Achieving Carbon Neutrality in the Built Environment: Context, Commitment and the Path Forward

Achieving Carbon Neutrality in the Built Environment: Context, Commitment and the Path Forward

By Brenna Walraven, President & CEO, Corporate Sustainability Strategies


Article published in Realcomm Weekly Briefing.


Leading companies that are seizing opportunities offered by zero-emissions mandates to generate business opportunities and value for their stakeholders was the focus of the most recent Realcomm webinar highlighting pathways to improving environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance. In Improving ESG Performance and Part II: Achieving Carbon Neutrality in the Built Environment, industry leaders illustrated examples of how to use a planning process and smart building technologies to achieve energy savings and realize the value creation potential of ESG.


Commercial buildings contribute nearly 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, so the building sector must be part of the solution to address climate change. For owners and operators, addressing the energy and carbon profile of their buildings is no longer a “nice to have” but a core business requirement. This evolution is driven by growing investor pressure, tenant preferences, and government regulation.


The Biden-Harris administration has signaled that agencies will view regulatory action and directing funding with a climate lens. For example, in March of 2021 the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a task force focused on climate and ESG issues within the Division of Enforcement. State and local policy has been aggressive on energy and climate regulation. In total, 24 states and the District of Columbia have established economy wide GHG emissions targets, many of which align with a 50 percent reduction by 2030 and net zero (or nearly) by 2050. Jurisdictions are looking to frameworks like New York City’s Local Law 97 and the DC Clean Energy Omnibus Act, which build on mandatory benchmarking and disclosure of energy and/or emissions to set binding declining emissions caps for existing buildings.


Investors are also driving the imperative to address climate impact. The CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink said, “Climate risk is investment risk” and noted that a fundamental reallocation of capital to sustainable investments has begun. Investors are no longer asking “Do you have an ESG program?” but saying, “To be investible, companies have to be taking action and transparently demonstrating performance.”


Increasingly, tenants are making net-zero commitments and requiring that their leased space meets these goals. Almost a quarter of global Fortune 500 companies committed to be carbon neutral by 2030 and are looking for buildings that align with these commitments, with transparent reporting that can be incorporated into their corporate climate reporting.


Leaders who have begun their progress toward carbon neutrality discussed their process in the Realcomm webinar Achieving Carbon Neutrality in the Built Environment.


Ryan Tinus of Hudson Pacific Properties shared his company’s Better Blueprint focused on achieving net zero carbon across all operations using a sustainable, healthy, and equitable approach. Sara Neff with Kilroy Realty shared CEO John Kilroy’s goal to be a leader in ESG and to help move the market towards carbon neutrality by announcing a commitment to carbon-neutral operations in 2018.


These successful leaders are following a best-practice process. The critical first step is an investigation of the portfolio to determine the approach, end goal, and timeline to reach climate neutrality. This includes determining emissions scope(s) and reporting boundaries, assessing the regulatory landscape and carbon intensity of the portfolio’s electric grid(s), and understanding incentives available for energy efficiency, electrification or onsite renewables, all of which contribute to a comprehensive carbon management strategy, appropriate end goal and milestones along the way.


The next step is developing a greenhouse gas/carbon inventory that sets a baseline against which to measure (and show progress), helps set realistic, achievable targets, and demonstrates ongoing credibility through tracking and reporting. The most straightforward framework is the GHG Protocol’s Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard. The Science-Based Target Initiative works with companies to set carbon reduction targets that are aligned with the targets defined in the Paris Climate Accord.


After a GHG emissions inventory has been developed, opportunities to evaluate ways to reduce emissions can be assessed, prioritizing efficient operations and appropriate updating of inefficient systems and equipment as well as using innovations such as those described by Jon Schoenfeld with Buildings IoT and process approaches like those described by Chris Cayten, CodeGreen Solutions on the Realcomm webinar. These best practices coalesce around reducing emissions as the primary focus, maximizing the use of on- and off-site renewable energy sources, and then purchasing “offsets” for the remainder of the emissions as the “last step.”


