US-DOE Lauds CRE’s Efficiency Gains and Carbon Reductions

Roundtable members are among the commercial real estate partners recognized in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings Initiative 2023 progress report released on Monday. This voluntary public-private partnership with more than 900 participating organizations has collectively saved $18.5 billion through energy efficiency improvements, and cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 190 million metric tons, since its launch in 2011. (DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative Report and PoliticoPro, Oct. 23)

DOE’s CRE Partners

  • This week’s Progress Report from DOE shows that more than 165 partners from various industry sectors who participate in its separate Better Climate Challenge have committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (scope 1 and 2) by at least 50% over 10 years without the use of offsets. The report’s outstanding GHG Emissions Reduction Goal Achievers include companies led by RER members.
  • The Real Estate Roundtable and several of its partner real estate organizations—including the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), Building Owners & Managers Association International (BOMA), Pension Real Estate Association (PREA), and Urban Land Institute (ULI)—are noted in the report as Industry Organization Partners.
  • U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said, “To meet President Biden’s ambitious climate goals, the public and private sector need practical pathways to reduce emissions while cutting costs—and that’s exactly what they get from DOE’s Better Building Initiative.” (DOE news release and the report’s Commercial Real Estate Sector Spotlight)

Tools and Best Practices

  • DOE’s partners represent almost every sector of the American economy: nearly 30 of the country’s Fortune 100 companies, nearly 20 of the top 50 U.S. employers, 14% of the U.S. manufacturing energy footprint, and 13% of total commercial building space, as well as more than 90 state and local governments.
  • The DOE report also provides case studies for collaborations across sectors to access insights, strategies, and through the agency’s “Decarbonization Resource Hub.”

DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative website provides extensive resources on the agency’s wide-ranging effort to partner with leaders in the public and private sectors to make the nation’s commercial buildings, industrial plants, and homes more energy-efficient by accelerating investment and sharing successful best practices.

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California Passes Corporate Climate Disclosure Package; Biden Administration Releases Net-Zero Emissions Principles for Financial Institutions

Recent government actions amplify the increasing focus by policymakers on climate laws and guidelines—and their heightened impact on CRE. The California legislature recently passed first-of-its-kind state laws that require companies to disclose their emissions, beating to the punch anticipated federal climate reporting rules from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). (Politico, Sept. 17)

Meanwhile, the Biden administration issued voluntary principles this week for asset managers, banks, insurers, and venture capital companies with goals for “net zero” emissions investments, including real estate. (Treasury news release, Sept. 19)

California’s Climate Risk Disclosure Package

  • California’s legislature passed two bills (SB 253 and SB 261) last week requiring climate-related disclosures from certain companies doing business in the state. Most notably, the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act (SB 253) would require entities with total annual global revenues greater than $1 billion to quantify and publicly report Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions.
  • SB 253 is estimated to regulate around 5,400 companies. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) pledged to sign both bills, although he may request changes when the legislature reconvenes in January. The laws could be challenged in court before they take effect over the next several years. (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 20 and New York Times, Sept 17)
  • The California legislature “leapfrog[ged]” the U.S. SEC (Bloomberg, Sept. 12), which has yet to release highly anticipated federal rules that are expected to require registered companies to report to investors on material climate-related financial risks in 10-Ks and other filings. (See RER’s 2022 comments on SEC proposal | Roundtable Weekly, March 10 and June 10, 2022)

U.S. Treasury’s Net-Zero Emissions Investment PrinciplesU.S. Treasury’s Net-Zero Emissions Investment Principles -- publication imageThe Treasury Department’s Principles for Net-Zero Financing & Investment is focused on “financial institutions’ scope 3 financed and facilitated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” It urges private sector financial institutions to align their GHG reduction efforts and net-zero goals with their “portfolio companies,” “portfolio of assets,” and “client base.”

  • The document notes that clients and portfolio companies should provide to their financial institutions their own net-zero plans, including “metrics and targets” for Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Buildings and real estate assets have long been considered part of a financial institution’s Scope 3 emissions “value chain.” 
  • The set of nine principles encourage greater adoption of emerging best practices for private sector financial institutions that have made net-zero commitments, while promoting consistent and credible implementation approaches.

