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Buildings Release A Staggering Amount Of Carbon Emissions. What Are Property Groups Doing About It?


Over the last several years, there has been a call for nearly every industry in the world to clean up its act and renew — or begin — a commitment to sustainability

As the U.S. continues to look for ways to combat climate change, one group that has been feeling increased pressure to act is property owners. Buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of U.S. carbon emissions between construction and the energy used for lighting, heating, cooling and other operations.

Even the federal government is recognizing this issue and making moves to reduce carbon emissions generated by its buildings. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in December calling for the federal government to establish a net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045.

So, while the call for change has been put out, the question remains: What are property firms doing to answer it?

To address the issues, Bisnow spoke with Rhianne Menzies, director of ESG for Brookfield Properties and a member of the Institute of Real Estate Management. Brookfield Properties has been taking a number of steps to improve sustainability efforts across its portfolio, from making a commitment to carbon neutrality to installing more solar energy technologies. 

ESG — or environmental, social and corporate governance — is an approach that evaluates the impact a company is having on its community, the environment and other nonfinancial factors. 

Bisnow sat down with Menzies to learn more about Brookfield Properties' ESG efforts and to get her thoughts on the broader role commercial real estate has to play in the push toward a greener future. 

Bisnow: Why do you believe it's important for CRE companies to increase their focus on sustainability? 

Menzies: Sustainable assets are resilient assets. They are future-proofed, able to withstand market volatility and create value for stakeholders. Companies that do not enhance their focus on sustainability will see their assets stranded and will be unable to transition to a low-carbon economy and meet the needs of stakeholders.  

Bisnow: What advice do you have for firms that may be just starting on their sustainability journey?

Menzies:  A key thing to remember if you are just starting out is that sustainability is an ever-evolving journey and there are constant challenges to solve. An important first step is to understand your key sustainability issues and of course, the opportunities to enhance your business. From this, you can prioritize initial steps on your sustainability journey which can be built upon over time.

Bisnow: What are some key sustainability efforts you've seen commercial real estate firms adopting? 

Menzies: Some of the overarching industry topics we’ve seen have been efforts to support decarbonization, whether this be in new building technologies or actively engaging with supply chains, and disclosure, with the proposed Securities and Exchange Commission rules looking to enhance and standardize climate-related disclosures. 

During a recent redevelopment project at our Tysons Galleria in McLean, Virginia, we transformed a Macy’s box into a multitenanted space. Our team prioritized environmental benefits like utilizing as much of the original structure as possible and incorporating a living green wall into the exterior of the building. We also created nearly 20K SF of new community gathering space. 

Bisnow: What, specifically, has Brookfield Properties been doing to embrace sustainability across its portfolio?

Menzies: We're guided by our vision to build a better world. We focus on creating environments for communities — our tenants and guests — to thrive. We're committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 across all markets and sectors, with our malls supported by over 62 megawatts of on-site solar capacity.

Social initiatives remain at the core of our businesses, ensuring that our properties represent their communities and operate as hubs for everyone. A great example is our Community Connections program. In 2021 alone, we hosted over 1,400 events, donated over 1.9 million meals for local communities and raised over $1.3M for charitable partners.   

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and IREM. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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