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.

Healthy Certifications & Ratings

Healthy Certifications & Ratings

Webinar presented by BOMA San Francisco


Are you interested in learning more about the certifications you can pursue to market your building as healthy? Come hear from two industry experts, Brenna Walraven, President & CEO of Corporate Sustainability Strategies, and Craig Sheehy, President & CEO of Envision Realty Services, as they impart their knowledge and experience with the Fitwel, WELL, and UL Verified Healthy Building certifications.


They will provide market context for the increase in investor and tenant interest in pursuing such certifications, as well as discuss components, and anticipated costs for each.



  • Craig Sheehy, CPM, President and CEO, EnVision Realty Services
  • Brenna Walraven, BOMA Fellow, BOMI-HP, CPM, RPA, President and CEO, Corporate Sustainability Strategies


Date & Time

February 25, 2021

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM PT



BOMA San Francisco


About BOMA

Building Owners and Manager Association (BOMA) is the most influential and effective advocacy, recruitment, and training organization for the U.S. commercial real estate industry. BOMA San Francisco represents more than 72 million square feet of office space in San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin and Sonoma counties, and is federated with BOMA International and BOMA California, the voices of the commercial real estate industry in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento.  For more information visit

Improving ESG Performance: Achieving Carbon Neutrality in the Built Environment

Improving ESG Performance: Achieving Carbon Neutrality in the Built Environment

The achievement of a balanced economic, social and environmental development is recognized as one of the major challenges the building industry is facing today. What is less clear is how building owners and developers can seize the opportunities offered by zero-emissions mandates and disruptive energy technologies to generate business opportunities and value for their stakeholders. In this series, industry leaders illustrate ideas and examples on how to use smart building technologies to achieve energy savings and realize the value creation potential from ESG.


Across the US, building owners and operators are tasked with making energy efficiency upgrades and/or decarbonizing their power supply to meet new emission reduction targets. This session discusses the impact of regulations on building operations and showcases portfolios that are committed to carbon neutrality.



  • Sara Neff, SVP, Sustainability, Kilroy Realty
  • Ryan Tinus, Sr. Director, Engineering and Environmental Sustainability, Hudson Pacific Properties
  • Tanya March, SVP, North America, Envizi
  • Brenna Walraven,President and CEO, Corporate Sustainability Strategies

Date & Time

February 18, 2021

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM ET / 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM PT





About Realcomm

Realcomm was founded with the goal of bringing industry leaders together to discuss, demonstrate, and debate the latest innovations to impact our industry. For more information visit

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.

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