REITworks Panel Looks at Evolution of ESG Post-Pandemic

A panel at Nareit’s REITworks: 2020 Virtual Conference held Sept. 21-22 looked at the ways in which ESG could evolve in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reena Agarwal, a co-founder and COO of the Center for Active Design, Inc., moderated the panel, which also included: Chris Ashworth, national service line manager & sales executive, energy & sustainability at UL; Ben Myers, VP of sustainability at Boston Properties, Inc. (NYSE: BXP); and, Kim Pexton, VP of sustainability at JBG SMITH (NYSE: JBGS).

“COVID-19 has altered the ESG conversation,” Agarwal said at the start of the discussion. Ashworth noted that the crisis has brought environmental and social issues closer together.

Myers observed that “ESG has evolved to align with the opinions of stakeholders, and how important matters of ESG are to stakeholders, and it will continue to do so.” He noted that when Boston Properties issued its 2019 materiality assessment report, it noticed increased interest from investors in social issues. The REIT has reallocated and reformatted its sustainability and ESG program to three pillars: climate action, resilience, and social good, he said.

The focus on healthy buildings is a core part of Boston Properties’ attention to social good, Myers said. “I think that conversation has absolutely changed. It’s fundamentally been reshaped by this pandemic…healthy buildings are becoming very quickly a must-have.”

Paxton noted that JBG SMITH has always had a “really fantastic placemaking stance which is resoundingly people-centric.” The pandemic has provided an opportunity for the company to build its stance on healthy buildings, “where traditionally we have not had that presence…it’s really a great opportunity to infuse that health, safety, wellbeing and security intentionally as part of the placemaking strategy,” she said.

The current environment also provides a chance to dive deeper into the impact of climate change on human health, Paxton added.

Meanwhile, if there is a silver lining to the pandemic, Myers said, it’s that “once again, the sustainability movement has been ahead of the curve on so many issues that are now becoming mainstream.”

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