ESG – NJBPU issues Order requiring Energy and Water reporting for all Buildings over 25,000 SF

In September, 2022, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) issued an order requiring the owner or operator of every commercial building over 25,000 square feet in the state to benchmark their energy and water use as part of an effort to spur energy efficiency.

Building owners must use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s online Portfolio Manager Tool to measure and analyze their respective facilities’ energy and water usage. NJBPU’s website has information about how to report benchmarking. The first benchmarking submissions are due on Oct. 1, 2023, for energy and water consumed in 2022.  Portfolio Manager is a FREE tool from the EPA that enables owners to input data and measure and monitor consumption.

“This is the next important step in implementing a best in class, statewide, energy efficiency program which will help us achieve Governor Murphy’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2050,” said NJBPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso. “Creating a system of benchmarking allows us to measure the use of energy (electricity and gas) and water by the state’s biggest buildings and support building owners in reducing energy and water usage and operating costs.”

Benchmarking is intended to help commercial building owners and operators measure and analyze their respective facilities’ energy and water usage and compare it to other similar buildings. Building owners and operators can use this information to make informed decisions about taking advantage of financial incentives for energy efficiency improvements.

The NJBPU initiative is directed by the  New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, which calls for transparent benchmarking and energy labeling. The program it intended to enable building owners to obtain aggregated, building-level energy and water data from their utility companies through a data access service. The Board will also establish a “help desk” to assist building owners as they measure and analyze their respective buildings’ energy and water performance.

This program will also protect individual ratepayers’ energy and water use information by requiring utilities to securely provide aggregated, building-level data. Building owners are required to obtain their tenants’ affirmative, written consent for the utilities from which they receive services to provide building-level energy and water data to the building owner in certain situations to protect individual energy and water use information.

Consent will be required only when there are fewer than four tenants in a building or if one tenant exceeds 50% of the energy or water consumption.

More information about building benchmarking through NJBPU is available at https://njcleanenergy.com/commercial-industrial/programs/energy-benchmarking.

Food For Thought – NJ through the NJBPU Order joins California and Washington state as well as over 42 cities and 2 counties in requiring some form of energy and water disclosure mandate.  While many do not like being forced to report which is understandable, having this mandate will enable the State and tenants to better access which buildings are more efficient than others when it comes to energy and water consumption that are often paid for by common area charges assessed to these tenants. If and to the extent the SEC’s proposed rules on climate disclosure become effective, having a tool that allows for measurement and verification of various data sets will help bolster various companies ability to measure, verify and report on such data in the energy, water, waste, recycling, materials and air quality space.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on your Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project and how these new rules  might apply to you. For more information or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Sheila Rafferty-Wiggins, Brad A. Molotsky, Alice Shanahan, Jeff Hamera, Nanette Heide, Joel Ephross, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Robert Montejo, Seth Cooley, David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you in regular contact or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

EPA proposes to Designate 2 new PFAS and PFOS Chemicals as Hazardous Substances!

Earlier this week on August 25, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a significant step under Administrator Regan’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap in an effort to protect people and communities from the health risks posed by certain PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.”

EPA is proposing to designate two of the most widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.”

The proposal applies to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers, and, according to EPA’s press release, is based on significant evidence that PFOA and PFOS may present a substantial danger to human health or welfare or the environment. According to various reports, PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time and evidence from laboratory animal and human epidemiology studies indicates that exposure to PFOA and/or PFOS may lead to cancer, reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects.

If finalized, the rulemaking would trigger reporting of PFOA and PFOS releases, providing the EPA with improved data and the option to require cleanups and recover cleanup costs to protect public health and encourage better waste management.

EPA is also focused on holding responsible those who have manufactured and released significant amounts of PFOA and PFOS into the environment. In its press release, the EPA announces that they will use enforcement discretion and other approaches to ensure fairness for minor parties who may have been inadvertently impacted by the contamination. EPA is also doing further outreach and engagement to hear from impacted communities, wastewater utilities, businesses, farmers and other parties during the consideration of the proposed rule.

