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CBRE takes the lead in energy efficiency for commercial real estate buildings

The world’s biggest commercial real estate company, which manages a staggering five billion square feet of space worldwide, has been repeatedly honored for its sustainability achievements, and the awards keep rolling in. 

This, says Dave Pogue, CB Richard Ellis Group’s Global Director of Corporate Responsibility, is in part due to the company’s extensive training efforts to ensure that staff doesn’t just talk sustainability, but thoroughly understand it. “They are fully prepared to promote the values of sustainability to our clients,” he says.

CBRE is a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company headquartered in Los Angeles, serving real estate owners, investors and occupiers. “Commercial buildings consume a significant share of all energy used nationwide,” says Pogue. “As an industry leader, we have both the opportunity and a responsibility to lead the market in energy efficiencies.”

By proactively seeking certified green space for their own occupancy, reducing office size by eliminating assigned offices and workstations and promoting a paperless environment, CBRE directly demonstrates their corporate commitment to sustainable workspace.

However, as the occupier of just four million square feet globally, it has always been clear that CBRE’s ability to influence environmental improvements in the market as a whole was far greater than the company’s ability to produce meaningful outcomes in the spaces it directly occupied.  

“We saw that we could exponentially expand our efforts through our client-facing services ” says Pogue. “Ten years ago we started by committing to benchmark all our US-managed office buildings to EPA Energy Star, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect the climate through improved energy efficiency. But first we needed to train our people. We had lots of internal training programs, but none concerning energy efficiency.”

At the same time BOMA, the Building Owners and Managers Association, in partnership with the EPA, had developed BEEP, the BOMA Energy Efficiency Program, a widely recognized sustainability training program for commercial real estate professionals. BEEP was designed to assist real estate professionals reduce energy consumption and costs with no- and low-cost strategies by optimizing equipment, people and practices.

Beginning with an introduction to energy performance—understanding how energy is produced and used in buildings—the course goes on to teach how to track and measure energy use, identify opportunities for energy efficiency upgrades and understand both the financial and environmental benefits to present a business case for promoting sustainability.

“We approached   BOMA and were able to reach an agreement allowing us to take their program and adapt it to our internal needs,” says Pogue. “We then mandated that all our Asset Services real estate managers and building engineering staff take the four session course. Attendance was compulsory – and our energy efficiency efforts improved significantly.” 

Indeed, since the program began in 2007, CBRE estimates that efforts on behalf of Asset Services owners and buildings have generated cumulative savings of 4.7 billion kBtu of weather normalized source energy use, including 217 million kBtu in 2015 alone. Additionally, the company has seen savings of 15,908 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of reducing 38 million passenger vehicle miles driven in a year. 

Eight years on, a session of the course is still presented every week, drawing around seventy employees each time. Through the end of 2015 more than 18,500 attendees had participated. These numbers represent a significant portion of the total attendees for the program, says Pogue.

Having dealt with their property management staff, CBRE turned its attention to their brokers. “A broker is often the first interface with both our building owners and our clients looking for commercial real estate—the point of the spear, if you like,” says Pogue. “If our brokers understand the added value and financial advantages of energy efficiency, they are in a position to carry the message forward.”

The market has largely overlooked the widespread training of brokerage professionals. “While we have many brokers who have made sustainability a consistent and regular aspect of their practice, we believed that all our brokers should have a fundamental understanding of this market dynamic,” says Pogue. “So we committed to developing a tailored sustainability and energy efficiency course and to training 1,000 brokers.”

CBRE developed a concise training video that featured both clients and brokers describing the various motivations and successful outcomes reached. This is supported by a comprehensive resource site with practical applications, marketing tips, talking points and market research. 

“The design work was completed in 2014 and offered to our brokerage community in early 2015,” says Pogue. More than 2,000 brokers—double the number we anticipated—have taken this course, by far the highest in the industry.

 

“From the brokers’ point of view it makes sense. We deal with a lot of Fortune 500 companies—our clients understand sustainability and are sophisticated in their demands. If a client cares about sustainability and it is not part of a broker’s expertise, the broker may not win that assignment.

“At the same time, if a client has not considered sustainability issues, a broker can bring them to the client’s attention, demonstrate the benefits and differentiate him- or herself from competitors.

“Even where a client is not convinced about environmental issues, they will understand that green practices often make good business sense.”

Now, following the success of training managers, engineering staff and brokers, CBRE is currently working with the US Department of Energy in their efforts to develop a training program, Energy Matters, for appraisers. “When energy efficiency is part of the valuation equation of the building it begins to demonstrate the very real impact sustainable practices, and especially energy efficiency can have. This in turn will encourage our owner clients to take sustainability more seriously and potentially move the industry forward,” says Pogue.

“Energy Matters will be deployed this year and will offer our appraisers the opportunity to distinguish themselves from the competition again by understanding and promoting the added benefit of energy efficient buildings. Sustainability success will be represented in the building’s value.

“With the range of courses we have and will offer we believe we have created the most robust, effective, training protocol around energy efficiency, and sustainable practices in the industry,” says Pogue. “Our staff doesn’t just talk about sustainability but understands it and therefore values it. When our clients want to talk about energy savings and environmental issues our staff speak the same language.’

“We will continue to communicate our environmental commitment and programs to every CBRE employee, putting them in a unique position to offer a range of energy and sustainability services aimed at reducing clients’ resource usage while aiding their efforts in purchasing, owning and occupying more sustainable space. 

“Our staff will keep making the case for green. And why not? You are not only reducing your environmental footprint, but if you use less energy your costs will be less and your property will have a higher NOI and value. It’s a classic win-win situation.”

 

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