Alumni Know: How to make real estate sustainable

Kris Kolenc (BES ’16) breaks down the environmental and social factors that make a commercial building sustainable, and shares exciting career opportunities in this field

By Megan Vander Woude Office of Advancement

If you have investments, or you’ve consumed any news content in the last few years, you’re probably familiar with the acronym ESG. Environmental, Social and Governance criteria are popular among investors who want to ensure their funds are being used in sustainable ways.

For most of us, when we think of sustainability, our minds go to the environment. In fact, your mind might go to one specific sector - oil and gas. But there’s more to sustainability and ESG. In this episode of Alumni Know , Kris Kolenc shares the environmental and social factors that make a building sustainable. An ESG professional working in commercial real estate, Kris was named a Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leader by Corporate Knights in 2021.

Key takeaways from Kris

Sustainability is increasingly important for real estate investors

Kris is a managing consultant for a sustainable real estate firm that has clients all over the globe. His clients tend to be large companies that own commercial real estate, which can include retail, industrial, office and multi-unit residential spaces. ESG criteria are becoming more important to Kris’s clients, with investors increasingly interested in supporting sustainable ventures and demanding more transparency about their practices. Regulatory and societal factors also play a role. (1:10)

It’s not just about the environment

According to Kris, social well-being is becoming a larger piece of the sustainability conversation. A socially responsible building takes the well-being of its occupants into account. Social sustainability could include everything from natural lighting to nearby transportation, the building’s role in the community and more. Health and well-being building certifications are currently entering the market, similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications that are popular in Canada. (5:00) Another factor to consider in a building’s social value is its role in job creation - for those involved in construction and renovations, as well as those who will work in the completed building. (7:15)

Tips for finding a sustainable workplace

If you’re looking for a new employer and workplace, sustainability may be a new consideration for you. Kris suggests looking into the workspace - does it have a LEED or health and well-being certification? He also suggests that potential employees could look for ESG commitments made by the employer, like a net-zero commitment. Some companies have a B Corp (Benefit Corp) certification, recognizing their positive impact on society. Another big factor is diversity and representation. Potential employees can look into the leadership team and board - do you see a diverse group of people? (9:00) Kris also mentions that you can follow up and ask for details about their commitments, and how they plan to fulfill them, during the interview process. (12:15)

Opportunities abound in sustainability

If you want a job within sustainability, there has never been a better time to jump in. There are opportunities in a wide variety of areas, including data analysis, regulation, consultancy and the trades. Kris suggests that consulting is a great place to start a sustainability career, because it offers exposure to different clients. But as sustainability practices grow, more companies will hire teams in-house and Kris expects to see more corporate jobs available within the field. (13:15)