If this designation is finalized, releases of PFOA and PFOS that meet or exceed the reportable quantity would have to be reported to the National Response Center, state or Tribal emergency response commissions, and the local or Tribal emergency planning committees.

EPA stated that they anticipate that a final rule would encourage better waste management and treatment practices by facilities handling PFOA or PFOS. The reporting of a release could potentially accelerate privately financed cleanups and mitigate potential adverse impacts to human health and the environment.
Additionally, the proposed rule would, in certain circumstances, facilitate making the polluter pay by allowing EPA to seek to recover cleanup costs from a potentially responsible party or to require such a party to conduct the cleanup. In addition, federal entities that transfer or sell their property will be required to provide a notice about the storage, release, or disposal of PFOA or PFOS on the property and a covenant (commitment in the deed) warranting that it has cleaned up any resulting contamination or will do so in the future, if necessary, as required under CERCLA 120(h).

EPA will be publishing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register in the next several weeks. Upon publication, there will be a 60-day public comment period.

As a subsequent step, EPA anticipates issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking after the close of the comment period on its proposal to seek public comment on designating other PFAS chemicals as CERCLA hazardous substances.

EPA has taken a number of recent actions on PFAS including:

• Releasing drinking water health advisories for 4 PFAS – using the best available science to attempt to address PFAS pollution, protect public health, and provide critical information quickly and transparently;

• Making available $1 billion in grant funding through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law;

• Issuing the first Toxic Substances Control Act PFAS test order under the National PFAS Testing Strategy;

• Adding five PFAS Regional Screening and Removal Management Levels that EPA uses to help determine if cleanup is needed;

• Publishing draft aquatic life water quality criteria for PFOA and PFOS;

• Issuing a memo to address PFAS in Clean Water Act permitting;

• Publishing a new draft total adsorbable fluorine wastewater method; and

• Issuing the 5th Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to improve EPA’s understanding of the frequency that 29 PFAS are found in the nation’s drinking water systems and at what levels and preparing to propose a PFAS National Drinking Water Regulation by the end of 2022.

Food For Thought – while some argue that the EPA has gone to far in their regulatory rule making, others view these proposed designations as a big step in the appropriate direction to regulate and capture critical data on the location of PFAS and PFOS so that these chemicals can be trapped and then eliminated from our water system and our sewage systems.  Many reports now exists which indicate the negative impact of PFAS and PFOS on the human body.  Wherever you come out on this topic, taking steps to reduce our own exposure and our children’s exposure to PFAS and PFOS and to focus on entrapment and non-hazardous destruction of these impactful chemicals is continuing to be the focus of many within the industry.  New and improved technology for breaking down PFAS and PFOS into its constituent parts in a non-off gassing, safe manner are a very near future event and can be done.  

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on your Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project and how these new PFAS and PFOS rules might apply to you. For more information or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Alice Shanahan Jeff Hamera, Nanette Heide, Joel Ephross, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Robert Montejo, Seth Cooley or David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you in regular contact or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

 

ESG: – New York City Council Passes a Natural Gas Ban for New Buildings

Last week, New York City’s city council approved a ban on natural gas as a fuel source in newly constructed buildings.

Per reporting from NPR, nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the country — and more than 50% of New York City’s emissions — come from buildings.

The new natural gas ban in newly constructed buildings, by a vote of 40-7, applies to buildings that are up to 7-stories in height by the end of 2023; buildings that are taller than 7-stories have until 2027 to comply.

The bill contains several exceptions, including hospitals, laundromats and crematoriums.

As noted by NPR, the legislation also requires that the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability conduct 2 long term studies. The first will examine the use of heat pump technology and the second is a study on the impact of the new bill on the city’s electrical grid.

