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Going green goes beyond the building: Sustainability measures take new forms for N.J. corporations

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Wyndham Worldwide's Parsippany headquarters is a LEED Silver building.
Wyndham Worldwide's Parsippany headquarters is a LEED Silver building. - ()

Take a walk through Wyndham Worldwide's headquarters campus in Parsippany, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason to leave.

There’s the 24-hour fitness center and the full-service cafeteria, which you’ll find at many other modern office spaces. But you can’t say the same about the on-site Starbucks, the credit union and the general store that sells groceries and greeting cards.

Not to mention the on-site nurse who can write prescriptions.

The amenities are meant to keep Wyndham’s existing employees satisfied and attract new ones. But they serve another equally important purpose for the global hospitality giant: keep the employees on campus.

Specifically, for the purpose of reducing their use of automobiles — a concept that’s easy to overlook but critical to Wyndham’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint.

It’s a key focus for many corporate anchors in New Jersey, a state that’s rich with Fortune 500 companies and a tight-knit business community. And experts say sustainability is becoming increasingly important across all industries — especially as the concept expands beyond the traditional definition of being environmentally conscious.

Stakeholders say the concept has come a long way from 20 years ago, when sustainability was focused largely on building design and construction. That gave way to the U.S. Green Building Council and the building certification system known as LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

But today, experts said “sustainability” can cover everything from employee health and social responsibility to a company’s supply chain and vendor partnerships.

“The lines are blurred,” said Faith Taylor, Wyndham’s senior vice president and chief sustainability officer. “But at the end of the day, everyone’s concerned with what I call the ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance), and that covers all of it.

Faith Taylor, Anastasia Harison and David DeVos.
Faith Taylor, Anastasia Harison and David DeVos.

“And that’s what investors are looking at us for, so this is going to keep evolving.”

The concept can be tough to quantify and measure — especially given the lack of uniform regulation across the country — but experts say there’s plenty to be said for doing the right thing. And, equally important, it makes good business sense.

Just ask Prudential Real Estate Investors, which in 2011 oversaw the installation of 10.5 megawatts of rooftop solar panel systems across its worldwide portfolio, adding more than $56 million to the value of the properties.

“I like to say that, if properly applied, sustainability initiatives are cost-effective,” said David DeVos, Prudential Real Estate Investors’ vice president and global director of sustainability. “If they weren’t cost-effective, it wasn’t done properly.”

Reducing a company’s carbon footprint is easier when it owns its real estate, experts say. But today, “the large developers are bringing the facilities to you LEED-ready, which was never heard of before,” said Anastasia Harrison, the immediate past chair of the USGBC New Jersey.

That’s made it easier for tenants looking to improve sustainability.

But even for companies without that advantage, there are other ways to achieve that goal: educating employees, partnering with environmentally conscious organizations, changing its supply chain.

The grounds of Wyndham Worldwide.
The grounds of Wyndham Worldwide.

As a company with a global portfolio of hotels and hospitality properties, Wyndham has made all of those areas part of its focus. Taylor said that, to date, some 25 percent of its $2.1 billion supply chain meets the company’s green requirements through actions such as using furniture and uniforms made of recycled materials.

“Our supply chain, to me, is our biggest opportunity,” she said.

The company, meantime, is aiming to reduce its carbon emissions and water usage 20 percent by 2020.

As the definition of sustainability has evolved, so has the way it’s measured. Harrison said that, when the LEED rating system was created some 20 years ago, it was tailored to commercial buildings on the basis of design and construction. Today, there are systems for multiple building types — and the requirements have become more sophisticated.

And when the USGBC honors a company, it’s going beyond the building.

“Now we’re looking at a much deeper layer of sustainability,” Harrison said. “What is that company doing? What is their sustainable impact on our state? How are they giving back to the youth, to their own employees, to the environment?

“And that’s really showcasing, I think, what’s happening in New Jersey. It’s not the little LEED projects anymore. It’s these large companies that are doing remarkable work.”

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @joshburdnj

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