07/10/2023 | by

Nareit’s REITworks: 2023 Conference convened hundreds of REIT leaders and industry professionals in Las Vegas June 28–29. The two-day educational program focused on current issues of importance for CRE and REIT professionals in all areas of environmental, social, and governance issues.

REITworks by the numbers:

  • Nearly 300 attendees
  • 105 companies, including 72 Nareit member REITs, were represented
  • 25% of attendees were new to REITworks
  • 60 panelists and keynote speakers presented at the event

Presentations featured various formats, including fireside chats, panel discussions, roundtables, and townhalls. The event also featured 11 sponsors, partners, and media affiliates, including Platinum sponsor Deloitte.

Continue reading for a recap of the general and concurrent session presentations.

Fireside Chat with Nareit President & CEO Steven Wechsler and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV)

Fireside Chat

General Session: Investor Viewpoints – Stewardship Done Right.

General Session

The landscape around ESG investing today was the focus of a general session panel. Jessica Long, Nareit’s senior vice president for environmental stewardship and sustainability, moderated the panel, Investor Viewpoints - Stewardship Done Right. Panelists included: Alua Askarbek, associate, global infrastructure and real estate securities at BlackRock; Emily Jager, ESG research analyst at Fidelity Management & Research Co.; and Kristin Watkins, director, sustainability investment banking at Truist Securities. Among the many topics covered were how ESG is integrated into the individual firm’s investment process, and which key performance indicators (KPIs) and data sources are looked at when evaluating REITs and commercial real estate investment. A theme of the discussion was around the financial materiality of environmental and social issues, which is really determined on a company-by-company basis and was noted as important that it be considered from both a risk and opportunity standpoint. The panelists agreed that taking account of sustainability risks is viewed as part of executing a fiduciary duty and considering a broad landscape of opportunities and risk for every transaction. The panelists discussed expectations for REITs in terms of carbon goals and commitments, with a focus on understanding the connection to company’s overall investment strategy and where it’s going in the medium and long term. The panel closed out with a conversation about how the E, S, and G rank in importance when making investment decisions. Governance was agreed across the board as a long-standing factor in investment decision making, while the environmental and social aspects are not one-size-fits-all. It was also acknowledged that while recent focus has been on E, social issues are rising in importance especially in some sectors.

From Commitment to Execution – How to Decarbonize Real Estate Portfolios in Practice

From Commitment to Execution

During this session, participants gained insights from real estate owners about their plans to advance portfolio net zero carbon commitments and mitigate transition risk. Panelists spoke about how to develop net zero carbon asset business plans, evaluate the cost of decarbonization during due diligence, implement a phased approach to decarbonization, and communicate about pathways to decarbonization. Speakers included: Katherine Elliot, Equity Residential; Kevin Hagen, Clean Energy Buyers Association; Blakely Jarrett, Urban Land Institute; Christian Roberts, KPMG; and Natalie Teear, Hudson Pacific Properties.

Building and Sustaining a Diverse and Inclusive Talent Pool

Building and Sustaining a Diverse and Inclusive Talent Pool

Moderator Leah Landro, EVP and CHRO of Kimco Realty, spoke with Cedric Bobo, CEO and co-founder of Project Destined, and Olivia Leigh, EVP of portfolio operations and people at Macerich, about best practices for, and new approaches to, recruiting, engaging, and supporting a diverse talent pool. Panelists highlighted strategies to help employees feel valued and engaged; offered insights on instituting accountability for supervisors; and talked about the importance of companies clearly articulating what DEI means for their workforces.

Defining DEI Targets and Aligning Metrics with Business Goals and Priorities

Defining DEI Targets

This panel led attendees through the necessary steps to set clear DEI targets and how to align them with overall business strategy. The speakers offered tactical advice and case studies on how to measure, launch, and track progress to inform decision-making and scale DEI and ESG goals. The conversation also focused on how to best identify and capture the most important metrics for investors, clients, boards, employees, and communities. Speakers included: David Alagno, AvalonBay Communities; Brent Obleton; Hudson Pacific Properties; Michelle Powell; Management Leadership for Tomorrow; Dionna Sallis, Feguson Partners; and Kelly Worden, International WELL Building Institute.

Partnering with Tenants to Put Environmental and Social Goals into Action

Partnering with Tenants

During this session, attendees learned how real estate companies and tenants are partnering to create favorable opportunities for both parties. Panelists spoke about advancing shared ESG goals, fostering effective tenant engagement methods based on sector and lease type, and collecting tenant data. The conversation also delved into how to implement effective occupant education to increase operating efficiency and resource conservation. Speakers included: Sotiria Anagnostou, STORE Capital; Peter Corrigan, Neuberger Berman; Chris Las, Realty Income Corporation; Lauren Moss, Vornado Realty Trust; and Melissa Smith, Sun Communities.

