Commercial Real Estate Takes On Corporate Social Responsibility
In the business world, employees have always had a responsibility to do well. Now, they also have pressure to do good.
Companies are putting an increased emphasis on social change, and several large commercial real estate firms are incentivizing their employees to get involved by increasing green initiatives, promoting community service and improving diversity in the workplace.
Here are three ways commercial real estate firms are taking on corporate social responsibility.
1. Going Green
Companies are beginning to address the realities of climate change and focus on disaster resiliency.
Accounting, tax and consulting firm Mazars recently introduced a set of plans to offset carbon emissions and established a Green Team to foster a culture of environmental awareness. The Green Team has introduced several new initiatives, including reducing paper printouts, implementing a formal recycling program and providing regular environmental tips to fellow employees.
Mazars will also be hosting its Fourth Annual “Days of Service," a volunteer initiative that encourages employees to spend a full workday assisting local service agencies, like garden revitalizations at parks and beach cleanups to promote environmental sustainability. The "Days of Service" initiative is part of the firm’s “We Are Mazars” program, which fosters employees’ personal and professional growth through the tenets of association, respect and excellence.
Architects and developers are also implementing green initiatives in their properties. More buildings are pursuing LEED Certification, a global rating system that provides a framework for sustainability.
Other organizations are taking a similar approach to establishing building rating systems. The Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, for instance, assesses sustainability of infrastructure projects and real estate assets worldwide. The Carbon Disclosure Project runs a global disclosure system to help investors, companies and cities measure and manage their environmental impact. CDP provides data and insights to help companies contribute to a more sustainable economy.
“The information reported by these organizations has an effect on how investors view projects," Mazars partner Ron Lagnado said. "Projects with good sustainability translate into good investments."
2. Talking About Diversity
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the commercial real estate industry is investing in diversity initiatives. Several organizations have launched programs that support women and minorities as they navigate their CRE careers.
For example, Mazars's long-standing Women@Mazars program supports the full potential of women leaders through education and awareness. Its goal is to improve visibility of, and access to, role models. Mazars' “Be Visible” campaign also features women leaders that embody the core values and principles the firm seeks to promote.
A recent CREW report revealed several roadblocks for women in real estate. The industry median annual compensation for women is $115K, compared to $150K for men. Women in the industry are also 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor, or someone who can provide career advice and help them advance professionally.
Commercial real estate company Bozzuto has expressed a commitment to changing those numbers and increasing diversity across the organization and the industry. The company promotes a culture of gender equality through mentorship and sponsorship initiatives like the Women At Bozzuto Network. At Bozzuto Management Co., a subsidiary of the Bozzuto Group, 76% of leadership roles are held by women.
“Last year, we had one of our best years in terms of profitability, and I attribute this to having greater diversity within our company,” Bozzuto President and CEO Toby Bozzuto said. "This diversity allows us to be more reflective of our customers and clients. While having a diverse workforce is the right thing from a cultural perspective, I also believe it’s the best way to run our business.”
The commercial real estate industry has also begun investing in programs that increase racial and cultural diversity. In an industry of over 125,000 professionals, less than 1% of management positions are held by people of color. To increase diversity across the industry, NAIOP launched a Real Estate Associate Program, which helps prepare minority professionals for a career in commercial real estate.
3. Community Development
In addition to promoting changes internally to push the industry forward, commercial real estate firms have begun implementing initiatives that impact the larger community.
“A company cannot build or develop itself by staying wrapped up in its own profession,” Mazars partner Arthur Adams said. “It must encounter others and invest in the long term.”
Architects and designers have started incorporating community spaces into their developments. Essex Crossing in New York City's Lower East Side has branded itself with the idea of community in mind. Essex Crossing's 100K SF of green space, including a public park, urban farm and rooftop terraces, offers tenants several opportunities to embrace community living.
Farther uptown, 15 Hudson Yards provides residents several opportunities to get to know their neighbors. In addition to views of the city, the building's 51st floor features a lounge space with tables, chairs and couches. An imagination center provides the building's youngest residents with art, activities and interactive play spaces.
Several commercial real estate companies have shifted their focus to public-private partnerships that drive social change while still earning a profit. Developers and architects are spearheading more projects that include affordable housing and foster economic development through construction jobs. Many mixed-use developments also offer parks and community spaces that encourage collaboration and interaction with neighbors.
In South Boston, DJ Properties planned to build a mixed-use development, but wanted to ensure existing neighborhood residents felt welcome. The development firm solicited community feedback via a survey and conducted meetings with residents who would be directly impacted by the project. The outcome was a community development that would bring new economic opportunities to the area, while reflecting the needs of the existing community.
Other projects have integrated community engagement and training programs into their master plan. In Washington, D.C., Monroe Street Market has grown into a vibrant mixed-use community with more than 700 multifamily residences, 45 townhouses and 83K SF of retail space. But it also includes 27 affordable artist studios and incorporates an arts walk and community arts center that encourages learning and collaboration among locals.
In Macon, Georgia, developers transformed vacant mill houses into an affordable arts community. The Mill Hill project includes a community arts center and a culinary school to promote training programs, emphasizing an existing problem in creative placemaking. While mixed-use developments are intended to promote economic development and growth, it can often have the reverse effect, leading to the displacement of long-time residents. Mill Hill’s main goal is to achieve equality and inclusion through ethical development.
As corporate social responsibility continues to gain traction, commercial real estate has joined the movement to improve the environment around them from the physical spaces to the people who occupy them. The industry is starting to experiment with new technology, and more real estate professionals will start to use these tools to help make an impact on their community.
This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Mazars. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.