Challenges abound as industrial owners and operators set aggressive targets to reduce emissions and tackle ESG goals. A panel of experts discussed their progress toward net zero and shared some best practices during NAIOP’s I.CON West in Long Beach, California.
Moderator Gabe Schwartz, vice president of sales and marketing at SitelogIQ, led the discussion and asked panelists to share their experience pursuing solar projects in the current climate.
Since joining EQT, Matt Praske, the company’s director of sustainability innovation, said one of his top priorities has been to fill a pipeline of on-site solar opportunities quickly.
“There are many different project structures to get solar on roofs and existing buildings. We’ve been running at one that takes advantage of community solar opportunities in various jurisdictions in Maryland, New Jersey, and Illinois, and coming up in Southern California. That’s exciting,” Praske said.
Grant Walden, LEED AP, head of sustainable strategy, GAIA, supports a lot of industrial developers on new construction projects built around sustainability.
“Since we’re in California, it’s worth pointing out that the new property building code requires solar in our new industrial buildings,” Walden said. “It’s important to bring a solar developer on early or bring in a solar consultant to do the brand’s design and ensure engineers are getting early looks at things that can get pushed to the end. This streamlines the implementation and usually reduces costs as well,” he added.
Learning the lessons of foresight and the value of the team is part of working toward net-zero targets.
“For me, it’s developing a bench of trusted partners across various regions. With this, I can point to our property managers and deal teams and say, ‘This is who we go to for solar across the country, and this is who we go to for energy efficiency or lighting retrofits or charging.’ It’s an extension of my team,” Praske said. “This way, we’re working smarter, not harder, with just one point of contact across these topics. This is now our standard approach. Having trusted partners streamlines our ability to collect information on what’s being done throughout the portfolio,” Praske explained.
Because the industry is still immature and there are evolving rules and regulations, Brian Wilson, partner, West Region, Bridge Industrial, said there are pitfalls that can be avoided with due diligence.
From an internal perspective, a lack of alignment among internal teams can be challenging. To overcome what he called “the ESG eye-roll factor” during meetings, Wilson said it’s crucial to build a robust internal team.
Nicolas Isham, managing director, asset management for W.P. Carey, said getting everyone on the same page has been crucial to W.P. Carey’s success.
“In our case, we formed the ESG committee, and we got all the department heads on the same page. The ESG committee set the sustainability strategy and big-picture perspective. Getting buy-in from all the different folks within a company is a big piece. Make sure that everyone has input. It makes everyone feel like they have ownership in the process,” Isham said.
“If there’s a tool you haven’t heard about yet, conduct an ESG materiality assessment, evaluate what matters to your stakeholders and look at the potential business outcomes,” Praske suggested. “We get so many inbound requests across such a breadth of topics, whether carbon emissions, water use, waste, biodiversity, employee engagement, tenant engagement, health and wellness. By conducting a materiality assessment, we’re able to determine what’s most material to our business.”
Praske said electrification of buildings (moving all energy use to electricity and then supplying it with clean sources either on-site or off-site) presents another obstacle.
“That’s retrofitting existing buildings and removing natural gas from the equipment on site to all-electric sources. And then being prepared to partner with and support our tenants as they electrify their fleets,” Praske said.
“What are the powers demands that we would be able to provide at the site? What’s the charging infrastructure? Who handles that? How do we make that mutually beneficial? We haven’t solved these challenges yet, but if anyone else has, feel free to tell me how you’re doing this after the panel,” Praske said to the audience with a laugh.