Private, Public Sectors Join Forces for Workable Climate Initiatives

By John Salustri

The need for collaboration between commercial real estate and municipal leaders in the creation of green best practices was a major focal point of one in-depth educational session at the virtual BOMA International Conference & Expo this July. The session, aptly titled “Collaborative Climate Action Planning: Public Sector and Real Estate Working Together to Develop Successful Climate Policies,” delved into how these types of partnerships can create better outcomes for all stakeholders.

Featuring this session was part of a long-term, ongoing effort by BOMA International, a 13-time ENERGY STAR® award winner, to equip BOMA members with the tools they need to engage with local decision-makers on the creation of mandatory requirements. In 2017, BOMA International released the Energy Benchmarking Ordinances Engagement Toolkit to support efforts to collaborate and work with local officials and stakeholders. Since then, the BOMA International advocacy team and BOMA local associations across the United States have continued to work with local leaders on these efforts.


Cities throughout the United States and around the world are moving toward the imposition of regulations governing emissions in commercial buildings. In fact, presenter Marta Schantz, Fitwel Ambassador, LEED Green Associate, pointed to more than 30 U.S. locales that now require energy benchmarking. That regulatory growth aside, Schantz, the senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance, stated that real estate leaders should focus on the “business case” of high compliance. “Reducing carbon emissions is tied directly to increased building value,” she said. “When you can put a positive spin on the fact that there are regulations coming that will affect your building operations, at least you know it has a positive effect on your bottom line.”

And, working with regulators on the creation of those requirements is likely to yield the best results. “City policymakers aren’t real estate experts and vice versa,” Schantz explained. “So, being able to understand the business of each side of the coin is very helpful to both.” Regulators can learn more about how their decisions would impact the commercial real estate sector, while property professionals can help guide decision-making—and get a preview of what is coming.


The move toward greater local regulation doesn’t stop at benchmarking and can include “more actionable items,” according to Schantz. “There are localities that require building tune-ups, audits and equipment upgrades. Seattle and Philadelphia, for instance, have building re-tuning requirements, and New York City has mandates for lighting upgrades and submetering installations.”

Other cities dole out letter grades that rate building health. Chicago, specifically, uses a star system “encouraging tenants to understand and make decisions based on the clearly displayed performance of the building,” she said. Other cities, such as Washington, D.C., also impose building performance standards. Further, she stated, “California is employing ordinances with net-zero codes for all new construction, set for 2030. Also, individual cities along the West Coast are setting all-electric new construction ordinances.”

But, don’t think the movement is mostly a coastal phenomenon. Henderson, Nevada; Des Moines, Iowa; and St. Louis are just a sampling of landlocked municipalities following suit. In short, energy policies are coming to a city near you. Involvement in the creation of those mandates serves to everyone’s benefit.

As commercial real estate leaders have made an effort to be actively involved in the process, government officials have learned to reach out proactively to get buy-in. One municipality that has enacted a series of regulatory moves in conjunction with local business leaders is Washington, D.C. Session speaker Katie Bergfeld, LEED AP BD+C, PMP, chief of the Building Performance and Enforcement Branch of the District’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), noted in a case study as part of the education session that the vision for an energy-efficient city is part of the Sustainable DC initiative.

The process of creating the initiative included numerous public meetings and real estate outreach efforts to ensure the real estate community could provide input to inform the ultimate building performance requirements.

At its core, Sustainable DC aims to “cut citywide energy usage by 50 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2032,” she said. The program also calls for netzero new construction starting in 2026. It also is the aim of the multi-tiered program to “increase our use of renewable energy to 50 percent by 2032.” Those goals are all based on a 2006 baseline. In addition, in 2017, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser “committed to make D.C. a carbon-neutral city by 2050.”

Admittedly, it is a massive initiative, and Bergfeld explained that there are many related initiatives involved in bringing the reduction of energy usage to fruition. Clearly, successfully enacting those programs continues to be a joint effort. “We can reach our goals as long as we’re working alongside our stakeholders and making sure our programs are as flexible, efficient and effective as possible,” Bergfeld concluded.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 edition of BOMA Magazine.