BOMA’s Decarbonization Symposium Fosters Productive Discussions 

March 17, 2023  • Alex Miller

International thought leaders across Commercial Real Estate gathered in Washington D.C. on March 14. BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) International’s Public Policy Symposium on Decarbonization was the impetus for this gathering. From advice on hiring sustainability consultants to code compliance, some of the most pertinent industry issues were brought to the table. 

"BOMA International has always been a leader in decarbonization issues, it is something we have talked about behind the scenes, now we’re bringing it out to the public,” said Manny Moreno, Vice Chair BOMA International. “I think that’s important for us to publicize it, to let our members and other people know what we’re working on, how important it is to us and to our industry.” 

The Symposium did just that. Bringing in a variety of collaborators to help make these issues public was clearly top of mind. Members of the GSA (General Services Administration) discussed their agency’s efforts in the built environment and how collaboration can increase the effectiveness of decarbonization efforts. Additionally, Energy Star was represented by Mike Zatz, whose panel was centered on explaining new tools Energy Star is providing to aid decarbonization of buildings. 

“Raise your hand if you know how to solve the issue of decarbonization,” asked Bala Gnanam, Vice President of Sustainability, Advocacy, and Stakeholder Relations at BOMA Canada, after a brief moment of silence and no raised hands, Gnanam’s point had been made. Everyone in that room was there to discuss and learn, not to provide their quick fix to decarbonization. This theme rang true throughout the whole day, panelists were just as eager to discuss strategies and challenges as the attendees were. Gnanam’s panel was titled “International Decarbonization Strategies” and was one of ten sessions that took place on March 14th. It was an open forum for discussion, like most other panels, comprised of half presentation/prepared remarks and half open dialogue about challenges attendees faced in their everyday building operations. 

When asked about the Symposium, Randal Froebelius, Chair of BOMA International, mentioned how important the international aspect was. “On a global basis, initiatives like BOMA BEST, where BOMA under its broad umbrella can work together and bring countries together is fantastic, and we need more of that. Talking today about government incentive programs, interest free loans around energy free production, it is something that we can mirror across borders.” 

A large topic of discussion was the fast-approaching goal of net zero cities, and in turn, net zero buildings. For some property owners and managers, regulations are stricter than they can manage. Many cities across North America are aiming for net zero by 2050. Buildings are no small part of the push for net zero. According to a JLL report, on average, buildings account for 60% of a city's emissions. This means those that own and operate in the built environment must understand effective methods of making new construction net zero and moving existing buildings in the right direction.  

A massive part of hitting these lofty net zero goals is finding the right benchmarking tools and portfolio managers, and speakers at the event understood this. One such example would be the Energy Star Portfolio Manager which enables owners and managers to input building data and visualize where they stand in relation to sustainability benchmarks. Another hub for resources on decarbonization is BOMA International’s Carbon Reduction Challenge . This site synthesizes industry resources into a one-stop shop for all things decarbonization. 

Christine Alamed, an Associate Member of BOMA International’s executive committee, shared her thoughts on BOMA’s position. "It is highly important as policy begins to change and actually the face of the office begins to change, that we [BOMA International] plant our feet in the sand and say that we are committed to this, we know it’s important, and we’re going to show you why we’re here.”  

The Public Policy Symposium showed that decarbonization efforts are being taken seriously across the industry. If one thing was made clear, it is that the Commercial Real Estate industry is full of people who are ready to share their knowledge. Best practices were and continue to be willingly shared across the board. As Gnanam made clear, no one has the easy answer to solving the challenges facing the industry, but events like this that bring like-minded individuals together to tackle these issues head on continue to be productive.