A Sept. 12 podcast featuring Roundtable Senior Vice President & Counsel Duane Desiderio, and Nareit’s Senior Vice President of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Jessica Long, discusses the imminent SEC rule and other real estate policy priorities in the energy and climate arena. (Listen to Nareit’s “Real Estate Roundtable says CRE Playing Key Role in Success of Federal Climate Programs”)

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Roundtable Comments to EPA on Building Performance Standards, Electrification

EPA sign

The Real Estate Roundtable submitted comments this week encouraging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use its grant authority to foster consistent, practicable, and cost-efficient local building mandates and electrification programs. (Roundtable letter, Jan. 18)

Consistency Urged in Building Performance Standards

EPA letter image capture

  • In addition to clean energy tax incentives for the private sector, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) devotes billions in grant money for EPA to dole-out to states and cities for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction programs. [White House Guidebook, Dec. 15]
  • IRA grants could support localities as they develop and enforce building performance standards (BPS) that mandate owners to reduce energy use and emissions. Dozens of BPS laws have emerged in jurisdictions across the United States. (EPA Policy Brief, Jan. 19) (Roundtable Weekly, July 1, 2022)
  • The Roundtable’s Jan. 18 letter urges EPA to use its grant authority to encourage consistency in BPS mandates. A “hodge-podge” of state and local laws complicates compliance by building owners with nationwide real estate portfolios and hinders responsible investment strategies, according to The Roundtable’s letter.
  • The Roundtable’s position is that EPA should not award IRA grants unless state or local recipients ensure their BPS laws offer uniform federal tools, data, and protocols for enforcement and compliance.
  • These federal standards include EPA’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, its GHG Emissions Calculator, eGRID factors that convert electricity use to GHGs, and metrics already recommended by EPA to support BPS efforts.

Tenant Energy Data and “Practicable Electrification”

EPA letter electrification capture

  • The Roundtable letter also advocates that utilities should be eligible for EPA grants to develop technologies that provide owners of multi-tenant buildings with “whole building” energy data. Owners need data on tenants’ energy use to meet BPS mandates and to attain the IRA’s new tax deduction for building retrofits. (Fact Sheet, updated Jan. 5.)
  • In addition, The Roundtable letter advocates that grants to help standardize corporate climate reporting should prioritize consistency in accounting for emission benefits from the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), and for embedded carbon in construction materials and building products purchased by real estate owners and developers.

IRA tax incentives and grant programs affecting CRE will be among the topics discussed during The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) Meeting on Jan. 25 in Washington, D.C., held in conjunction with Jan. 24 State of the Industry meeting.

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EPA Highlights Federal Resources to Help Standardize State, Local GHG Laws on Buildings

EPA's Building Performance Policy Brief - image

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a policy brief on Tuesday that provides a “formal recommendation” on metrics that states and cities should consider as they may develop GHG-related mandates on commercial and multifamily buildings. 

Trends in Building Performance Standards (“BPS”) 

  • A national BPS law does not exist (and is not on Congress’s horizon) for emissions limits or efficiency requirements on private sector buildings.
  • Nor do U.S. agencies have any current ability to create a general federal building energy code or enact rules that establish GHG mandates on real estate assets, as made evident by yesterday’s SCOTUS decision in West Virginia v. EPA. (SCOTUSblog, June 30)
  • However, a number of states and cities have developed or are considering their own climate-related building regulations according to the National BPS Coalition launched by the Biden Administration.
  • Local BPS laws can require CRE owners to pay for energy efficiency retrofits and building electrification projects—or else pay fines and penalties.
  • The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is creating a BPS for buildings owned by the federal government. Development of the “federal BPS” is reportedly delayed because of “data shortfalls.” (Bloomberg Law, June 29)

RER Seeks Voluntary Federal Guidelines   

SPAC at Roundtable Annual Meeting

  • The Real Estate Roundtable has repeatedly expressed to policymakers—including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—that workable, federal-level, voluntary guidelines are needed to help standardize the “hodge-podge” of divergent local laws that can vary in their regulations on buildings.
  • The Roundtable’s June 10 comment letter to the SEC urged the creation of a “safe harbor” for proposed emissions disclosures that are based on the best available GHG calculation tools, standards and data offered by federal agencies. (Roundtable Weekly, June 10).
  • EPA branch chiefs heard from The Roundtable about the need for federal guidance to help unify local BPS laws at the June 17 meeting of the Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee, above. (Roundtable Weekly, June 17) SPAC is chaired by Tony Malkin (Chairman, President, and CEO, Empire State Realty Trust) and vice-chaired by Ben Myers (VP, Sustainability, BXP). 

