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Avison Young unveils roadmap to net-zero by 2040

Commercial real estate services firm Avison Young has committed to net-zero carbon emissions for...

IMAGE: Brandy Burdeniuk, Avison Young's ESG director for North America

Brandy Burdeniuk, Avison Young’s ESG director for North America. (Courtesy Avison Young)

Commercial real estate services firm Avison Young has committed to net-zero carbon emissions for its global workplaces by 2040, with at least a 50 per cent reduction by 2030.

The commitment coincides with the releases of its 2021 ESG report and its 2022 ESG strategy. It also builds on the firm’s previous commitment to reach net-zero emissions in all of its U.K.-based offices by 2030.

To achieve this goal, the specifics for each property will vary given their locations, climates, resources and other factors. However, Avison Young plans to focus on prioritizing leasing retrofitted and sustainably refurbished spaces, implementing energy efficiency plans and maximizing renewable energy procurement and investments.

“Responding to and leading on transformation around environmental social governance issues is baked into our purpose,” said Jon Gibson, a principal and global director of ESG at Avison Young. Gibson was appointed to the role in 2021 after previously serving as the firm’s head of sustainability in the U.K.

“We are fundamentally responding to the issue, the huge-scale issue of climate change and how that’s impacting people’s lives.”

There will also be a focus on measuring and reducing other material operational emissions.

Avison Young, headquartered in Toronto, has over 100 offices in 15 countries with over 5,000 employees. In the U.K., the firm has had a sustainability strategy since 2007, and in Canada it has been a member of the Canadian Green Building Council for 15 years.

ESG strategy

Brandy Burdeniuk, who joined Avison Young in February as its ESG director for North America, stressed the company’s focus on retrofits and refurbishments, saying “the ship has sailed” when it comes to demolishing and knocking down buildings to construct new zero-carbon properties. Instead, the goal should be adaptation.

Gibson also discussed how the era of “sustainable buildings” has changed the relationship between owners and occupiers mainly because certifications such as LEED must be recertified on a regular basis. The availability of real-time building data signals “an absolutely fundamental shift in the way we look at sustainable buildings,” he stated.

Part of its strategy going forward is to alignment with the Science-Based Targets initiative by the end of 2023, which Burdeniuk said Avison Young on target to complete.

In Canada, Burdeniuk said Avison Young is supporting its clients in recognizing and meeting incoming sustainable or net-zero regulations.

“One of the (areas of) confusion that I see across Canada, no matter what city you’re in, is a lot of folks don’t actually know that there’s this established industry, this established expertise . . . also across asset types. We’re seeing teams be able to get zero carbon on hockey arenas and office towers,” Burdeniuk said.

“We’ve seen so many teams take the risks early on, thinking that it was going to be a real challenge and actually come out the other side going, ‘Oh, wow, we don’t need to get to zero carbon in the future, we can actually do it now.’ ”

2021 in ESG

In 2021, Avison Young reported zero tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for Scope 1 emissions and 4,461.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in Scope 2 emissions.

The company also wants its ESG principles to shape its investment priorities — for example the February acquisition of a 906,517-square-foot, class-A Lion Electric industrial facility on behalf of the Nova Scotia Pension Services Corporation. Scheduled to open later this year, it will be Montreal-based Lion Electric‘s largest production site for electric buses and light trucks.

In 2021 Avison Young joined the World Economic Forum and adopted its 10 Green Building Principles, developed in collaboration with Chicago-based commercial real estate and services company JLL.

The principles include emissions reduction targets, recording embodied carbon, making inroads within the supply chain to reduce Scope 3 emissions, as well as procuring high-quality carbon offsets.

Some of the practices adopted by the U.K. offices include a carbon literacy training program for employees, renewable energy tariffs, automatic meter reading and financial tools to help employees acquire electric vehicles.

Avison Young signed on to a number of other net-zero commitments or collaborations including the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment in the U.K. and aligned its own emissions reporting with the GHG Protocol — a standard for accounting GHG emissions created by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The firm also joined the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, a global alliance aimed at reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

It also participated at the UN’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021.

“It’s really important to make sure that we’re not just setting the targets and saying that we’re doing it, but actually validating it on trusted quality assurance tools as well,” Burdeniuk said.

“We’re quite confident that 2040 is a backstop date for our entire portfolio,” Gibson added.

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