Not surprising there has been massive pushback from the natural gas industry against these type of natural gas bans. This pushback, however, has not stopped cities around the country from proceeding with various types of natural gas ban efforts. By way of example, at least 42 cities in California have acted to limit natural gas in new buildings, and Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado have also made plans to move toward required electrification in buildings.

Moreover, in Ithaca, New York, the city committed to ending the use of natural gas in all buildings — not just new ones.

Passing this type of natural gas ban for new buildings in New York City, the largest city in the country, marks a significant move for other cities trying to move similar legislation to attempt to cut down carbon emissions in the fight against climate change, joining cities like San Jose and San Francisco that have made similar commitments to reduce emissions.

The efforts to ban natural gas in new buildings in New York City is also being considered on a state wide basis in the New York Senate and House. Senator Brian Kavanagh (D) and Assembly Member Emily Gallagher (D) are working on legislation that would require any buildings constructed in New York after 2023 to be entirely powered by electricity. If their legislation passes, New York would become the first state to ban natural gas in new buildings on a state-wide level.

Triple Bottom Line – By passing this type of natural gas ban in new buildings, focusing on buildings as one of the largest emitters of green house gases,  New York has provided other cities with a leader to attempt to follow if they are so inclined.  As noted, California has been attempting this type of ban on a city by city basis and has passed 42 such bans throughout the state.  If New York state follows the NYC lead it will become the first state to enact such a ban and would mark a bit of a watershed moment in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions showing that buildings can indeed be constructed in this manner if reduced emissions are one of the  key goals attempting to be achieved by the builder/owner or the legislature.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Nanette Heide, Seth Cooley, David Amerikaner, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Hari Kumar or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

ESG – NJ Single Use Plastic Ban becomes effective as of November 4, 2021

Beginning this coming week, on Thursday, November 4th, restaurants, convenience stores and other food-service businesses are required to comply with a new NJ state law that prohibits them from providing customers with single-use plastic drinking straws unless the customer has specifically requested one.

The new restriction does not impact the sale of beverages that are prepackaged with a plastic drinking straw, such as juice boxes, nor does it apply to the sale of boxes of straws in food stores.

Per NJBIZ, the by-request-only restriction on plastic single-use drinking straws applies to all food-service businesses, including restaurants, convenience stores and fast-food establishments.

Additional restrictions, which take effect May 4, 2022, include bans on single-use plastic carryout bags, single-use paper carryout bags at grocery stores of 2,500 square feet or more, and polystyrene foam food-service products.

For additional information, the state has created a new website at www.nj.gov/dep/plastic-ban-law which includes information on who are “regulated entities”, a Frequently Asked Questions page, a list of establishments and how the law impacts them, and more.

Additionally, the NJ Business Action Center has created a clearinghouse at https://business.nj.gov/bags/vendorclearinghouse to aid businesses in identifying vendors and manufacturers who sell reusable carryout bags permitted by the new law.

Triple Bottom Line – New Jersey joins a growing list of cities, counties and other states who are clamping down on single use plastics as a source of pollution which is exacerbating a growing issue within our sea life as plastics find their way to streams, rivers and oceans, break down and are ingested by the fish we often eat.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Nanette Heide, Jolie-Anne S. Ansley, David Amerikaner,  Seth Cooley, Vijay Bange, Stephen Nichol, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

#ESG – NJ Utility PSEG announces two new environmental commitments and issues 2021 Sustainability Report

Local utility Public Service Enterprise Group (“PSEG”) announced earlier today, October 15, 2021, that it has joined The Race to Zero and Business Ambition for 1.5°C, two campaigns that use science-based targets to aid the fight against climate change.

The Race to Zero and Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaigns are designed to help mobilize support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a healthy and resilient zero-carbon economy, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

PSEG’s also issued its 2021 Sustainability and Climate Report, which updates the company’s achievements and goals for a wide range of topics, including air emissions, energy efficiency, transportation and waste minimization.

