GWL Realty Advisors introduced corporate sustainability into its property management service over a decade ago, but the company isn’t standing on its laurels. It continues to refine its environmental performance practices.
Proof of that comes from its Green Star rating received for a second consecutive year from the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) survey.
GWL Realty Advisors, a subsidiary of Great-West Lifeco Inc., improved its position from the top 15 per cent of 707 global participants in 2015 to the top 10 per cent of 759 global participants in 2016.
GRESB is a leading global benchmark institutional investors use to help understand real estate companies’ environmental, social, and governance activities and the sustainability performance of their portfolios.
Not only that, but Great-West Lifeco Inc. also announced recently that it earned a position on CDP’s 2016 Climate A List in the financials category, placing it in the top 10 per cent of companies globally amongst its peers.
The president and COO of Great-West Life credited part of its gains on the list to “effective environmental management by our real estate subsidiary, GWL Realty Advisors.”
The Green Star ranking a great reward
Michele Walkau, Senior Vice-President, Corporate Services for GWL Realty Advisors, called the company’s Green Star ranking two years running a great reward and affirming as the business continues to build its sustainability practice.
“After focusing much of our efforts organizing our programs, policies, and people, to reduce the environmental impact of the properties we manage, the next step was to meaningfully demonstrate our performance by participating in an independent, globally recognized evaluation,” Walkau said.
“Our results are a testament to the continued commitment to environmental, social, and governance best practices by our employees, tenants and clients.”
Walkau says the foundation of the firm’s sustainability practice was built on developing an internal data management and reporting system that culminated in a proprietary database.
She said the collection and analysis of sustainability data is not an environmental outcome in-and-of-itself, but called it a necessary step to pursing informed and meaningful action by the company’s staff, clients and tenants.
“Ultimately, it comes back to the adage: ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’”
The carbon footprint of assets under management
When it comes to industry leadership, Walkau says GWL Realty Advisors’ most important action is to continue to shrink the carbon footprint of the assets it manages by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
She said COP 21 and the Paris Agreement continue to highlight that as an “imperative” for businesses around the world.
“From a business perspective, we see GHG emissions through the lens of utility consumption and waste production, which produces emissions but also represent a significant cost of operation,” Walkau said.
“By reducing these elements, we continue to lower our emissions while at the same time provide meaningful cost savings to our tenants and clients.”
When GWL Realty Advisors first introduced sustainability into its business over 10 years ago, the company primarily focused on measuring its annual greenhouse gas emissions, recognizing the impact its buildings were having on the environment.
“We understood it to be our responsibility to quantify these emissions, to work to reduce their impact, and to ensure our progress was reported transparently to our clients,” Walkau said.
Data management and reporting are essential
That laid the foundation for what would become the firm’s sustainability practice. Today, the company has expanded its focus to measure and report on other key performance indicators, which has led them to incorporate new metrics into its management and decision-making processes.
Walkau advises that to develop a meaningful sustainability practice, a robust and comprehensive data management and reporting system must be put in place. Those allow companies to develop proper programs and policies around sustainability issues.
For its part, GWL Realty Advisors then aligned its corporate sustainability reporting with international frameworks, such as the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines, and submitting to internationally recognized ratings agencies, such as GRESB.
By doing that, she said, “we were able to thoughtfully demonstrate and continue to track progress in demonstrable ways, which are meaningful to our stakeholders.”
About GWL Realty Advisors Inc.
GWL Realty Advisors Inc. is a leading real estate investment advisor providing comprehensive asset management, property management, development and specialized real estate advisory services to pension funds and institutional clients.
The company manages more than $16.8 billion in assets including $1 billion in development projects across Canada.
(Image from the GWL Realty Advisors Inc. website.)