REITalent Spotlight on ESG Careers: Q&A with Boston Properties’ Vice President of Sustainability Ben Myers
Nareit’s REITalent series shines a spotlight on individuals with various roles within the REIT industry and looks at the unique career paths they have taken.
Most recently, Nareit spoke with Ben Myers, vice president of sustainability (NYSE: BXP), about his path to a role in ESG. Find current job opportunities available with Boston Properties here.
Learn more about the information and skills needed to succeed in roles with ESG responsibilities at Nareit’s upcoming REITworks Conference, Sept. 20-23, 2021. Register here. Student rates are also available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Has your career always been focused on ESG or is that something that you transitioned to?
I've always been interested in sustainability. My professional interest was cultivated as an undergraduate civil and environmental engineering student. My senior design project involved the design of a LEED office building – including waterless fixtures, high-performance windows, LED lighting, and solar photovoltaics. I became fascinated with building science and the possibility of leading the transition to a more sustainable built environment.
There weren't many ESG focused jobs when I started my career. I helped create the position at Boston Properties while working on sustainability issues as construction manager. I've been at the company now for nine years, seven of which have been spent creating and leading our sustainability and ESG initiatives. When we made the case for the position, we were getting more sustainability-related requests from institutional investors, customers, and the communities that we serve. They were interested in our strategy and achievements – and wanted to see greater levels of disclosure. We started doing the GRESB assessment during a time when at the corporate level there wasn't any official oversight of our sustainability program. We had many random acts of sustainability, but no one person organizing, advancing, and increasing the level of ambition behind our efforts. I helped write a job description, applied as an internal candidate, and fortunately got the job.
Have you seen an increased focus on ESG in recent years at REITs?
It’s everywhere. ESG has gone mainstream, becoming a top priority for many companies, investors, and policymakers in 2020. The G had always been there, the E had become more quantifiable and comparable, and the growing focus on S caused more entities to broadly address issues related to environmental, social, and governance non-financial performance. Weather patterns have increased awareness of the risk of climate change and the killing of George Floyd concentrated attention on issues of social justice, giving rise to more industry introspection and action on diversity and inclusion. ESG has become more relevant to decision-makers, and more quantifiable across all three pillars.
What are some recent changes you have seen regarding ESG at Boston Properties or in commercial real estate in general?
In the early days, sustainability was siloed, acting independently and bolted-onto to real estate decisions as an afterthought. Now sustainability has been operationalized, integral to the real estate business and our brand. It's evident in nearly everything we do. Sustainability considerations inform how we make investment decisions and operate our buildings, how we approach acquisitions and new development, how we consider the future of real estate and technology adoption, how we communicate with our stakeholders, and build a company culture anchored in purposeful work at BXP.
The de-siloing has created stronger cross-functional collaboration. I'm much more engaged now with human resources on social issues and risk management on climate. We have a diversity and inclusion committee that we didn't have when we started that's coming up with great ideas and implementing social goals. We have a community involvement program that continues to grow. We have a 2025 net-zero commitment. We are planning for the long-term by studying climate scenarios. Paying attention to ESG, before it was universally known as ESG, has made BXP a stronger company.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment in your current position?
I’m proud of persevering, overcoming the notion that sustainability was a passing trend and developing collaborative relationships with colleagues. It has involved listening carefully to attitudes and opinions, building trust gradually over time. Sustainability adds value when it is approached methodically, bringing forth the right opportunities at the right time, explaining concepts, and being very disciplined about time requirements – for me personally, and most importantly, the time of those I’m seeking to persuade.
We now have more attention from stakeholders, internally and externally, and are growing our program to meet the challenge. We've added a sustainability coordinator, who was promoted to sustainability analyst, and we’ve recently added a sustainability manager to support the implementation of our program across our regions.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your current position?
The biggest challenge is understanding how to process "No". You're going to hear "No" as a sustainability professional. How do you bounce back from being told you can't do something is a challenge we all have to overcome. You need to continue to refine your approach to different initiatives, embracing stakeholder values, meeting people where they are, and understanding their attitudes, opinions, and perceptions. Change is fundamentally hard. This work of sustainability and ESG shouldn't be easy. If it's easy, you're likely greenwashing. The hard part is usually where the improvement happens, and that improvement is necessary to create more sustainable outcomes.
What would you say are the most important skills for someone to have in your position?
Being able to connect with a lot of different types of people - stakeholders that may bring the perspective of property management, or leasing, construction, development, legal, HR, etc. Real estate has many different functions, serving many different needs, and in some cases, trying to meet very different goals. You need to be able to understand those different goals and opinions and build consensus among diverse, cross-functional teammates to make projects happen and move forward initiatives.
What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to work on ESG issues at a REIT?
Love real estate. I really think you need to love the built environment, architecture, design, engineering, making deals and finance, how permitting and approvals occur, community meetings, consensus building – all of those things. If you love real estate, you're going to do very well in this business, because you're going to continuously be driven by curiosity. There’s an infinite learning curve in real estate sustainability, sometimes you’ll rely on that love and curiosity as fuel.