PSEG Chairman and CEO Ralph Izzo said “Climate change is one of the preeminent challenges of our time, and PSEG has an obligation to help address climate change and its effect on our environment, our customers and communities around the world.”

Their Report showed PSEG’s generation portfolio emission rates for NOx and SO2 were down year-over-year by 58% and 77%, respectively, reflecting emission rates that are significantly below industry averages.

The Report also provides updates on PSEG’s progress across a range of sustainability categories, including:

  • Energy efficiency: PSEG’s energy efficiency targets have been updated and remain on track. New Jersey regulators approved $1 billion of energy efficiency spend for the three-year programs, designed to help the state achieve its updated framework for energy efficiency and peak demand reduction programs, setting five-year savings targets of 2% for electric distribution and 0.75% for gas distribution companies. PSEG’s targets are aligned with New Jersey’s Clean Energy Act (2018), which calls for these savings to be achieved by 2023.
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  • Transportation: PSEG aims to reduce fossil fuel use in its own transportation fleet through vehicle electrification, rightsizing the fleet and utilizing renewable fuels. By 2030, PSEG aims to convert its passenger vehicles, such as sedans and SUVs, 60% of medium-duty vehicles and 90% of heavy-duty vehicles to battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids or anti-idle jobsite work systems.
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  • Waste minimization: Companywide, waste and recycling programs successfully diverted 95.5% of material from landfills in 2020. The ongoing goal for its utility, PSEG to focus on new waste streams for recycling, which will continue to decrease landfill tonnage. The waste minimization goal for PSEG is to divert in excess of 95% of material from landfills.
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  • Air emissions: PSEG is reducing air and other emissions by updating its operations and transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, and, per their Report, already has one of the lowest emissions rates among investor-owned power producers, according to MJ Bradley’s Benchmarking Air Emissions report, July 2021. As of 2020, PSEG has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 54% since 2005 through switching to lower-carbon fuels, improving energy efficiency and modernizing its electricity and natural gas networks, among other strategies.
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  • Biodiversity: PSEG is committed to promoting and enhancing biodiversity through natural resource conservation while continuing to operate in a safe and reliable manner. PSEG established the Estuary Enhancement Program in 1994. Protection of natural resources and biodiversity informs their environmental philosophy and the planning process considers the potential impacts on regional biodiversity.
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  • Diversity, equity and inclusion: PSEG has a target of 30% of total applicable spending allocated to diverse suppliers, including minority-, women-, veteran- and LGBTQ+-owned suppliers. During 2020, PSEG had a sixth consecutive record-setting year by buying more than $644 million worth of goods and services from diverse suppliers, a 15% increase over 2019. More than 28% of the company’s purchases were with diverse vendors. And PSEG is helping develop New Jersey’s clean energy workforce through innovative training and development programs, emphasizing low- to moderate-income and underrepresented communities.
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  • Environmental justice: According to the Report, PSEG is developing an environmental justice commitment in support of the many diverse communities it serves across the region and believes such a commitment should convey the importance of centering environmental justice considerations across the organization so that customers — especially those in underrepresented communities — can benefit from the coming changes of a decarbonized future.

Triple Bottom Line – PSEG is one of a growing number of public utilities that have pivoted and started to embrace climate goals and climate change as being critical to their future success.  While not all utilities are aligned this way, many are beginning to take real steps to make change in this regard.  Much still to do for sure but good, solid, accountable and reportable steps in the sustainability and ESG arenas.  Kudos for the effort and the transparency. 

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, Jolie-Anne S. Ansley, David Amerikaner, Christiane Campbell, Sheila Slocum-Hollis, Vijay Bange, Stephen Nichol, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

ESG: Boston University Joins the Growing List of Universities Divesting from Fossil Fuels

Earlier this week, Boston University’s Board of Trustees announced that they had decided to divest its endowment from fossil fuels

According to an open letter dated Sept. 23 and posted on the school’s website, President Robert Brown said the board made its decision earlier that week. 

