A new report from the ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance shows how real estate organizations can align their operations with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the benefits of doing so.

Investment leaders in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) increasingly expect global real estate organizations to align their operations with the SDGs, released by the United Nations in 2015 and adopted by the 193 member states. The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 SDGs to end poverty while also improving global health, reducing inequality, and protecting the planet. To be achieved, the SDGs must be supported by both the public and private sectors; they have become a common framework used by governments and businesses to communicate their ESG initiatives.

The new Greenprint report, Global Goals: A Primer on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for Real Estate, provides an overview of why real estate firms are aligning with the SDGs, how they assess which of the SDGs are relevant to their business, how their operations align with the SDGs, and how their efforts are being reported, using current examples from the industry.

The 17 SDGs are: No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Well-Being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life below Water; Life on Land; Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions; and Partnerships for the Goals.

“As the definition of sustainability expands beyond energy, and the expectation of real estate expands beyond the boundaries of the building, leaders across the globe are looking for frameworks to assist with their broadened ESG goals and strategies,” said Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance. “The U.N. SDGs provide one such option, and many ULI Greenprint real estate members have successfully incorporated them into their sustainability efforts.”

Real estate organizations that align with the SDGs can add weight and significance to their corporate ESG goals by tying them to global goals, the report says. The benefits of achieving ESG goals are interconnected: while investments in energy and carbon reductions benefit a real estate portfolio’s bottom line, they also offer broader benefits to the community and the world, which the SDGs help communicate.

Three main benefits of aligning real estate operations with the SDGs are highlighted in the report:

  • Global leadership: The SDGs have become a common framework governments and businesses use for communicating their sustainability initiatives. Global real estate organizations now consider alignment with the SDGs an expectation for ESG leaders.
  • Investor demand: The SDGs help communicate impacts, targets, and goals at the corporate and portfolio level to interested investors and are often the subject of inquiries by international investors.
  • Attraction of investment: Investors now use several tools and frameworks to identify potential investments that align with the SDGs. In addition, the number of SDG-aligned bonds and other investment vehicles is increasing.

Leading Greenprint members cited in Global Goals highlight the importance of the SDGs.

“By ensuring that our goals support all 17 U.N. SDGs and putting those goals on a short-, medium-, and long-term time horizon, we feel that our ESG targets are comprehensive, realistic, and support the most important sustainability issues facing society,” said Becca Rushin, vice president of sustainability and social responsibility at Jamestown Properties.