Leading up to Nareit’s inaugural REITworks: 2020 Virtual Conference, Nareit is interviewing the conference program directors to get their perspectives on environmental stewardship, social impact, and good governance. REITworks will be held virtually on Sept. 21-22, and attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the latest ESG issues impacting real estate, connect virtually with peers and industry experts, and earn continuing education credits.
Matt Praske, director of energy and sustainability at WashREIT (NYSE: WRE), is one of the six program directors for REITworks. He recently spoke with Nareit about the upcoming virtual conference.
Q: What are you looking forward to most at REITworks? What do you think attendees will find most valuable?
I’m looking forward to learning about what other REITs are working on in the ESG space. For the most part our peers have already tackled many of the issues we’re working, so that really streamlines our own efforts.
The peer-to-peer sharing of best practices is the most valuable aspect of the conference.
Q: Nareit’s four forums (the ESG Forum, the HR Forum, the SFO Forum, and the Dividends Through Diversity & Inclusion Forum) merged to form Nareit’s REITworks Conference. As a previous ESG Forum attendee, what additional value do you think REITworks will provide?
REITworks will provide the opportunity to collaborate with other teams outside of sustainability professionals. There are many benefits to having everyone in the same room sharing ideas, even if it’s virtually.
My non-sustainability-focused teammates from WashREIT will be attending REITworks, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with some of the other folks who are on other teams but who also contribute to our ESG mission.
Q: How have ESG issues in real estate evolved since the COVID-19 crisis began? What are the most important issues to be watching right now?
There are certainly some aspects of the pandemic that are adding new priority to things that already existed in the ESG space—such as the health impacts of building spaces. There’s a renewed interest in the technologies that we vet in the ESG space, for example technologies that allow for remote monitoring of building operations.
The crisis has also highlighted the importance of the “S” or social aspects of our program, especially around stakeholder engagement. WashREIT has tenant, occupant, employee, and other stakeholder engagement programs in place. These programs help to make sure we’re getting solid lines of communication with employees, residents and tenants to make sure everyone feels comfortable and safe.
Q: Can you speak to the importance of ESG being viewed as a company-wide priority?
I think often the primary ESG responsibility falls to one person or a small team, but setting a company-wide ESG priority helps us not miss certain opportunities to have the ESG impact that we need.
When ESG is a company-wide priority, it helps makes folks for whom ESG is not their primary responsibility aware of how their decisions impact the company’s ESG successes. It allows for more opportunities to create impact.
Q: WashREIT was recognized as a leader in sustainability in Washington, D.C., being awarded the 2019 District Sustainability Award and designation as a Green Lease Leader, as well as the GRESB Green Star Rating four years running. What advice would you give to a company just starting to formalize its ESG program?
When you’re getting started, it can feel overwhelming. There are a number of topics and areas to focus on, so it’s important to identify your priorities in the beginning and create a roadmap.
Know that those goals and the roadmap can always be adjusted—you can always add more aspects to your program.
Register for REITworks by Aug. 29 to receive an early bird discount. REITworks attendees will hear thought leaders discuss key topics related to accounting, financial reporting, sustainability, capital markets, disclosures, investor relations, diversity and inclusion, human resources, and more.