Presented By: Paul Kurzawa
Sustainability Is More Than Just a Box to Check
We only have one Earth to live on; there is simply no planet B. Like never before, the public is embracing the idea that each of us has a role to play in safeguarding our world for future generations.
Environmentally conscious practices have become increasingly prominent, affecting a range of personal and professional choices, from the goods we purchase and the brands we support, to the food we eat and the ways we get around. In the same way, corporate leaders have recognized that sustainability is a priority. Yet, even with the best of intentions, changes to organizations often happen slowly and inefficiently when it comes to sustainability.
How do you treat sustainability as more than just a box to be checked?
To truly make a difference, it is vital for companies to do more than just meet a basic qualitative key performance indicator (KPI) or a single benchmark; they must integrate sustainability into every aspect of their organizational DNA and corporate culture. At Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), that is exactly the path we have taken, moving beyond symbols to tangible actions that benefit our business, the local communities we serve — and ultimately — the planet as a whole.
At URW, we have no doubt that, as a vehicle of progress and a factor of competitiveness, sustainability is paramount to our success. To that end, we are continually seeking new ways to improve our environmental footprint and strengthen our social impact — and I am proud to work with a robust sustainability team driving this change.
Below I’ve shared four principles that our sustainability team has embraced in efforts across URW’s U.S. portfolio of shopping centers and lifestyle destinations.
First, we have set ambitious objectives and continuously measure our progress in achieving them. In line with our company’s overall corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, Better Places 2030, we have committed ourselves to achieve a 50% reduction of our carbon emissions by the year 2030 globally, marking the first time a listed retail real estate company has launched a strategy of this scope and scale.
Our unique approach takes into account direct emissions, indirect emissions generated from construction, tenant energy consumption and other property operations, as well as employee and visitor transportation. Setting measurable goals has ensured that our teams can coordinate to stay on track to live out our values.
For instance, as of this year, nearly 90% of our U.S. malls’ energy use is emission-free, thanks to our investments in on-site solar energy and purchasing green power. Our target is to reach 100% in the year to come.
We look across our organization to identify and implement a range of practices that make a positive impact on both the environment — and our bottom line. We were incredibly proud to receive the “Excellence in Green Power Use” award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2020, which
was a powerful validation of our team’s work. URW has also earned inclusion on the EPA’s National Top 100 list of the largest green power users from the Green Power Partnership (GPP).
Second, we recognize the need to make significant investments of upfront capital, which will eventually pay long-term dividends. For instance, our solar investments included partnerships with energy providers across the country to provide clean, green energy in their respective communities. Upwards of 32,000 solar panels installed at seven of our U.S. shopping centers now generate up to 16.5 gigawatt hours of clean, renewable energy, with more on the way. These investments are projected to reduce CO2 emissions by 6,900 metric tons each year, equivalent to the emissions of consuming 800,000 gallons of gas.
We work to further increase the positive environmental impact of our retail centers by embracing green technology throughout our locations. This has included LED lighting retrofits, automatic building management systems so we can track electricity and water use in real time, and sourcing low-impact construction materials for renovations. While these investments require more capital at the outset, their long-term payoff results in lower operating costs. Like many green initiatives, these choices aren’t just sustainable for the planet, but also for our company’s financial health.
Third, we look at all aspects of our operations through a sustainability lens. For instance, we don’t only consider what is consumed at our properties — through initiatives promoting efficient energy and water use — but also the waste that goes out the door and generates significant carbon emissions in the process. At URW, we have focused on finding efficient ways to handle waste, working with our tenants and visitors to encourage more sustainable practices. Our goal is to move toward zero landfill waste by 2025, including through partnerships with programs like Too Good to Go, which brings restaurant food that would otherwise be thrown away to low-income families.
Similarly, strong sustainability practices consider the ways that visitors travel to a property. We have placed great emphasis on enabling visitors to come to our centers without needing to drive a car, which gives them more options to access our locations — and reduces carbon emissions in the process. To this end, we have been partnering with local operators and governments to increase public transit access to our shopping centers, including the Purple Line subway extension coming to Westfield Century City in Los Angeles.
From a mobility perspective, we also just recently partnered with MoceanLab, a future-focused mobility laboratory for Los Angeles, to introduce a Mocean Carshare service to Westfield Topanga & The Village, providing drivers with quick and convenient access to hybrid-electric vehicles for up to three days, at a price comparable to renting an electric scooter.
Alongside URW’s partnerships with dynamic, environmentally conscious automotive partners — such as Tesla and Lucid Motors — we are also making dramatic investments in electric vehicle charging stations, including our new Tesla SuperChargers at Westfield Oakridge in San Jose, Calif. Beyond our new fast charging options, we are thrilled to see continual support of our Level-2 charging network through ChargePoint, which is registering more than 75,000 charging sessions across 12 of our U.S. centers in 2021 thus far.
We are also working hand in hand with Electrify America to bring more than 100 electric vehicle charging stations to a majority of our U.S. centers by the end of 2021. With an objective of expanding to all our U.S. assets by 2022, the partnership will grant our guests access to Electrify America’s state-of-the-art charging technology, which offers power levels of up to 150 and 350 kilowatts (kW) — allowing capable EVs to add up to 20 miles of range per minute.
Fourth, we recognize that investing in sustainability is not just good for the planet — it is good for our business. Ultimately, successful organizations are built around achieving core business goals. At the most basic level, for us, that is providing gracious environments for our guests and visitors to eat, shop, work and play. Integrating best practices from a sustainability standpoint ensures we are doing our part so that these beautiful spaces will remain beautiful. By conserving energy, saving water and reducing waste, we are saving money for our tenants — and creating value for our shareholders over the long term.
The work we do today will leave a legacy for the planet that our children and grandchildren inherit. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that future generations have access to clean air, unpolluted water, and land uncovered by the sea. By taking sustainability seriously and integrating it at all levels of our organizations, we can lead by example, demonstrating what it means to do more than check a box.