Another important aspect of a carbon management plan is consistent measurement and tracking of key metrics. This is fundamental to reporting progress toward goals and assessing and adjusting strategy to stay on track. Staying abreast of developments in the investment community as well as in the regulatory space will inform the choice of platform(s), including the need for tools that comport with industry-specific standards, such as those developed by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) or the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). A best practice example of ongoing internal and external reporting and data management is described by Tanya March with Envizi on the Realcomm Achieving Carbon Neutrality webinar.


Next comes the fun part: announcing a commitment! Every week a CEO makes headlines for a bold climate commitment. At the same time, there is growing scrutiny about some of these commitments. “Long-range” goals that once seemed very far off are no longer so, and as 2030 draws nearer, the pressure to transparently demonstrate real progress will grow. Companies that invest in the foundational work of analyzing the opportunity, developing an accurate inventory, and setting realistic, achievable targets will protect themselves against reputational risk and potential negative financial impacts.


Executing on a climate neutrality commitment requires a combination of executing energy efficiency retrofits, incorporating renewable generation, considering opportunities such as end-use electrification, and investing in various offset schemes. It requires reassessing strategy as new technologies come online, grid energy decarbonizes, carbon offset prices change, and new value streams and business models emerge. A successful carbon management strategy will set a realistic and achievable “North Star” goal, utilize consistent and rigorous tracking and measurement, and follow the plan-do-check-act framework to stay on track.


Gone are the days when a plaque in the lobby was enough to attract tenants and investors. We are entering an era of rigorous and credible climate target-setting, tracking, and achievement. Companies that take climate risk seriously, and develop, track, and report climate neutrality goals will be at an advantage.

2021 Green Lease Leader Application is Open

2021 Green Lease Leader Application is Open

Get recognized for your smart leasing efforts and showcase your commitment to sustainability.


Building decarbonization is inevitable, and that makes green leasing more important than ever.


Green leases are a tool for improving occupant health and wellness, operating efficient and sustainable buildings, saving money, and much more. If you’re a landlord or tenant who is actively leveraging your leases to reach your ESG goals, don’t miss your chance for Green Lease Leader recognition.


Green Lease Leaders is the only national green leasing recognition program. Created by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Building Alliance and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), it celebrates and validates leading-edge landlords, tenants, real estate teams, and governments in the commercial office, retail, and industrial sectors that are driving higher performance in leased buildings by addressing energy efficiency and sustainability through smart and green lease clauses and corporate guidelines.


Read more about the program, apply for recognition, or quickly see if you qualify by visiting


About 2020 Green Lease Leaders

2020 Green Lease Leaders represented portfolios totaling more than 1 billion square feet and comprised a diverse range of buildings from large and small commercial offices to industrial buildings to data centers. Altogether, Green Lease Leaders manage nearly 3 billion square feet of commercial and government space, representing a huge potential for growth in green leases.

Green Seal in Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly Program

Green Seal in Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly Program

Amazon initiative makes it easier for customers to shop for certified sustainable products


Green Seal continues to build upon its relationships by participating in Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly, a new program that makes it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products.


Amazon customers will now see a “Climate Pledge Friendly” label on the listings for products certified by Green Seal and other select organizations, indicating to shoppers that the products meet meaningful sustainability standards. Customers can also see which certifications the product has earned and learn more about the certification requirements.


Amazon evaluated hundreds of external sustainability certifications for its Climate Pledge Friendly program and chose organizations that certify products that have demonstrated sustainability benefits. Green Seal’s science-based certification standards emphasize health and safety, prohibiting carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins in certified products and requiring a rigorous examination of a product’s sustainability in areas including raw materials extraction, manufacturing, packaging and how the product is used and disposed. Critically, Green Seal’s testing requirements mean that certified products are proven to deliver uncompromising performance.


“Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly label makes it simple for shoppers to identify which products are in line with their sustainability values,” said Green Seal CEO Doug Gatlin. “Amazon’s high bar for choosing certifying partners aligns with Green Seal’s commitment to recognizing products that meet the highest benchmark of health and environmental leadership. Green Seal is proud to take part in this powerful initiative. Amazon is demonstrating true leadership by making it easier for customers to shop for more sustainable products and encouraging brands and manufacturers to produce and source more sustainably.”


