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How Kilroy Realty Built An Award-Winning Sustainability Program

When Kilroy Realty SVP Sara Neff joined the company in 2010, the firm had no formal sustainability program. The program she created in a few short years has been an overwhelming success. Sara will be one of our panelists at Bisnow's San Francisco Sustainability: Green Building Revolution event March 24 at Hotel Kabuki.


GRESB has named Kilroy Realty the top real estate company across all asset classes on sustainability in North America for the past two years. We caught up with Sara recently to find out how she started a winning sustainability program from scratch.

Bisnow: What was your primary objective when you joined Kilroy?

Sara Neff: I joined Kilroy in August 2010, and my objective when I got here was to figure out how to launch a sustainability program that worked for the way we do business.

Bisnow: At the time, the company didn't have a sustainability program. What were the first steps you took to start one?

Sara Neff: I started with benchmarking, as we didn’t have all of our energy data in one place, and then standardized our green cleaning programs across the portfolio.

Bisnow: What was the company buy-in like? What did you do to get everyone working toward sustainability goals?

Sara Neff: I am very lucky because our CEO, John Kilroy, is very passionate about sustainability so I have always had great buy-in. The most important thing I did to get everyone working towards sustainability was to try to make people’s lives easier (for example, by doing their benchmarking) before I made them harder (by coordinating a lighting retrofit), and to celebrate our existing successes. That created a great, collaborative foundation, and now the company is really working on sustainability across all departments, which was amazing.

Bisnow: Were there particular obstacles the company had to overcome?

Sara Neff: Figuring out a place for sustainability in the capital budget was challenging, and it’s always difficult to figure out what to focus on. Solar, biodiversity, green cleaning, water, EV stations, supply chain concerns—there are so many things I want to do and the amount of time I have is finite.

Bisnow: What has been the most unique or exciting sustainability step or approach taken at one of your buildings?

Sara Neff: This is a tough one. I’m going to choose two projects:

1) We have a fantastic property manager in Seattle who is overcoming barriers to energy efficiency through a unique program where she purchases LEDs for her tenants up front and then bills them back in their CAM charges, which has enabled a lot of tenants to have better lighting when they don’t have the cash to do it themselves. I love the tenant engagement and problem solving that went into that.

2) I’m very proud that, starting last year, many of my janitors went and are going through the Green Janitor Education Program, which was a joint endeavor between SEIU, USGBC LA, and a nonprofit called Building Skills Partnership. The program provides 30 hours of training on why green cleaning is important, and I love attending the graduations and hearing what the janitors are taking away from the course. Forty percent of our square footage will have graduated from the program by the time of our event.

Bisnow: What does it mean to have the company named top company on sustainability by GRESB two years in a row? How do you improve on that achievement?

Sara Neff: It’s a wonderful achievement, but I’m not sure how on earth we are going to top it. We’re definitely going for the three-peat this year, but it gets more and more competitive so we will work as hard as we can on it and keep our fingers crossed.

Bisnow: If you could have any form of green tech or system in your own home, what would it be?

Sara Neff: I am increasingly interested in human health, and we live near freeways in LA, so I’d love something that could guarantee us good indoor air quality in our house.

To hear more from Sara and our other panelists, join us at our San Francisco Sustainability event March 24 at Hotel Kabuki. Sign up here!