General Session: How Companies & Government Work Together to Advance Sustainability

How Companies and Government Work Together to Advance Sustainability

Mike Zatz, manager of ENERGY STAR commercial buildings for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Katie Horn, manager of public affairs for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, discussed how companies and governments are working together to achieve sustainability goals. Zatz talked about the EPA’s work with corporations to implement business performance standards for decarbonization and the agency’s initiative to access and gather data from utility companies. During her remarks, Horn talked about the steps her organization has taken with community partners in the Las Vegas area to develop initiatives to support water resources. She spoke about specific changes the Las Vegas government has made to conserve water, including implementing development codes to promote more water efficient landscaping, and placing a moratorium on constructing buildings with evaporative cooling. Jessica Long, Nareit SVP of environmental stewardship and sustainability, introduced the speakers.

Here & Now Technology – Addressing the Digital Divide in the Workplace

Here and Now Technology Addressing the Digital Divide

This session explored how technology is shaping the way we run business operations and the pitfalls to consider and avoid as companies become more innovative and inclusive. Panelists discussed strategies for promoting digital equity, leveraging technology to drive inclusive innovation, and overcoming digital divides based on geographic location, skill level and access to technology. Speakers included: Lisa Alonso, Healthpeak Properties; Ye Eun (Yen) Jeong, OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates; Colleen Richards Powell, American Tower; and Ayris Scales, Nareit.

Preparing for the SEC Proposed Climate Rule –  ESG and Carbon Accounting

ESG and Carbon Accounting

Panelists helped attendees better understand practices for meeting the increasing demands for disclosure of climate related risks, including Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions. Speakers focused on identifying tasks and responsibilities for managing and disclosing climate risks; planning and preparing for compliance with pending SEC climate disclosure regulations; and developing clear communication points about carbon footprints, physical and transition risks, and decarbonization commitments in financial disclosures. Speakers included: Sandy Bransfield, BXP; Michael Chang, Host Hotels & Resorts; Matthew Eby, First Street Foundation; Lauren Pesa, Deloitte; and Carol Samaan, Healthpeak Properties.

General Session: Communicating to Garner Support, to Protect Reputation, and Maintain Momentum

Communicating to Garner Support

In this session, speakers discussed when, why, and how to effectively communicate an organization’s sustainability, workforce, and DEI strategies to garner support and understanding from all levels of a company. In addition, panelists shared insights for protecting a company’s brand and preparing its leadership during challenging circumstances. They also offered tips for speaking about sustainability work in ways that maintains momentum and support in the face of evolving priorities. Speakers included: Matt Canter, Global Strategy Group; Ashley Coombs, Camden Property Trust; Jennifer Leitsch, EY; and Leann Mester, Physicians Realty Trust.

Meaningful Collaborations – The Value of Diverse Community Partnerships and Equitable Philanthropy

Meaningful Collaborations

During this panel, speakers shared insights into how to build strong and sustainable relationships that prioritize equitable collaboration. As part of the conversation, they focused on how to create a strategy that maximizes partnership outcomes, establish trust and credibility with both internal and external stakeholders, and produce community partnerships and philanthropic investments that align with business goals and priorities. Speakers included: Gian Brosco, Nevada Community Foundation; David Norman, Prologis, Inc.; Daisy Saulls, Equinix; Ayris Scales, Nareit; and Anita Cooke, RLJ Lodging Trust.

Sustainable Solutions – Real Estate Innovation in Practice

Real Estate Innovation in Practice

Using their own organizations as case studies, panelists from real estate companies leading in ESG integration, decarbonization, and stakeholder engagement shared innovative solutions for implementing environmental stewardship strategies. They also focused on how to interpret and leverage ESG research for informed decision making, implement services such as EV charging stations to support customer demand, and efficiently examine the ESG data management vendor landscape. Speakers included: Erika Ahr, SBA Communications Corporation; Ronald Becker, Brandywine Realty Trust; Tamara Chernomordik, Kimco Realty; John Forester, The RMR Group; Ethan Gilbert, Prologis, Inc.; and Jessica Long, Nareit.

Environmental Stewardship Roundtables

These roundtables gave attendees the opportunity to share strategies for integrating ESG into investment strategies, management approaches, investor communications, renewable energy procurement, and more. Topics of interest included the implications of the Transferable Investment Tax Credit on REITs and the CRE industry; climate risk analysis; data management, verification, and assurance; and cross-departmental ESG collaboration. Facilitators included: Sarah King, Kilroy Realty; Molly Polk, Longevity Partners; Christine Robinson, Deloitte; and Marla Thalheimer, Institute for Market Transformation.

Social Responsibility Roundtables

These roundtables focused on identifying and implementing best-in-class approaches toward creating a pipeline of diverse future leaders, developing effective employee resource groups, and executing social responsibility efforts as a small REIT or CRE company. Facilitators included: Afia Boone, Nareit; Ryan Knudson, Macerich; Brent Obleton, Hudson Pacific Properties; Ayris Scales, Nareit; and Charlotte Schwarz, Sunstone Hotel Investors.

General Session: REITworks Townhall

During this closing townhall discussion about the most popular topics and trends identified at the conference, attendees spoke to the group about personal experiences and shared helpful takeaways from the educational sessions. Facilitators included: Fulya Kocak, Fulya Kocak, LLC; Jessica Long, Nareit; and Ayris Scales, Nareit.

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