3 Considerations for Designing Scalable Sustainable Real Estate Programs

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3 Considerations for Designing Scalable Sustainable Real Estate Programs

This June, Stok partnered with Google and the International Living Future Institute to present on scaling sustainable real estate programs at Sustainable Brands ‘19 Detroit. As the business case for high-performance buildings continues to strengthen, brands are pioneering a new definition of best practices in corporate real estate by championing regenerative and healthy workplaces.

At the helm of this global trend, Google has been working to transform their own corporate real estate through high-performance frameworks including biophilic design, the Living Building Challenge, and Zero Carbon Certification. Now, the ILFI and other industry organizations are working in partnership with them and leading technology companies like Salesforce, Facebook, Microsoft, Genentech, Adobe, and HP in an effort to scale their positive impact through the built environment.

The key to success in designing these sustainable real estate programs comes in three parts, which can be applied to your company’s efforts in setting and achieving smart sustainability goals:


Identifying the drivers and vision behind any project will help you set clear, effective goals and avoid flashy distractions in pursuit of your objectives. This is an especially essential first step in creating a sustainable real estate program. It’s easy to settle for an ambiguous “why,” so to avoid a weak and ineffective statement, tackle it in three parts:

1. Define your core values. These are the underlying set of truths and guiding principles for your program and will help inform your vision and mission.
2. Write down your vision. This is the long-term marketable goal, an aspirational description of what you want to accomplish.
3. Set your mission. This is the ultimate “why” of the program, which remains unchanged over time.

By going through this exercise to define the core values, vision, and mission that your program will align with, you not only ensure that your goals and milestones will all feed back into a greater targeted purpose, but will also gain the critical support and buy-in necessary for success by connecting sustainable real estate with the achievement of larger company-wide initiatives. This is critical, as a survey by Stok of 15+ leading brands about keys factors for success in their sustainable real estate programs revealed that stakeholder buy-in was the number one factor when you are designing the program.


Once you have your “why,” you need your “what.” While possible directions to take to achieve your vision may seem endless, taking the time to weigh your options and focus on what you care about will provide much-needed structure and transparency for implementation in the form of an Action Plan. This, again, happens in three steps:

1. Set impact categories. Your sustainable real estate program will be most impactful when it reflects your company’s core values and is designed to positively affect impact areas that your company cares about. These categories can range from Water Use or Energy/Carbon to Land Use, Community, Waste, or Human Health, among others. Leveraging existing frameworks like the Living Building Challenge, Zero Carbon Certification, LEED, and WELL can help you determine which impact categories are most important to your organization and how to approach them.
2. Create SMART goals. These are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Make sure to practice essentialism when goal-setting—too many goals can distract from achieving your main objective. Again, use existing frameworks for guidance in setting SMART goals, which can help target financial, environmental, and social impact.
3. Develop aligned strategies. How will you hit your SMART goals? It starts with setting strategies that will move you toward your goals at a high level. These strategies make up the majority of your Action Plan.


The goals and strategies outlined in the Action Plan are realized through an Implementation Plan that details specific tactics that align with the Action Plan’s strategies. This is where standardization is crucial, as it allows for seamless scalability across a portfolio-wide program.

In fact, in Stok’s survey of 15+ leading brands, having a standardized program rose to the top of the list of priorities during the implementation phase of a program. Taking note, organizations like Google, PCC Community Markets, and the Block Project have all committed to the LBC 4.0 Volume Certification, while Salesforce and Kingspan have committed to Zero Carbon Volume Certification under the ILFI.

Having a strong high performance building framework at the core of your sustainable real estate program is critical to a successful, scalable effort from design, to implementation, to ongoing management, and will help your company deliver on what it cares about.


During the session’s breakout activity, audience members discussed how they could utilize the framework above and existing certification systems to enact change within their own organization. One of the most interesting topics that came up during this conversation was the question of how to create a sustainable real estate program that improves both the construction practices and operations of a portfolio of buildings. The key to crafting a program that solves this issue is to fully understand (1) the stakeholders making the decisions for all phases of a building, and more importantly (2) the financial levers that need to be pulled to derive value from a sustainable real estate program in either case.

Is your company considering starting or reevaluating its sustainable real estate program? Stok is developing a handbook on keys to success in sustainable real estate programs. Reach out for more information.