Attendees at the 2008 BOMA Intl. Conference, held recently in Denver, learned how the commercial real estate industry is facing the challenge of moving to true sustainability. Fortune Senior Writer Marc Gunther set the stage by sharing with attendees the ways in which Fortune 500 companies, such as McDonald's and Nike, are upping their involvement in green initiatives, saying that these organizations are driven by five main factors:
- Their employees.
- Activist groups.
- The Internet.
- Socially responsible investors.
- Customers (what Gunther called "the sleeping giant" that's gradually awakening to the need for a sustainable environment).
Gunther introduced broadcast journalist Forrest Sawyer to moderate a town-hall-style discussion on sustainability that featured a cross-section of industry thought leaders: BOMA Chairman Brenna Walraven, Sally Wilson of CB Richard Ellis, Arah Schuur of the Clinton Climate Initiative, Catherine Greener of Saatchi & Saatchi S., and Rick Fedrizzi of the USGBC. Sawyer asked the group, "What's the business case? Why should a company move toward becoming truly sustainable?" Fedrizzi responded, "It's to the point now where not taking advantage of the dollar benefits is actually irresponsible from a fiduciary responsibility perspective. There are dollar benefits to energy savings, as one example, and you can no longer put that on the backburner."
Wilson told attendees that employee buy-in is critical to any green initiative. "We've trained more than 1,000 in BEEP courses alone [at CB Richard Ellis], but the other part is educating tenants ... communication is huge." Walraven expanded on this, saying, "There's a learning curve with these kinds of activities, and people often have some fear of embarking on green initiatives. At my company, we expect at least neutral cost with our sustainability activities, if not actual dollar savings."
On the government mandates vs. incentives question, Walraven said it's up to businesses to take the lead. "We can move faster and accomplish more with incentives in a voluntary marketplace, and real estate companies should get the credit for efficient operations." Fedrizzi said he'd like to see legislation aimed at helping business in areas where it can't help itself.
Fedrizzi also told attendees that he envisions a tremendous increase in acceptance of sustainability in the next 10 years. He left attendees with the idea that the future is now: "The kids who are in college right now are the ones who will be leasing space and developing buildings down the road."
For more information on sustainability strategies and other highlights of the BOMA conference, visit www.boma.org/denver2008.htm.