You’ve set your sustainability goals. Now what?

Ambitions alone aren’t enough—start developing your plan to make meaningful, measurable change

In recent years, a growing number of companies have announced ambitious goals and timelines for achieving net zero carbon emissions. What many haven’t done, however, is create strategies to achieve their goals. If your organization has already committed to net zero, figuring out the “how” is a critical next step. It’s the difference between wishful thinking and meaningful, measurable change.

Corporate real estate’s role

Given that commercial buildings consumed 18% of US energy in 2019, it makes sense that corporate real estate (CRE) teams will be instrumental in achieving net zero milestones. Your CRE team has probably already taken many steps in the right direction, whether that means establishing recycling programs or retrofitting equipment to improve energy efficiency.

After all, CRE teams have a mandate to keep facilities performing efficiently, and to ensure workplaces reflect corporate commitments to sustainability. In fact, CRE teams are often the leaders in creating recycling programs, green cleaning, pursuing LEED designations or making the business case for smart building technologies that reduce energy waste.

However, it’s not uncommon for C-suite executives to announce sustainability commitments without consulting their CRE team. Leadership may not be aware of CRE’s current or potential contributions to net zero carbon or may have unrealistic expectations.

If your C-suite leadership has committed to net zero, your CRE team can seize the reins to determine how best to pursue the goals, and measure and report on your contributions. We’ve identified five key steps to create your goals, a plan for achieving them—and ultimately, a way to share those results with the C-suite, your employees and your investors.

1. Align CRE with your corporate sustainability strategy

Whether net zero carbon is the C-suite goal or your executive team is focused on a different target, you’ll need to align your CRE sustainability initiatives with your overall corporate strategy. Understanding the broader goals will help determine whether you should focus on a single location, such as your corporate headquarters, or your entire CRE portfolio, as well as what types of programs you should prioritize. For example, if corporate strategy includes renewable energy, CRE initiatives could include generating onsite renewable energy, purchasing energy from community solar farms, or pursuing renewable energy credits.

2. Define sustainability targets and action plans

For each area of focus in your strategy, you’ll need to establish targets and action plans for achieving them. For example, you might choose to focus on building efficiency, renewable energy and your supply chain, and create plans for improving on your current impacts.

As you develop your plans, don’t overlook the importance of engaging your stakeholders. For a CRE team, stakeholders would include not only the C-suite, for instance, but also employees, since your efforts may have a direct impact on your workplaces, along with HR and other peer departments.

3. Establish your baseline

Often, different buildings across a CRE portfolio may have launched their own sustainability initiatives that are not part of a unified program. You probably also have portfolio-wide initiatives that you measure and report. Understanding what you’re already doing and what it’s accomplishing will inform how you can reach the next level.

Internal and external benchmarking can help you understand your baseline today, identify gaps and inform your next steps. Benchmarking can be as simple as reviewing your green cleaning and recycling efforts or comparing your programs and outcomes against those of other companies in your industry, green building certification standards or your company’s own internal targets.

One global real estate and retail company, for example, set out to establish a baseline of impacts across its global portfolio. In a coordinated effort, its sustainability team assessed the carbon emissions and water impacts of the company’s operations across 15 countries and 10 business lines, and calculated baseline carbon and water footprints.

4. Gather relevant data

Data is critical for an effective sustainability strategy—and it can be overwhelming to track data for a single building, let alone an entire portfolio. You may have access to some kinds of sustainability data but lack easy access to aggregated utility data for analyzing energy usage. The right technology system is critical for gathering and analyzing disparate data from multiple sources.

Your goals will define the data needed to set baselines and track progress. If net zero carbon is the corporate aspiration, for example, what is your current internal cost of carbon? The data you need will also vary based on the external reporting framework you choose, as well as internal reporting and transparency standards.

5. Establish reporting standards

Sustainability reporting has become increasingly important to governments, investors and other stakeholders. Governments around the world—including the European Union, the UK, South Africa, Japan, India, and 17 US states and Puerto Rico—have established mandatory sustainability reporting requirements for public companies. Of the S&P Global 1200, 61% reported on greenhouse gas emissions in 2019—up from 45% in 2016.

The right sustainability framework for your organization will depend on your industry, size and complexity. You’ll need to design and implement a reporting strategy to help you meet mandatory or voluntary requirements. Options include CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark), GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), UNGC (United National Global Compact) Sustainable Development Goals, and others.

Also important is aligning your reporting with corporate strategy. What is important to your C-suite? What metrics will be most meaningful to your stakeholders? Focusing on the metrics that are most meaningful will help you create a compelling sustainability story. 

Every sustainability journey is unique

The path to net zero carbon or other sustainability goals will be different for every organization and every CRE portfolio. Yet successful outcomes share a common thread—they are backed by realistic targets, action plans, measures and metrics to guide the sustainability journey. Contact us or visit our website to learn how to start developing your plan to make meaningful, measurable change.