EPA’s Recommended BPS Metrics  

EPA's BPS metrics publication

  • SPAC members participated in a number of EPA-sponsored “workshops” that led to the recommended federal BPS metrics.
  • EPA’s recommended metrics are intended to “develop consistent policies that reflect the business realities faced by building owners.” (EPA’s Policy Brief and Recommended Metrics publication, above)
  • Specifically, EPA recommends that any locality considering a BPS should focus on measures within a building owner’s ability to control—such as “on-site” reduction of energy usage or “direct” GHG emissions.
  • EPA also recommends that any energy-usage intensity requirement should not be “one size fits all.” Rather, BPS rules should be “normalized” to reflect variables such as a building’s type, hours of operation, and weather conditions.
  • EPA’s recommendations are preferable to other proposals that could make CRE owners responsible for how “clean” the electric grid should become—an issue beyond owners’ control. (Roundtable Weekly, April 9, 2021). 

A number of localities are contemplating laws to ban natural gas and other fossil fuels within their borders. EPA’s encourages any such jurisdiction to consider long-term, published, and incremental “phase-out” schedules so building owners can “plan for costly and difficult equipment replacements.”  

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SEC Issues Proposal for Registered Companies to Disclose Climate Risks; EPA Releases Emissions Calculator Tool

Houston skyline storm clouds

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an anticipated proposed rule on March 21 regarding the reporting and disclosure of material corporate financial risks related to climate change. (GlobeSt, March 22 and Roundtable Fact Sheet, March 25) 

Expanded Climate Disclosures 

  • The proposed rule has no immediate effect. If it is finalized, the action would require all SEC registered companies to quantify their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, assess the economic impact of rising sea levels relating to their assets, and report to investors on these and other climate-related risks through annual 10-Ks and additional filings. (SEC News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet, March 22)
  • Release of the proposal triggers a public comment period, with stakeholder input due to the SEC around May 20, 2022. Themes raised by The Real Estate Roundtable in pre-rulemaking comments submitted last year will likely be raised again in this latest round of public input. (Roundtable Weekly, June 11, 2022)
  • The SEC’s proposal, titled “Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors,” is considered a key component of the Biden Administration’s efforts to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52% (below 2005 levels) by 2030. (CBS-AP | Bloomberg | Axios, March 21) 

Scope 3 “Safe Harbor” 

Chicago downtown with river view

  • A Real Estate Roundtable Fact Sheet provides a summary of the 510-page SEC proposal, including the following elements:
    • All companies registered with the SEC would be required to report and quantify Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions each year. Scope 1 and 2 reporting would require registrants to define and disclose how they determine their “organizational” and “operational” boundaries.
    • SEC registrants would report on Scope 3 “indirect” emissions in their supply chain if the company has announced a Scope 3 reduction goal – or if investors would deem the registrant’s Scope 3 emissions to be “material.” 
    • The SEC proposes a “safe harbor” for Scope 3 disclosures related to certain liabilities covered by federal securities law.
    • Independent 3rd party assurances would be required for Scope 1 and 2 disclosures, but not for Scope 3.
    • Registrants should report on climate targets or goals they set for themselves, their energy efficiency investments, and whether they purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) or carbon offsets to meet their GHG goals.
    • Registrants would also need to report on material “physical risks” to buildings and other assets from climate change – such as those caused by extreme weather, droughts, and coastal flooding.
    • Compliance would start with SEC filings in 2024 for the biggest registrants and phase-in for other companies. (Roundtable Fact Sheet)

EPA’s GHG Emissions Calculator for Buildings 

EPA's Emissions Calculator logo

The Building Emissions Calculator has important potential to assist owners as they strive to comply with state and local building performance standards. EPA’s new calculator can also help real estate companies registered with the SEC to quantify and report on their GHG emissions should the commission’s investor disclosure proposed rule take final shape. 

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