As of Sept. 22, the school will no longer commit direct investments in companies that extract fossil fuels. It will also divest from current, direct investments in fossil fuel extractors and will not commit to any new investments in dedicated fossil-fuel focused products in any asset class.

However, the school has private fossil fuel investments that will likely take more than a decade to wind down per reporting from Justin Mitchell. 

The release also indicated that the endowment will seek out investment managers that can provide opportunities in renewable energy sources and “fossil-fuel-free products.”

Brown’s letter also stated that only “a very small fraction” of the university’s endowment is invested in “fossil fuel producers and extractors,” rendering the move to divest “economically inconsequential.”

According to Mr. Mitchell, the endowment is valued at more than $3 billion, according to Boston University’s website and it had approximately $2.4 billion at the end of the 2020 fiscal year, according to an annual report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Boston University is the latest prominent university endowment to announce a divestment from fossil fuels, joining  the University of California, Brown University, Cornell University, Georgetown University and Harvard University, in committing to this type of divestiture program.

Triple Bottom Line – BU has joined the growing chorus of major institutions that have begun divesting their endowments of fossil fuel investments.  While BU’s announcement is not individually overly statistically significant numerically, the number of major higher educational institutions is continuing to grow and gain momentum.  As more institutions of higher education join this chorus, it is likely that fossil fuel divestiture will become more than a few one offs and has the potential to become a trend in the ESG space.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, Jolie-Anne S. Ansley, David Amerikaner,  Edward Cramp, Katherine D. Brody, Vijay Bange, Stephen Nichol, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

ESG – Wynn Resorts Announces Sustainability Goals with public ESG Reporting – Big Moves!

Earlier this week, on September 21, 2021 Wynn Resorts issued its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report, which included the Company’s collective pledges and defined goals to decrease emissions and confront the mounting risk of climate change.

According to the report, Wynn Resorts has achieved various ESG and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) goals, with strides being made in community outreach and crisis relief efforts, responsible business practices, and human rights.

In the report’s forward, Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox remarked, “…operating in today’s socially and environmentally-fraught world, [the company] is called to a higher standard: to take responsibility, not just for our decisions, but for the all future impacts of those decisions. Impacts we ourselves may not live to see, but will have caused, nonetheless. Decision-making with careful consideration to the impacts 20 or 30 years from now isn’t just essential, it’s an existential imperative. That is what the future demands of us.”

The Wynn Resorts sustainability program, known as Goldleaf, attempts to bring solutions to the wide range of environment and climate challenges that are unique to each resort that Wynn Resorts operates.

Under the direction of CEO Matt Maddox and Chief Sustainability Officer Erik Hansen, the Company has committed to the following Wynn Resorts Corporate Sustainability Goals:

Net-Zero by 2050: To reduce or offset all carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by our operations no later than 2050.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Peak by 2030: To stop and reverse year-over-year growth of operational carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030.

50% Renewable Energy Procurement by 2030: To increase Wynn Resorts supply of renewable energy produced or procured to at least 50% of total consumption by 2030.

The above commitments are aligned with the recommendations made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as referenced in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.

In 2020, Wynn Resorts completed several major projects in renewable energy, waste diversion, and emissions reduction, including:

Wynn Resorts installed 23 Megawatts of solar power capacity in the United States, which offsets 100% of the energy consumed in the 560,000 square-feet of convention space in Las Vegas, and up to 75% of the peak power demands of the entire 10-million-square-foot Las Vegas resort.

Wynn Las Vegas reduced its annual energy consumption by 20% in 2020 relative to 2015 through capital investments in critical energy-reducing technologies and operational efficiencies, most notably the 160-acre Wynn Solar Field and a concerted effort on preventive systems maintenance.

Encore Boston Harbor received 100% of its energy from renewable and green sources of power and, according to the Report, is the first integrated resort in the Unites States with an onsite microgrid balancing solar energy production, combined heat and power co-generation, and battery storage.

