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Stepping up for sustainability

The property management industry needs sustainability leaders to step up

By Lynne Miller, CPM, RPA, LEED® AP O+M

Climate change impacts have become more tangible, with phenomena such as stronger, more frequent storms and wildfires becoming ongoing concerns for more parts of the world. As a result, more businesses are focusing on sustainability. In fact, the management of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, which include sustainability, is now arguably a top-three issue for institutional owners.

More property managers will be asked to contribute to sustainability projects for their owners, but they will also be asked to look at their own corporate identities and values. The property management industry will need sustainability leaders to step up.

Choosing a leader

  • Important characteristics of a sustainability leader include a combination of innate beliefs and behaviors and relevant skills:
  • Strong moral and ethical standards
  • Passion about sustainable business practices
  • Commitment to making environmental and social changes to support sustainability
  • Ability to motivate others to support a cause
  • Willingness to stay on top of a rapidly developing field and transfer knowledge to others
  • Ability to track value impacts and prepare sustainability reports

Someone already on your team may possess these qualities and be just the person to lead your company forward. IREM’s Sustainability Advisory Board has several members who came from other roles to become the sustainability leaders in their companies.

You may have to recruit someone to lead. In addition to your IREM network, the memberships of organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council and the International Society of Sustainability Professionals offer qualified candidates.

Leading a sustainable team

After finding your leader, gaining buy-in from property teams will be both an initial and ongoing leadership challenge for that person. Ways to ensure commitment to and participation in the program include:

  • Empowering teams when creating policies and selecting sustainability measures for properties
  • Setting realistic, achievable goals
  • Conveying information using clear and concise communication that avoids lingo
  • Communicating the value of sustainability to the company in new employee onboarding
  • Making the program social through competitions
  • Publicizing results and sharing success stories

A leadership story

I’ll share a story from my recent experience where I saw a need for someone to step up. In 2016, the City of Los Angeles adopted the “Existing Buildings Energy and Water Efficiency Program.” This ordinance requires all buildings that are at least 20,000 square feet to benchmark energy and water annually, and conduct energy and water audits and a retro-commissioning study every five years.

The ordinance is being implemented in tiers according to square footage and other factors, so my company’s entire portfolio was not impacted right way. However, soon after it passed, I felt it was important to learn more and provide information to my colleagues.

To do so, I attended a four-hour workshop held by Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge (LABBC) and IREM and coordinated two internal training sessions. I became the point person for our benchmarking company to ensure all properties were in compliance by their due dates.

By stepping up, I enabled my company to take a proactive, strategic approach to this sustainability issue. We can now demonstrate to our clients, our community and our own teams that we are on top of this rapidly evolving aspect of real estate operations.

More stakeholders pay attention with each new climate emergency, so sustainability leadership, like that in my example, will only grow in importance to the real estate industry and property managers.

Journal of Property Management

Lynne Miller, CPM, RPA, LEED® AP O+M, is a director of the Los Angeles Property Management division for Charles Dunn Real Estate Services, Inc. in Los Angeles. Her many activities within IREM include serving as chair of the Sustainability Advisory Board, as a member of the Governing Council, and as an IREM instructor.

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