Sustainability in the Commercial Real Estate World

October 24, 2022 | By: Don Erb

In the winter of 2020, I completed two brief videos for CRE Insight Journal relating to sustainability. The impact your company might have on the Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability, articulated beautifully by the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals was on my mind. Very simply summarized, the sustainable actions that people take personally and professionally have an impact locally, regionally, and nationally. Most importantly and often hidden is the effect that our collective actions have on planet Earth.

For example, I had lobster in Boston at the BOMA International Convention to celebrate my 40th Wedding Anniversary. Now, if the 60,000 inhabitants of Greenland were the only people eating lobster, the seas would be full of them because the supply would outnumber the demand. Unfortunately, the collective appetite for lobster by the planet’s inhabitants puts enormous pressure on the supply. What’s the point? Except for price, we don’t necessarily see the effect of overconsumption in our community, but it is happening none the less. So, it is with so many aspects of our life on Earth. As populations and demand continue to grow, the planet cannot keep up with what we are asking of her to supply.

Some argue that climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens through time and that we the inhabitants of Mother Earth are just along for the ride, causing no negative effect that she can’t shrug off. We are seeing the effects in the form of weather events, record temperatures and topographical changes. All of which affect architecture, buildings and the people that work in them.

Commercial real estate professionals need to be aware of these circumstances and make proactive steps to protect their property and tenants. I see it this way. If I were on a busy two-lane highway at night and a speeding truck was headed toward me, I guarantee I would not wait to see who was driving before I got out of the way. Neither should you. Neither should your company. Climate change must still be addressed, whether its natural or not.

A Few Certainties

Some things are certain. First, the climate is changing, and weather events are becoming more frequent and more severe. According to the New York Post, nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster in the summer of 2021, including October’s Bomb Cyclone in the Western United States.

Second, what happens on one side of the world can and does effect what happens on the other side of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated that point but also illustrated the fragility of the Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability with its interplay between social, economic, and environmental aspects (pillars). COVID was a socio-environmental problem that the countries of the earth have had to combat with literally every tool known to humankind just to stay in business.

Third, we, the inhabitants of the planet, can improve our future or we can be victims of it. We need to do this by creating personal and professional plans, and by leading by example for our networks and for our commercial real estate peers. Planet Earth has continued to change in virtually every category during the last nearly three years.

Sustainability Planning and Climate Action Planning

There are some wonderful examples of Sustainability Planning and Climate Action Planning available. The first two are directly from the CRE industry and great examples of an industry leader making impactful changes. Sustainability is a mindset, a way of life, and a lens in which organizations need to plan their future. What it is not is a tidy little package delivered to your home or business like an Uber Eats meal. You need to get started, get your hands dirty, experience trial and error and do it soon.

The first example is Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). JLL’s 2020 Sustainability Report Sustainability ( details their sustainability strategy, goals, and what has been done around the globe to hit their targets. Their plan is great because it explains how they address several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Their annual report breaks down how they are working towards six specific UN SDGs, good heal and well-being, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, and climate action. It gives statements from the company and links to relevant reports and projects from around the world. On page 17, they provide specific sustainability targets and measure their internal status towards achieving those goals. It allows the reader to translate the complex into the straightforward.

Corporate Responsibility and Transparency

The second example is CBRE. Their 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report ( exhibits transparency in their operations information, displays their values which creates a sense of accountability, and lays out detailed plans for each tactic along with their intended goals. The report details CBRE’s three pillars of corporate responsibility, people, planet, and practices. The pillar of “Practices” describes CBRE’s adherence to the highest standards of governance, compliance, and ethics while providing exceptional outcomes. The exploration of practices looks at the board’s diversity, CEO pay ratio, procurement, and CBRE’s emphasis on ethics.

Their focus on “People” emphasizes a diversity of talent in an equitable, safe, and inclusive workplace. On pages 28 of their report, they address what they are doing in their UK Market to improve Gender and Ethnicity pay gaps. They are not afraid to show that they have more work to do but understand that erasing the pay gap is good for their employees, good for their business, and sets an example for their peers. CBRE’s focus on “Planet” begins on page 50 of their report, where they detail their Environmental Sustainability Policy. This includes occupancy programs, their Workplace360 offices, emissions, energy tracking, and more.

In both cases, each company tackles the abstract interaction between various aspects of sustainability and makes a financial and business case for why they are doing what they are doing. They address wellness and diversity and inclusion and governance as well as ethics, human rights, employee retention, corporate culture and how each of these items interplays with sustainability.

Adapting to the New Normal

Last and by no means least, organizations need to focus on being able to adapt to the ‘new normal’. A phenomenal presentation was delivered by Catherine McCandless, climate change & environmental planning project manager for the City of Boston Environment Department in Boston at the BOMA Sustainability Scholarship breakfast around this resource available at this link (

This report focuses on resiliency and the role of city planning in the sustainability of a city. It is a great look at what adaptive planning looks like. this is the type of planning that CRE needs to participate in and be mindful of. We will need to choose our development locations more wisely, harden the construction of our buildings to deal with changes the adoption of building codes can’t deal with fast enough, and renovate more thoughtfully with wellness and health in mind.

Now is the time to assure our world view and our business activity at every level takes into account the wellbeing of the coming generations. As the indigenous people from my patch of earth say, “In every decision, consider how it will affect our descendants 7 generations into the future.”

Seven generations from now, what will they think of my effort, your effort, our collective effort.


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Want to view the most recent reports from CBRE and JLL on sustainability and corporate responsibility?