Wynn Las Vegas reduced Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 80,000 metric tons from 2019 to 2020, achieved by offsetting energy procured from traditional fossil fuel-based generation with renewable and green energy products. 

Encore Boston Harbor diverted 100% of waste from the landfill in 2020 during its first full year of operation, utilizing its comprehensive waste management infrastructure of recycling, composting and waste-to-energy conversion to ensure no waste goes to a landfill.

Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox spearheaded the creation of one of the hospitality industry’s first science-based Health & Safety Plan, which Maddox presented during the White House Business Council on Reopening. The plan became the preeminent roadmap to a successful reopening effort, with policies adopted by several other international brands and industries.

Wynn Las Vegas collaborated with University Medical Center (UMC) to open the UMC COVID-19 Vaccination Center, the first vaccination site to be located onsite at a resort, which administered over 50,000 vaccinations to eligible Nevada residents.

Wynn Las Vegas built and opened the Lighthouse Lab COVID-19 testing facility, a 3,000-square-foot facility at the resort staffed by medical professionals from Lighthouse Lab Services who administer up to 7,000 PCR tests per day, helping usher the return of convention business and group events.

Globally, per the Report, Wynn Resorts donated $23 million USD in funds and in-kind donations to charities in 2020, which included $4.75 million in direct COVID-19 relief efforts, almost $1 million in food and meals, and over 2.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment to recipients like the Nevada National Guard and the Macau Government. In addition, Wynn Resorts global workforce volunteered over 34,000 hours of time in 2020.

The Wynn Resorts Human Rights Policy was broadened in 2020 to include specific expectations and core principles for diversity, inclusion, and non-discrimination. In addition, the Wynn Resorts Diversity Council drafted the first Wynn Resorts DEI Policy to codify goals that foster a culture of inclusion, embrace a diverse workforce, and develop vendor partnerships that create a fair and equal economy.

According to the company, extensive training and security procedures were enhanced in 2020 to combat human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, including the development of a company-wide training program for trafficking awareness that will be mandatory for all employees.

The Wynn Resorts ESG Report presents information that references select Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards and Sustainability Accounting Board Standards (SASB).

Triple Bottom Line – Wynn’s public announcement of their Sustainability Goals is a big step and will likely put pressure on their competitors to make similar announcements regarding their plans. Time will tell. Care to take a bet on this front?

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, Jolie-Anne S. Ansley, David Amerikaner, Adam Berger, Frank DiGiacomo, Vijay Bange, Stephen Nichol, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

ESG – Green Bonds and Green Financing Continues Torrid Pace of Uptake – $2.36 Trillion Anticipated by 2023

I had the pleasure of hosting Emily Paciolla (Federal Realty), Dan Winters (GRESB), Ethan Gilbert (Prologis) and Ben Myers (Boston Properties) this past week on our monthly ESG podcast.

Wow, what a fascinating conversation focusing on what each of their companies (leaders in their own industry segments of industrial, office and retail as well global benchmarking on the GRESB front) are doing and how they are utilizing green bonds as a part of their strategies for continuing to invest in sustainable solutions for their companies and their clients (i.e., their tenants).

The panelists represent over 1 Billion Square Feet of office, industrial and retail space in the US and abroad and are market movers in their respective sectors.

We heard on the podcast that interest in GRESB, the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark that is used to rate companies (i.e., aggregation of assets not just single buildings but portfolios), has also continued to have an incredible uptake of clientele companies joining GRESB and submitting to their voluntary benchmarking and scoring.  In 2020, over 1,200 international companies submitted to GRESB and, with yesterday’s filing deadline for 2021, it is likely that over 1,600 companies will be submitting in 2021.  Each of these companies have multiple assets and, as such, represent a growing footprint of square footage willing and interested in participating in measurement, verification and benchmarking.

The panelists also discussed that within their companies, they are voluntarily reporting their results publicly and are having these results verified by external reporting.  These ESG and sustainability reports have been published and other public companies are following their lead and also publishing their results (e.g., over 85% of Fortune 500 companies publish their results). 