Amazon’s selection for Climate Pledge Friendly includes grocery, household, fashion, beauty and personal electronics products, as well as other items from a range of categories.  Hundreds of Green Seal-certified products are available from brands such as Georgia-Pacific, Office Depot, Rubbermaid, 3M, Ecolab, Diversey, Staples, Kittrich, Branch Creek, Tork, Simoniz, Neenah, Betco and PortionPac, among others.


For detailed information on the pledge qualification criteria visit Amazon Climate Pledge Friendly.  Look for the Climate Pledge Friendly badge on products.


About Green Seal

Green Seal is a global nonprofit organization with a mission to transform the economy for a healthier, greener world. Since 1989, Green Seal has applied rigorous standards for health, environmental sustainability and product performance to its certification programs to empower better purchasing decisions. Green Seal has certified thousands of products, services and spaces from hundreds of leading companies including 3M, Ecolab, Georgia Pacific, Hilton, Westin, Marriott and Staples, and is specified by countless schools, government agencies, businesses and institutions. Today, the Green Seal certification mark is a universal symbol that a product or service meets the highest benchmark of health and environmental leadership.


Visit or connect with Green Seal on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Green Seal Certified Hand Sanitizers Meet Highest Standard for Safety and Performance in the Marketplace

Green Seal Certified Hand Sanitizers Meet Highest Standard for Safety and Performance in the Marketplace

Standard verifies safer, effective ingredients amid spate of toxic hand sanitizers


Green Seal, the nation’s leading non-profit authority on safer and more sustainable cleaning and facility care products, is now certifying alcohol-based hand sanitizers that meet the highest standard for health and safety in the marketplace amid growing consumer concern about toxic products.


With the COVID-19 pandemic spurring many first-time producers to enter the market, the FDA has warned consumers to avoid more than 200 hand sanitizer products because of incorrect formulations and high levels of hazardous ingredients including methanol (wood alcohol) and the contaminant 1-propanol. Meanwhile, even when properly formulated, hand sanitizers available on the U.S. market can include hazardous ingredients linked to cancer, allergies, skin and eye irritation and other harmful health effects – even if they have an ecolabel.


Green Seal’s new hand sanitizer certification standard, created with input from public health and industry experts, screens 100% of the product formula for carcinogens, reproductive toxins, skin irritants, phthalates, parabens and contaminants. All Green Seal-certified products must meet strict performance testing requirements to ensure effectiveness.


“There is a critical market gap right now where buyers know to beware of toxic or ineffective hand sanitizers but are hard-pressed to quickly and easily identify safer options,” said Green Seal CEO Doug Gatlin. “Green Seal certification gives consumers, purchasers and facility managers confidence that they are buying a hand sanitizer that has been independently verified to the highest standard for health, safety and effectiveness.”




Independent verification by a trusted authority

Green Seal’s hand sanitizer certification standard is the non-profit’s latest initiative to harness its expertise to provide products, services and guidance that help protect people from both COVID-19 and negative health impacts from toxic chemicals.

  • Green Seal Guidelines for Safer Cleaning and Disinfection for schools and workplaces have been adopted by commercial cleaning companies servicing more than 1 billion square feet of space.
  • SEIU 32BJ, the largest union of property service workers in the U.S., has partnered with Green Seal on COVID-19 training for its members.
  • More than 30,000 Green Seal certified products are used in offices, schools and homes each day, including cleaning products and hand soaps critical to de-contaminating buildings and protecting people.


To learn more about Green Seal’s hand sanitizer leadership standard and Green Seal-certified products, visit


About Green Seal

Green Seal is a global nonprofit organization that pioneered the ecolabeling movement with a mission to transform the economy for a healthier, greener world. Green Seal’s rigorous standards for health, sustainability and product performance have driven permanent shifts in the marketplace, empowering better purchasing decisions and rewarding industry innovators.

