Nareit’s annual Leader in the Light Awards spotlight the continued strides that REITs are making to advance environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and good governance. The 2022 winners, honored at Nareit’s REITworld in November, highlight both individual corporate achievement as well as the broader gains the industry is making and the leadership role it has forged in this critical aspect of business strategy and practice.
The latest winners include nine property sector awards and one individual leadership award. The 2022 Leader in the Light Awards are based on the results of the GRESB annual survey, GRESB disclosure scores, as well as scored responses to supplemental questions by outside judges.
“We are thrilled to recognize our members who are setting an example for how REITs both can and should institutionalize ESG within their business management and operations,” said Fulya Kocak, Nareit’s senior vice president, ESG issues.
Read on to learn more about the 2022 Leader in the Light winners’ achievements and top priorities for the year ahead.
Leadership Personified Award
Kelly Meissner, vice president, corporate ESG and sustainability for Ventas, Inc . (NYSE: VTR), received the Leadership Personified award for her leadership in sustainability/ESG and for creating a positive influence within her organization and the REIT industry at large. Since 2017, the Leadership Personified Award has been presented to an individual for their leadership in sustainability based on peer nominations.
Meissner served as chair of Nareit’s Real Estate Sustainability Council (RESC) in 2022.
Q: What does it take to be a sustainability leader in the real estate industry today?
The traits of a successful sustainability leader aren’t different than any other critical role in the company. You have to fully understand what drives value for your investors, shareholders, tenants, operators, and residents and figure out how you can set and achieve sustainability objectives that drive value for these key stakeholders.
One of the things I love most about this role is that it requires collaboration across the entire business. I get to work with our acquisitions, asset management, property management, legal, accounting, IT, HR, IR, and finance and risk teams. I try to approach things as a win-win; how can we make strides on ESG in a way that helps each of these teams also achieve their objectives.
For example, when we do LED lighting upgrades in our assets, this is a win for our tenants and residents (better lighting), our shareholders (lower opex costs), and our property management teams (less maintenance). On the social side, our ESG reporting and disclosures have helped us focus on the employee benefits that are most important to employees, such as health benefits, and benchmarking (both within and outside of real estate) helps us identify where we can make improvements that will keep us competitive for the best talent. The expansion of our paid parental leave benefits and our new hybrid work model (in the office three days a week) are great examples of this.
I have also learned a great deal from working with my REIT peers, serving as chair of Nareit’s Real Estate Sustainability Council (RESC), attending Nareit’s ESG JumpStart, and participating with the Real Estate Roundtable on sustainability matters.
Q: How did you become interested in sustainability as a career path?
My early work in this space started in seventh grade science class when I wrote a report on climate change. It was clear to me based on my research that climate change was “real” and a big problem that needed to be addressed. At the time, I thought surely the adults would have figured out some good solutions and have us on a sustainable trajectory by the time I was an adult.
Fast forward a couple (okay, a few) decades, and the good news is that we have identified many solutions (renewable energy, electric vehicles, low-carbon ways to run buildings) and have improved our trajectory, but there has not been widespread adoption and our trajectory hasn’t improved enough. We owe it to future generations to make the buck stop with us. It’s incumbent upon all of us to do more, now.
Q: What are some of the big ESG trends you expect the REIT industry as a whole to be tackling in 2023?
The past several years have been focused on capacity building: creating and growing ESG and sustainability teams and gathering the data that is necessary to track progress against goals. Now, we must all pivot to action. How can we make our buildings the most energy, water, and waste efficient as possible? How can we transition to 100% renewable energy sources?
The industry needs to focus intently on how to significantly decarbonize our existing and new buildings, which requires making our buildings as energy efficient as possible, reducing on-site emissions from gas and refrigerants as much as possible, and converting to 100% renewable energy sources. The key question here is what is possible? It needs to be both physically possible as well as economically possible. And we must continue to deliver the spaces and places that our tenants and residents rely on to live, work, and play.
Other areas of focus include:
- Climate Risk: How do we assess, mitigate, and report on climate risk in our portfolios in a manner that provides transparency to stakeholders and focuses our companies on the most effective mitigation solutions.
- Water Efficiency: Real estate companies need to start looking beyond energy and emissions and address water consumption in our portfolios, particularly in areas of high water stress.
- Regulations: State and local regulations such as energy benchmark reporting, emissions limits, and gas bans are rapidly expanding. How do we ensure that our businesses follow, track, and comply? On the flip side, the Inflation Reduction Act has the potential to support decarbonization efforts for the real estate industry; we all need to work together to understand and leverage the incentives available here. And there remains the question of what the final SEC climate disclosure rule will look like and what the timing will be. We all need to be focused on enhancing our climate disclosures.
Q: Given the demand for real estate sustainability expertise today, what advice do you have for someone trying to break into this field?
A great place to start is to think about how you can incorporate sustainability into your current role. If you are in acquisitions, look at your company’s sustainability goals and evaluate how new acquisitions stack up against these goals. If you are in IT, how can you incorporate sustainable purchasing practices for IT equipment, or how can you support your company’s ESG reporting with enhanced data and reporting features?
