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Cushman & Wakefield began the new year with the announcement of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Environmental Protection Agency in order to promote sustainability in the commercial real estate industry. The real estate services firm, which manages 70 million square feet in New York City alone, will work directly with clients to lessen the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted in buildings. By the firm’s count, commercial buildings account for 17% of all greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere. Eleni Reed, Cushman’s director of sustainability services, recently spoke with GlobeSt.com about the MOU’s importance.

GlobeSt.com: How did your relationship with the EPA get started?

Reed: The whole MOU initiative really looks back at what we’ve been doing as a company in the past, and it really was kind of timing in a sense. Cushman & Wakefield has been a partner in the EPA’s EnergyStar partnership program since 1999. So we’ve worked with the EPA since then and have been involved in bench marking the properties under management for energy performance. We’ve also recently issued some green practice policies that we’re rolling out to the field for properties under management. We’ve been involved with LEED projects in supporting individual clients, and now we’re in a pilot program with USGBC (United States Green Building Council). All of this was building up a lot of momentum. We were looking to explore other partnership programs with the EPA, so the opportunity presented itself to talk to the EPA about how we could synergize that relationship and enter into additional partnership programs with them, and that’s how the whole process started.

Why is it important for you to do this now?

Reed: Cushman & Wakefield is the first real estate services firm in the country to enter into this type of MOU with the EPA. It really reflects the company’s commitment to the environmental performance of its own operation. Secondly, it can help support clients in implementing best practices as part of our property and facility management offering. The overarching objective here is to be part of the solution to environmental acts associated with the commercial real estate industry and to adopt best practices in our own office operations and in engaging and supporting our clients.

Will there be any oversight by the EPA?

Reed: This is a voluntary program, and in the MOU, we report on progress to the EPA on a bi-annual basis. In the individual partnership programs we partner into we also abide by those program requirements.

How strict are the EPA’s standards compared with other organizations?

Reed: This partnership we’re entering into is a working relationship. It’s really to look at environment best practices and is voluntary. All of this is voluntary and is designed to help companies provide services, resources, technical assistance and public recognition through their efforts.

Do you have similar agreements with other environmental organizations?

Reed: These EPA programs are called partnership programs. We are also, as a company, a member of the USGBC and a myriad of other industry groups. But with the USGBC we are also working on a pilot portfolio program, in addition to supporting individual clients through LEED projects for existing buildings.

What is the biggest sustainability challenge that you’re facing?

Reed: The largest challenge right now is to really embed the green practices we have and make them into standard practices. In order to do that, it requires efforts on a number of fronts, one of which is education, bringing education to individual property managers and also looking at updating our own policies and procedures. Our other effort is to continue to raise these issues with our clients.

Your press release was focused on New York City. Are you doing anything differently here?

Reed: The intent of our MOU was to address it on a portfolio-wide national level. We included numbers on the New York City market because the announcement was made in New York. The intent is that this is really a national approach, and we want to continue to work with our clients across the country on these issues. When it comes to the uptake of green practices in the community, different markets are working at different paces. Different clients are on different points in time on this as well. We want to roll this out nationally, but a lot of that will depend on the individual clients in the markets.

Are there any markets that have taken more of a lead on environmental issues?

Reed: Definitely the West Coast is a market where things are moving really quickly, as well as the East Coast. Chicago is also moving quite quickly. In some areas there are more incentives and regulation is coming down the pike.

Do you find that you are pushing tenants more to adopt green practices or are they coming to you and asking for these services?

Reed: The MOU applies to approaches that we’re taking on the facility and property management side, helping the clients we represent in terms of implementing best practices in their buildings. Our clients, through comprehensive corporate social responsibility or sustainability commitments are really looking to implement their objectives into their real estate strategy. When they look at their leasing process, they’ll be looking at different types of criteria when they look at a site. They’ll also be discussing with landlords the different types of criteria available to them. We’re seeing a trickling down to a certain extent.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Reed: From a building owner’s standpoint, striving toward environmental efficiency is perceived to better position properties. To the extent that if the building can demonstrate that it can implement certain efficiency measures, if it’s achieved and EngeryStar rating, all of these milestones can help position a property in the market.

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