Green Seal’s Safer COVID-19 Disinfection Guidelines

Green Seal’s Safer COVID-19 Disinfection Guidelines

As part of Corporate Sustainability Strategies’ commitment to a sustainable future, President & CEO, Brenna Walraven serves as a member of Green Seal’s Board of Directors.


Recently, Green Seal launched its Safer COVID-19 Disinfection Guidelines to provide actionable best practices for effective and responsible cleaning and disinfection.


These Guidelines are covered extensively by several relevant publications (below) and tie in with growing concern about the health risks of overusing disinfectants, as outlined in the Bloomberg article Rush to Disinfect Offices Has Some Environmental Health Experts Worried.


Green Seal’s Guidelines for Safer COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfection are intended for facility, property, and housekeeping managers. They provide actionable guidelines for the safe and effective cleaning and disinfection of occupied spaces and are based on the latest scientific understanding of the particular characteristics of the COVID-19 virus. They also reflect Green Seal’s expertise in setting science-based standards for high-performance cleaning products, principles, and practices that reduce unnecessary use of hazardous chemicals and promote safer and healthier indoor air.


From the Front Lines: Cleaning for COVID-19


About Green Seal

Green Seal is a global nonprofit organization that pioneered the ecolabeling movement with a mission to transform the economy for a healthier, greener world. Green Seal’s rigorous standards for health, sustainability and product performance have driven permanent shifts in the marketplace, empowering better purchasing decisions and rewarding industry innovators.


Relevant Publication Coverage

Healthy Economy Forum Report by U.S. Green Building Council

Healthy Economy Forum Report by U.S. Green Building Council

USGBC’s recently announced economic recovery strategy and vision, Healthy People in Healthy Places equals a Healthy Economy, articulates the interconnected role buildings and communities play in people’s health and the economy at large.


To make this strategy actionable, USGBC’s Healthy Economy Forum, held August 4-5, 2020, convened industry experts and frontline practitioners to provide insights and strategies for making our spaces healthier and more resilient.


At the forum, Brenna Walraven, President and CEO of Corporate Sustainability Strategies, together with Simon Turner, Owner and Founder of Building Cognition, Henry Chamberlain, President and Chief Operating Officer of BOMA International, Ben Myers, Vice President of Sustainability of Boston Properties, and Alex Spilger, Senior Vice President, Director of Sustainability of Cushman & Wakefield presented The Business Case for Healthy Buildings in a Post-COVID Era.


Notable references in the report include:


Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

  • Simon Turner, Owner and Founder of Building Cognition, noted productivity is highest when room temperature is set to 70-73 degrees and proposed building occupants will start to demand better ventilation with an increased cost of $14-$40 per person each year.
  • Technology can play a key role in building trust. As Brenna Walraven, President and CEO of Corporate Sustainability Strategies, said, “There is an app for everything, and that includes indoor air quality.”


Active Design

  • According to Walraven, inactivity results in $54 billion in health care costs and $14 billion in lost productivity.


Resiliency – Intersectionality

  • Boston Properties’ Sustainability Program approaches this definition from an intersectional lens, combining climate action, resilience and social good, while prioritizing human health. This approach has been and continues to be shaped by watershed moments, whether it be the 2012 Superstorm Sandy to this year’s pandemic.
  • Ben Myers, Vice President of Sustainability at Boston Properties, explained how they convened thought leaders and specialists to develop a plan of action for four phases of these events: retreat, return, restore and resilient. Grounded in science, their plan lays out five durable changes: physical distancing enablement, contact transmission elimination, IAQ management and expertise advancement (engineering expertise, monitoring mechanisms), cleaning and disinfection enhancement and shared responsibility and discipline for mitigation and containment (health screening, communication, testing, etc.).



  • Henry Chamberlain, President and Chief Operating Officer, BOMA International, spoke about the use of sensors and cleaning, touchless or hands-free workplaces and virtual technologies as the new normal.


The Report summarizes the forum’s discussion and is the first step to a longer roadmap for the implementation of our healthy places for a healthy economy vision.


Full Healthy Economy Forum Report