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Housing help, energy efficiency are ESG focuses for Skyline

Real estate and clean energy company to make the environment a focus in 2023

Skyline Group of Companies' latest sustainability report focuses on its efforts to bring energy and water efficiency, its formative steps to track its greenhouse gas emissions and support affordable housing. (Courtesy Skyline Group of Companies)

Skyline Group of Companies, a Guelph, Ont.-based private investment firm that develops and manages Canadian real estate and clean energy assets, says its latest sustainability report is starting to “capture the importance of presenting the good that we do.”

Skyline — comprised of apartment, industrial and retail REITs, a clean energy fund and SkyDev investment opportunities — has over $8 billion in assets under management.

Titled Recognizing Our Responsibility, this is Skyline’s third sustainability report.

Jason Ashdown, Skyline’s co-founder and chief sustainability officer, told SustainableBiz, “ESG has been a part of our business since the early days, before ESG was a thing and even had a name and an acronym attached to it.”

He summarized Skyline’s history of ESG engagement, such as building a relationship with an impoverished area of Guelph and developing a building portfolio efficiency plan in 2006 focused on energy, natural gas and water use.

Skyline has sustained those early efforts, and in 2022 supported affordable housing access, expanded its use of biogas and spent millions to improve energy efficiency.

Housing aid and refugees

In September, Skyline donated land and its consulting services for a 32-unit supportive housing property named the 10 Shelldale Crescent development, in partnership with Kindle Communities and the Guelph Community Health Centre.

The building will have 24/7 access to staff members, support for people with disabilities and prioritize people in need of affordable housing.

Ashdown noted Skyline’s Reach Impact, Support, Elevate (RISE) program that assists tenants with resources, payment plans and aid during difficulties such as illness, job loss, accidents and abuse. Ashdown said RISE helps manage over 22,000 suites across Canada. Skyline says RISE has helped save 201 tenancies in 2022, and since the program's beginning, has saved almost $700,000 in legal fees, enforcement fees and vacancy losses.

Skyline also supported 238 refugee families, predominantly Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia.

Clean energy, efficiency and biogas

Last year, Skyline bought its second biogas facility in Lethbridge, Alta. through its clean energy fund. It produced 96,326 gigajoules of renewable natural gas in Lethbridge and 16,708 megawatt-hours of electricity in its Elmira, Ont. biogas facility, according to its report.

Across its solar energy assets, Skyline generated 38,299 megawatt-hours of electricity.

Skyline invested approximately $11.7 million to improve energy and water efficiency through water leak detection systems, energy-efficient appliances, and boiler and heating systems.

The firm installed 160 electric vehicle chargers in 2022 as it works toward its goal of installing 900 across the portfolio.

Skyline Industrial REIT committed to building zero-carbon buildings in three locations: Kirkland and Candiac in Quebec, as well as Halifax.

Skyline is looking to move further into the clean energy space.

“We’ve got great aspirations to put much more solar, potential battery storage on our buildings where it makes sense,” Ashdown said.

Calculating its emissions

Ashdown said Skyline is starting to capture its energy profile “to give us a more formalized baseline of what our GHG (greenhouse gas) profile looks like.”

Skyline does not yet report its Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions data, which Ashdown said is being addressed by developing a measurable baseline. It partnered with Chicago-based Conservice ESG to track energy, water and waste data to develop reduction strategies.

Ashdown attributed some of the information gap to the hurdles acquiring tenant data, which can be difficult to capture as some tenants are on individual metering systems. By applying for GRESB, Skyline is reaching out to its tenants and retrieving that data.

Skyline has not yet set a net-zero or carbon neutral target.

“Make no mistake, it’s in our interest and in our efforts to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint every step of the way, whether it’s in construction or maintaining something that is 75 years old,” Ashdown said.

Skyline’s goals for 2023

Skyline has a new series of goals to start this year in alignment with its commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including: establishing energy use intensity thresholds for energy efficiency, reducing contamination of recycling and organic streams by 15 per cent, understanding climate disaster risk exposure levels, and developing a carbon reduction and offsetting plan.

Skyline also seeks to develop a plan to communicate mental health, source and provide DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) initiatives, and continue investing in rental housing stock.

Ashdown envisions seeing Skyline make “great use” of its clean energy fund to offset the greenhouse gas impacts in its real estate funds, and to build relationships within its companies to achieve those offsets.

“The simple fact of the matter is, we’re always looking for opportunities to be better and do better,” he said. “We’re looking for ways to knock down barriers. We want to be part of the solution. We want to influence our people and challenge our people to do better and think better and to stand out as a real leader in our space.”

Editor's note: Adjusted the description of SkyDev.

We previously wrote, "Ashdown said RISE helps manage 20,000 affordable suites across Canada," but they are not all affordable suites.

We reported Skyline installed 400,000 LED lightbulbs and was replacing over 100 boiler systems in 2022. That was not accurate.

We regret the errors.

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