 RETworld ESG panel, moderated by Sara Neff (left).

The broadening scope of ESG issues and the role that REITs play in advancing that agenda was on display throughout REITworld 2019 in Los Angeles last week, including sessions focused on the latest in ESG developments and lessons from leaders and award winners active in REIT diversity and inclusion matters. Nareit also presented its annual Leader in the Light Awards and inaugural Dividends Through Diversity & Inclusion Recognition Awards.

The ESG session, moderated by Sara Neff, senior vice president, sustainability, at Kilroy Realty Corp. (NYSE: KRC), included representatives from some of the 2019 Nareit Leader in the Light award-winning REITs: Aaron Binkley, senior director of sustainability at Digital Realty Trust, Inc. (NYSE: DLR); Daniel Egan, senior vice president, energy & sustainability, at Vornado Realty Trust (NYSE: VNO); Kevin Hagen, vice president, ESG strategy, at Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM); Ben Myers, director of sustainability at Boston Properties, Inc. (NYSE: BXP); and Will Teichman, vice president of business operations at Kimco Realty Corp. (NYSE: KIM).

The panel discussed some of the areas where they will be focused on in 2020. Teichman highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion; and Neff, meanwhile, pointed out that the REIT industry needs to tell its story regarding the social component of ESG. That has led to passive investors that are interested in ESG skipping over the industry, she said.

2019 Leader in the Light Award winners with Nareit CEO Steven A. Wechsler (fourth from left).

Hagen, winner of the 2019 Leader in the Light Leadership Personified award, noted that ESG successes so far make it clear that “you can do the right thing and it’s a great business decision.”

Meanwhile, Bonnie Gottlieb, Nareit’s senior vice president of industry affairs and strategic initiatives, highlighted the importance of Nareit’s new Dividends Through Diversity & Inclusion Recognition Awards during the closing REITworld lunch session.

“These activities [we are highlighting] and their support by the leadership of the companies create an inclusive culture,” Gottlieb said, adding that the awards also incentivize behavior that leads to a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Gottlieb said that Nareit’s Dividends Through Diversity & Inclusion Recognition Awards are focusing attention on programs that have been successful because they change the culture in ways that can be measured.

Jerry Kang, a leading scholar on implicit bias and vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at UCLA, moderated a session featuring CEOs and the award-winning REITs describing their company’s most successful diversity and inclusion programs. Kang was also a judge for Nareit’s new Dividends Through Diversity & Inclusion Recognition Awards, which were selected through a blind review of applicants.

The inaugural gold award went to Duke Realty Corp. (NYSE: DRE); the silver award to Healthpeak Properties (NYSE: PEAK); and the bronze award to Camden Property Trust (NYSE: CPT). Duke was represented by James Connor, chairman and CEO, and Jenny Bean, senior vice president of human resources; Healthpeak was represented by Thomas Herzog, CEO, and Lisa Alonso, senior vice president of human resources; and Camden was represented by Richard Campo, chairman and CEO, and Cynthia Scharringhausen, senior vice president of human resources. Duke’s James Connor also received the Dividends Through Diversity & Inclusion Recognition Individual Award.

“[Diversity and inclusion values are] something that I personally believe in,” Connor said. “The messaging is about consistency…from the board level down.”

Bean said Duke Realty was “truly honored” to receive Nareit’s Dividends Through Diversity & Inclusion Gold Award and be recognized as a leader in the real estate community.

“Diversity and inclusion have been strategic initiatives at our company for more than 18 years and are an integral part of our culture,” she said. “We continue to strive to make our workforce more balanced in terms of gender and race, as well as make decisions and choices that demonstrate being inclusive in all we do.”

Lisa Alonso of Healthpeak Properties said that training and education of Healthpeak employees helps the REIT achieve two goals: fostering a culture of respect and acceptance, and developing all employees to allow for upward mobility.