It’s also important to demonstrate that you have taken the initiative to educate yourself on ESG and sustainability topics. There are many free or low-cost ways to do this. For example, reading the GHG protocol or the CDP responses of a handful of companies will give you a crash course in greenhouse gas emissions and climate risk. There are myriad free webinars from law firms, energy service providers, financial institutions, and ESG consulting firms that will give you a sense of the key topics in sustainability.
REIT.com asked the winning companies in nine property sectors to identify their ESG priorities for 2023
Data Centers: Digital Realty Trust
Aaron Binkley, Vice President, Sustainability, Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR)
“Sustainability is a core focus at Digital Realty, and we remain committed to achieving our 2030 science-based carbon reduction targets. This will involve growing our renewable energy portfolio across our global markets, designing and constructing sustainably certified data centers, and working to reduce our supply chain emissions through expanded engagement and embodied carbon reduction activities.
Additionally, as we progress our global water strategy, we are focused on reducing water consumption for data centers in water-stressed regions and developing metrics that appropriately reflect our water portfolio.”
Diversified: Vornado Realty Trust
Lauren Moss, Senior Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, Vornado Realty Trust (NYSE: VNO)
“In 2023, Vornado will work toward achieving our Vision 2030 goal, evaluating our ongoing energy and carbon reduction strategies to maximize the impact on our tenants and buildings. We are aligning our actions to achieve carbon neutrality with our science-based target. We are developing a long-term net zero goal to be put in place in the coming year to ensure our properties and communities are healthy and viable. We are also evaluating an embodied carbon framework to support our development projects and continuing the expansion of our supplier evaluation program.
We will adopt a biodiversity policy and identify new water targets to include our current rainwater harvesting sites as well as new projects for water savings.
In addition, we will continue to push forward with our diversity, equity, and inclusion programming and support our employee volunteerism to positively benefit our communities. Lastly, we are planning to integrate our sustainability tenant outreach and programming to further support our tenants in achieving their sustainability goals.”
Health Care: Ventas
Kelly Meissner, Vice President, Corporate ESG & Sustainability, Ventas, Inc. (NYSE: VTR)
“In 2023, we will be very focused on making progress toward the ambitious goal we set in 2022 to achieve net zero operational carbon (scopes 1 and 2) by 2040. There are three initial prongs that we will focus on in 2023.
One is developing ‘NPV-maximized’ decarbonization pathways for each of the approximately 800 assets under our environmental operational control. Every building and the external conditions it faces (such as weather, the local utility grid mix, and local market demand for sustainability features) is different, and so the most efficient and economical path to decarbonization will be different for different buildings.
Second, we have started to incorporate decarbonization goals into our 2023 capex planning, by identifying high-carbon intensity equipment (primarily HVAC) that we can replace with highly efficient and/or electric versions. We will continue to evolve and formalize how we incorporate decarbonization into our capital decisions in 2023 and beyond.
Third, we seek to build out our renewable energy strategy and make strides toward our related goal to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2035.”
Hospitality: Park Hotels & Resorts
Thomas J. Baltimore, Jr., Chairman, President, & CEO, Park Hotels & Resorts (NYSE: PK)
“Park is incredibly proud of the collective efforts by its cross-departmental team to implement and continually progress the company’s ESG initiatives and plans to continue this progress in 2023.
On the environmental side, the Green Park Committee, which oversees Park’s sustainability initiatives, plans to partner with Park’s risk management team to develop long-term, asset-specific resiliency plans to help address the effects of climate change across Park’s portfolio. The Green Park Committee also plans to incorporate renewables into its hotels and resorts; continue to conduct ASHRAE Level II energy and water audits to inform Park’s long-term environmental footprint reduction strategy; and thoughtfully address waste generated during upcoming renovation activities.
On the social side, Park’s philanthropic subcommittee, Park Cares, plans to further integrate the mission of Park’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee into its charitable initiatives to help support underrepresented populations. The Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee is also focused on continuing to increase diversity representation at the leadership level of the company.
Finally, on the governance side, Park plans to focus on increased transparency and improved disclosure regarding various ESG metrics and practices, ensuring that Park’s stockholders obtain a clear understanding of Park’s commitment to ESG and the company’s appreciation of its responsibilities as a corporate citizen.”
Susan Uthayakumar, Chief Energy & Sustainability Officer, Prologis, Inc. (NYSE: PLD)
“Our ESG priority for 2023 is to continue to take a leadership position in sustainability by taking measurable actions in ESG.
In terms of the environment, our focus will be on how we build and retrofit buildings with the new net zero ambition in mind to reduce our scope 3 emissions. We will also be focused on driving leadership in social by helping communities where we are based by providing work force training, the benefits of PARKlife—our program to make our logistics parks enjoyable places to come to work, and where communities and nature can flourish side-by-side, as well as access to clean energy under the community solar program.
We are committed to driving innovation by partnering with startup companies to help scale new technologies though our ventures arm. With our scale, we realize the impact we can have globally when we take the leadership in sustainability.”
