Participants in the 2012 NAREIT Leader in the Light Working Forum in Dallas offered REIT.com their thoughts on the next steps in the evolution of sustainability in the commercial real estate industry.
Some participants emphasized the growing importance of data, both in terms of collection and using that information to educate stakeholders. Education programs provide highly efficient vehicles for enhancing sustainability, according to Rick Avery, Health Care REIT Inc.'s (NYSE: HCN) vice president of energy management and building technologies.
"You can invest a lot of money in the physical plant, but really the best dollar spent is changing how people operate "“ not in a negative way, but creating information that they can positively affect their own use of energy and water and how they recycle and how they manage their waste stream," Avery said.
Communicating the information collected can pose a challenge, according to the participants. Frank Burt, senior vice president and general counsel with Boston Properties Inc. (NYSE: BXP), identified the transition from one-off initiatives and programs to a fundamental operating philosophy within a company as an issue.
"It's communicating and being able to communicate in a systematic way about what's going on in your portfolio as a whole," he said. "It's really moving from the granular level to the portfolio level. That's a challenge for companies, and I think companies are very comfortable looking at an individual building. But to be able to understand and explain what they're doing on a systematic basis and the costs of the portfolio "“ that's the next challenge, that's the next step."
Transparency also came up during the discussions. Joe Lopez, vice president of property management and director of environmental impact with Equity One Inc. (NYSE: EQY), said he expects to he see more thorough reporting requirements emerge in the near future.
"I really think the next phase is transparency," Lopez said. "A lot of companies are doing things on a responsible basis, but you don't see a lot of formal reporting form listed companies and other companies in our industry. I think as politics and things move forward and regulations and the awareness is driven forward, you're going to see a lot more requirements to be transparent and to report out based on what your results are."