04/26/2012 | by
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Sustainability Programs Evolving

REITs and commercial real estate companies are moving beyond the idea of sustainability in terms of one-off projects and looking at the environmental impacts of their portfolios on the whole, according to David Stanford, co-founder and executive director of real estate management consulting firm RealFoundations.

This month, RealFoundations hosted the 2012 NAREIT Leader in the Light Working Forum at its home office in Dallas. In a video interview with REIT.com at the event, Stanford discussed some of the major trends and objectives in the sustainability movement. Despite the growth of eco-friendly building and operating practices, Stanford said sustainability still stands as a fringe topic in the commercial real estate world.

"We're still not mainstream yet," Stanford said. "We're still a bit on the edge." Stanford said the purpose of the working forum event was to bring sustainability professionals together to share ideas on best practices and "eliminate confusion about what sustainability is and what it isn't."

As the industry moves towards global building standards, companies shouldn't wait to achieve a worldwide consensus before they implement their own green programs, Stanford said. Data collection is a good starting point.

"We believe that is a long road," Stanford said. "You have to do something in the interim. I think the starting point of that is being able to benchmark what you do today, what you have today."

Stanford encouraged industry organizations such as NAREIT to continue to aid in the development of global standards and best practices. He likened the move to past NAREIT projects, such as developing appropriate financial reporting standards.

Internal oversight of consumption and similar environmental issues poses the most significant challenge for companies that are implementing sustainability programs, according to Stanford. He said that had been a hot topic at the working forum, and companies are being pressed by stakeholders to show the results of their work.

"The ability to report on and provide transparency into energy use and the impact on sustainability programs is on the agenda and is not going to go away," Stanford said. "We see large investors that are investing in public companies and private companies in the space are demanding this."