Natalie Teear, Senior Vice President, Innovation, Sustainability & Social Impact, Hudson Pacific Properties, Inc. (NYSE: HPP)
“We are proud to have achieved and maintained 100% carbon neutrality across operations since 2020, five years ahead of schedule. Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, Hudson Pacific’s top sustainability priority is to reduce absolute emissions without offsetting instruments.
Specifically, we have a science-based climate target to reduce absolute scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, from a 2018 baseline. Our plan to achieve this target relies on continued investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy across our entire portfolio. We recently incorporated rooftop solar into a major repositioning project in San Jose, which now generates roughly 10% of the property’s electricity use.
We also have an ambitious goal to achieve zero waste across operations by 2025. We have identified “zero waste champions” at every property, and these individuals have already made a meaningful impact by adding composting services, improving signage, and updating procurement policies. Of our in-service office portfolio, 100% of properties have recycling services and 74% have composting services.”
Ben Myers, Vice President, Sustainability, BXP (NYSE: BXP)
“The success of our sustainability program and BXP’s ESG leadership is the result of collective action from the board room to boiler room and the chairperson to the chiller plant.
In 2023 we will focus on ESG integration and impactful initiatives designed to create positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes. These initiatives include execution of our 2025 carbon neutral operations commitment, advancement of onsite and offsite renewable energy projects, net zero business case development—including the delivery of a net zero demonstration project, energy, and water efficiency assessments (retro-commissioning 9 million square feet), and continued pursuit of affordable electrification solutions at our existing buildings and new developments.
We will remain focused on transition risk management, including challenges and opportunities resulting from physical climate events, city building performance standards, code updates, SEC climate-related disclosure requirements and the historic Inflation Reduction Act.
Driving meaningful results through persistent and productive stakeholder engagement is our top priority in 2023. Continued engagement with our committees, including a board-level sustainability committee, executive team and functional leaders throughout our organization, joint venture partners, clients, policymakers, and members of our local communities is central to our success. Together we can close the gap between intention and action.”
Residential: AvalonBay Communities
Katie Rothenberg, Vice President, ESG, AvalonBay Communities, Inc. (NYSE: AVB)
“Like many organizations with 2030 targets, the AvalonBay team continues to refine strategies, policies, and practices to better align efforts focused on achievement of our science-based targets (SBTs)—53% reduction in scope 1 and 2, and 47% reduction in scope 3 from a 2017 baseline. Scope 3 emissions are a 2023 priority, and we will be concentrating on resident energy consumption and embodied carbon in construction.
As both an owner and a developer of multifamily rental buildings, climate resiliency and biodiversity are areas of increasing focus for AvalonBay. We have baselined our existing portfolio and in 2023 will be both enhancing our climate screening for our communities as well as implementing our new biodiversity policy and assessment program to drive nature-positive action.
As we progress in our ESG journey, it is imperative that we further engage our associates and residents to integrate sustainability and inclusion and diversity (I&D) goals and programs more deeply across the organization. This will allow us to expand locally based initiatives as we work together on SBTs and I&D achievements.”
Self-Storage: Extra Space Storage
McKall Morris, Communications and Sustainability Manager, Extra Space Storage, Inc. (NYSE: EXR)
“Our ESG priorities for 2023 include continuing energy efficiency projects and enhancing our sustainability reporting. Our energy efficiency projects involve lighting retrofits, HVAC improvements, and our solar power installations. We continue to focus on energy efficiency because, as a storage REIT, we have very minimal water consumption or waste disposal.
We believe reductions in electrical consumption is the area where we can have the most significant impact in reducing our carbon footprint. Last year, we were able to see a 5.7% reduction in energy use per square foot and we have initiatives in place to help us continue the trend.
Our goal of enhancing our reporting covers a few different areas. First, we want to ensure our reporting aligns with the anticipated SEC proposal requirements. Additionally, we plan to provide extra details in the report about our cyber security initiatives and our portfolio’s resilience, since those are both important areas of discussion for our company’s overall sustainability. As we continue to invest in environmental, social, and governance projects, we want to make sure we are reporting clearly on the progress we are making.”
Tamara Chernomordik, Vice President, ESG, Kimco Realty Corp. (NYSE: KIM)
“In 2022, Kimco took several steps to deepen our long-standing commitment to ESG, including formally incorporating performance against ESG goals into executive compensation. Looking ahead to 2023, we are engaging with our stakeholders—investors, tenants, employees, business partners, etc.—to achieve our ambitious targets and help shape the future of retail real estate.
Reducing carbon emissions and achieving our science-based target remains a priority. This includes focusing on property-level efficiency projects and continuing to examine data and opportunities with scope 3. Additionally, with the forthcoming legislation surrounding carbon data disclosure, we are working to further enhance our comprehensive reporting.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is another area of focus for Kimco. We will continue our partnership with the Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) advisory services team to aid in advancing our DEI strategy and work toward the MLT Black Equity at Work Certification. We are also working to better understand and formalize goals around DEI in our supply chain.
ESG is an evolving space and we have bolstered the team to continue to drive progress in 2023.”
Simon Property Group, Inc . (NYSE: SPG) was a co-winner in the retail sector.
Watch a replay of the 2023 Sustainability Forecast webinar featuring our 2022 Leader in the Light Award winners: