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Funding the future

Elaina Tattersdale believed just one person could make a difference. A new fund in her name aims to inspire that passion in others.

By Matt Schur
Elaina and Cheryl
Elaina and Cheryl

It had long been Elaina Tattersdale’s dream to create a more sustainable world. After spending several years working in real estate, the 35-year-old mother of two wanted to start doing more environmentally friendly work. But in June of 2019, she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

Her parents, IREM president Cheryl Gray, CPM, and Cheryl’s husband, Rick Gray, CPM, set aside money for advanced treatments. But the disease acted quickly; Elaina died 77 days after being diagnosed. “As we talked as a family, it was important for us to honor her and create something that had meaning to her,” Cheryl says.

Cheryl and Rick never got the chance to use the money they set aside for treatments. To honor Elaina, they instead donated $50,000 to the IREM Foundation to create a fund that will award grants for sustainability initiatives. “My husband and I wanted a way to ensure her memory lived on for something she was passionate about, so that her desire to improve the environment lives on as does her name.”

The IREM Foundation will begin awarding grants that drive sustainability within the commercial real estate industry later in 2020. For more insight, JPM spoke directly with Cheryl about her family’s vision for Elaina’s Sustainability Fund.

How will the fund work?

Cheryl Gray: The purpose is to review any applications that come in for funding that are generally supportive to advancing sustainability. And when I say sustainability, I mean things that will improve the environmental footprint. So it could be reducing demand for resources or utilities. It could be a more sustainable building material, planting more trees around your building or an innovation that needs to have some funding to support an experiment. We have left it fairly broad.

But it is intended to be something that recognizes leadership and is either innovative or might not otherwise get off the ground.

Can you walk us through how this might work in theory?

Let’s assume a firm wants to undertake a study to implement new technology that will improve air quality. Because the technology has never been tried before, they want to take a floor and do before-and-after measurements. It may not be something they have in their budget, but it’s innovative and something that will improve occupant wellness. Through the IREM Foundation, they would be able to apply for money for that initiative.

Why was sustainability so important to Elaina?

It was always important to her. She talked about it a lot with us. Elaina was just an old soul—she was very considerate of a lot of things and of people. She was very aware of the consequences individuals have and the impact we have on the world. She always valued initiatives like recycling and energy conservation. And I think for her personally, she felt that there may not be an obvious, immediate impact to the actions we take today, but there would be in the future. So we have to start talking about it and changing our practices now.

From a broader perspective, how can this help the industry?

There are still naysayers. There are still financial impediments. But there’s a way for us to recognize individuals who may be a little bit ahead of their time. You have to be able to experiment and keep moving the needle. And that’s what the fund is intended to do: continue to advance our performance in this space in the real estate industry.

The buildings that are being built today would have been considered “green” in more revolutionary ways 15 to 18 years ago. Things are improving and changing, but the majority of existing buildings need modifications to make them more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, sometimes the return on investment is not always obvious. But if you do nothing, then nothing changes.

What is it about property managers that makes them so valuable in this fight?

Property managers impact the lives of all people through the spaces where we live, work and play. Property managers have a responsibility to ensure that these spaces positively influence the wellness and the lives of those who use them.

We are there day in, day out. We’re the fixers, the problem solvers, and in many cases, the innovators. There’s an opportunity for us to affect all of those things by how we operate, how we repair it, how we maintain it, how we replace it and by making those selections on what is done.

What will be the fund’s impact?

I think it’s twofold. It’s allowing people access to funds to take a risk and also showcasing an individual or a group that may have done something innovative. The fund gives them visibility to others in their industry so more people can be encouraged to implement sustainability initiatives.

What advice would you give to someone applying?

Don’t think you have to start big. Don’t think you have to come up with a massive program around advancing sustainability in your building or your portfolio. Think about one thing that would be worth your time to try to do, and that is one thing better than where you were. It’s about advancing and continuing to move forward, rather than thinking, “I need to eat the elephant in one bite.”

Looking ahead, what do you hope to see happen?

I have a lot of hope that we’re going to see some great things, but I’m also realistic enough to say, we’ll start slow, and we’ll learn as we go. But it’s comforting to know that not only will my daughter’s name be memorialized in something that she was passionate about and our family believes in, but also that we’re supporting the IREM Foundation and all the great work that they do.

Maggie Callahan

Matt Schur is a contributing writer for JPM®.

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