Avison Young is stepping up its game when it comes to sustainability, as evidenced by the commercial real estate firm’s more focused efforts introduced in 2014 and highlighted in its just-released “2015 Global Citizenship Report.”
“It has helped us concentrate under one strategy a number of activities the company was doing already, and it provides a focal point for us to continue to focus on corporate social responsibility, sustainability and philanthropic initiatives,” said Avison Young principal Rodney McDonald, who spearheads the “Global Citizenship” program.
The goal is to bring Avison Young closer to its clients by helping them identify and act on emerging environmental and social issues, while ensuring the company’s culture remains focused on excellence and integrity. The strategy encompasses five priority areas that cover support for clients, corporate governance, operational excellence, communities and employee excellence. The company has set a long-term goal for 2030 and metrics by which to measure progress for each of them.
The report highlights three examples of Avison Young working with clients on sustainability: tenant representation services for a client in the new LEED-registered Globe and Mail building in Toronto; project management services for a LEED-certified office space for a client in New Jersey; and Avison Young’s investment management team completing the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) survey for the first time in 2015 on behalf of a client.
All employees are encouraged to be a part of the “Global Citizenship” initiative and make it a front-of-mind part of their workdays in order to achieve its objectives for both Avison Young and its clients.
Strategy is “the right thing to do”
“We created our strategy because it is the right thing to do, it aligns with our culture and, over time, we expect it will have a positive impact on the bottom line,” said McDonald. “We expect it will have a positive impact on the bottom line because we know that some clients make it a minimum requirement for service providers, and some clients look for it as a differentiator, so it will help us win business and add to our revenue.
“For some employees and future employees, it will help us attract and retain talent. In some areas of our operations, it will help us reduce costs. All of these aspects impact the bottom line.”
Avison Young established baselines last year for energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and water use for the offices it leases for its own operations. The next step is to set reduction targets and timelines for achieving its goals.
Avison Young also researched how its offices rate in terms of walkability and proximity to public transit last year. The average Walk Score was 79 out of 100, with 40 per cent of the offices having a score above 90. While the average Transit Score was only 49, nearly 13 per cent of offices had a score of 100 and 15 per cent had a score above 90. The company believes that locating its offices in buildings with high walkability and transit scores contributes to the health of its workforce and reduces its greenhouse gas emissions.
“Walkability and access to public transit are key criteria in the vision for our offices,” said McDonald. “The weight of these two criteria vary from location to location, depending on local factors and the needs of our clients.”
Membership in green building organizations
The rapidly growing Toronto-based company employs 2,200 real estate professionals in 52 offices in the United States, 16 in Canada, four in the United Kingdom, four in Germany and one in Mexico. It therefore makes sense that it has now joined the Canada Green Building Council, U.S. Green Building Council, U.K. Green Building Council and German Sustainable Building Council.
“Industry initiatives rely on the participation and support of stakeholders in the industry, including companies such as Avison Young,” said McDonald. “We think adding our voice will help advance these industry initiatives further and faster.”
While looking outward, Avison Young is also fostering a positive environment for its employees who are involved in investment sales, leasing, advisory, management, financing and mortgage placement services to owners and occupiers of office, retail, industrial and multi-family properties.
The company secured green building and LEED courses to enable staff members to build their knowledge and credentials. Avison Young’s “Women’s Network” launched a mentorship program that paired 48 female protégés with seasoned real estate professionals in the firm as a way of promoting professional excellence and supporting career advancement.
Philanthropic and charitable activities
Philanthropic and charitable activities are another part of Avison Young’s “Global Citizenship” strategy, and last Oct. 15 it held its second annual “dAY of Giving.” Employees from 71 offices in four countries volunteered 5,462 hours to support more than 60 charities. Among the activities chosen by the offices were organizing clothing drives for local refugee homes, sorting food at food banks and completing renovation projects at women’s shelters.
“We are particularly proud of our annual ‘dAY of Giving’ and our ongoing support of organizations in the communities where we serve clients,” said McDonald.