All panelists have issued green bonds and anticipate likely future issuances.  Both Boston Properties and Prologis have issued over $1B of green bonds each and continue to expand the depth and breadth of their investments.  Federal Realty has also used their green bond proceeds to broaden and deepen their LEED certifications  and other sustainability programs within the portfolio of over 110 properties in the US.  Green bond dollars have been used to  further other ESG and sustainability initiatives and help expand building certifications (LEED and BREAM as well as WELL and Fitwel) within each of their respective portfolios and enable initiatives to be pushed further and faster.

Of particular interest is not only the scale that they are issuing bonds but also that these bonds are being priced with a discount of 5-15 basis points cheaper than non green bonds – meaning, it is cheaper to borrow this type of money for green usage and investment than for non green usage.  Over a few billion dollars, these basis points may sound small but these savings are NOT…think millions of dollars of savings each year and over the life of the bond.  Real money being invested in green investments at a cheaper rate!

During 2021, ESG efforts at these companies will be focusing on supply chain sustainability metrics, use of materials, embodied carbon, renewables including on-site solar energy generations, energy efficiency, the Task Force on Climate Disclosure, Scope 3 emissions and diversity, equity and inclusion.

While not all tenants everywhere are asking about green features in their buildings, more and more are interested in them in the panelists’ views and to address this interest, these companies continue to offer more and more green attributes and features within their respective portfolios.  Moreover, with return to work post pandemic being somewhat imminent, the panelists also saw the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer being expanded in most cases to include some level of involvement or oversight with respect to health and safety and return to work – think elevator policy, green cleaning and chemicals, plexiglass and social distancing, air conditioning and fresh air intake and MERV filtering of air (13 or higher to trap 99% of air borne particulate matter), etc.

Our panelists have also tied their revolving credit facility metrics on rate to various ESG metrics and are also tying executive compensation to various ESG and sustainability metrics.  As we have reported previously, as more public companies tie compensation to reaching various ESG goals, the uptake will continue to build until this approach is not viewed as novel but, rather, common place, as others will likely begin to follow this lead or be viewed by investors as not paying attention or caring.

We also heard the Roger Platt-ism of a “self-licking ice cream cone” being used to describe the interplay of measuring, verification and outcome in the green space across various segments (longer explanation need than we have room for but ring me and we can discuss) – as well as describing the ESG space as being a lot of Plan, Do, Check and Act!

Triple Bottom Line – with over 23 countries represented and a Strategic Framework being created and issued by the World Bank in 2008, green bond issuances started slow and steady but have seen a massive uptake in interest and investment in the last 6 years.  The bonds and financings have been used to support and encourage environmentally friendly projects in the US and internationally (including required covenants to maintain these projects on a go forward basis).  In 2020 over $269 Billion in green bonds were issued, noting that the pandemic did little to dampen enthusiasm for this green type of investment vehicle.  In Q-1 of 2021 we saw over $106.86 Billion of green bond issuances, a bit of a harbinger of a super green bond year.  All in all there have been approximately $1 Trillion of green bond issuances cumulatively with an annual year of year uptake of 60% growth since 2015.  Current estimates have cumulative totals of green bond issuances at over $2.36 Trillion dollars by the end of 2023

As such, this author’s view is that green bonds as a financing source is NOT a passing fad, rather they are a viable source of debt capital and continuing to build in interest and issuances both nationally and internationally and will continue to do so.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space. We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, Jolie-Anne S. Ansley, David Amerikaner, Vijay Bange, Stephen Nichol, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

P.S. Our panelists divulged that their favorite podcasts these days include “How things Work”, “The Hidden Brain”, “How to Save a Planet”, “The Energy Gang” and “Big Switch” – check it out!  Also, if you are looking for a super children’s book to help explain climate change to your kids, check out “Earth’s Climate Heroes” – A+

 

 

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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