How to effectively communicate sustainability strategies to REIT investors and industry stakeholders took center stage during Nareit’s webinar “Speaking the Language of Sustainability.” The webinar took place April 29 and featured:

  • Alexandra Kosmides, management & program analyst for the Center for Lease Policy, Technology, and Innovation at the GSA PBS National Office of Leasing;
  • Leann Mester, vice president of communications, marketing, and sustainability at Healthpeak;
  • Gautami Palank, senior vice president of ESG strategy at Howard Hughes Holdings Inc.; and
  • Diane Wade, head of sustainability at CBRE Investment Management.

Jessica Long, senior vice president of environmental stewardship and sustainability for Nareit, was the host for the webinar, which was sponsored by Aspen Solar. John Lind, senior vice president at Aspen Solar, also participated in the discussion.

Both Mester and Palank noted that sustainability in buildings is mostly invisible, which is why it’s important for REITs to clearly illustrate how they make sustainability actionable.

“You’re translating a deeply technical field into storytelling, and that is an art and a science,” said Palank. She stressed that it was important to lead with impact because “everyone understands results.” Palank also outlined three steps for successfully communicating a REIT’s sustainability work or initiative: establish credibility, use simple language to layout the approach, and use evidence to showcase the impact that the sustainability work will or is having on the building, tenant, and community.

Wade echoed Palank’s sentiments, particularly within the context of REITs speaking to investors and analysts. “My main advice is to be clear and concise, and if there is supporting data, please include it. We’re analysts and investors. We love data.” In addition, Wade emphasized that investors and analysts aren’t looking for perfection, but for progress. “We don’t want companies making commitments just for the sake of making a commitment,” she stated. “We’d like to see a well thought out pathway, and in terms of communicating that, understandable and achievable goals are the key things to us.”

Adding a unique perspective to the conversation, Kosmides discussed her work on behalf the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). “Our work is driven by Federal mandates,” said Kosmides and noted that when the GSA communicates with government agencies about implementing programs to achieve those mandates, the GSA must account for the different agencies’ perspectives. “It’s like having 100 different clients with a core set of requirements, but then different needs layered on top,” she explained. 

Kosmides talked about using events, webinars, and live and virtual trainings at the local and national level to help communicate their sustainability initiatives. She also highlighted the importance of their leasing document as their main communication vehicle. Government mandates have “very focused, very targeted finite goals….and all of those, we then translate into lease language,” Kosmides added.

Mester closed the discussion by asking the panelists about the key words or concepts that consistently arise in their conversations with REIT investors or stakeholders. The panelists responded with action, accountability, and flexibility. They explained that stakeholders need to hear how REITs acting upon their goals, holding themselves accountable, and showcasing flexibility given that there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution for hitting sustainability targets.

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