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Sara Neff has the uncommon ability to remain utterly sober on what sustainability initiatives require while still being really excited to pursue the possibilities. Both qualities are essential to her success as senior vice president of sustainability at Kilroy Realty Corporation, a real estate investment trust (REIT) with headquarters in Los Angeles and properties from Seattle to San Diego.
Take her approach to solar power. In California, there are times grid-tied photovoltaics overproduce. At first that sounds great, but it impacts the resilience of the grid, which was not designed for intermittent power and renewables, says Neff. “We all want a resilient grid, but typically people feel no moral compunction about making sure you’ve balanced your solar resources,” she says. But Neff does feel it, which is one of the reasons why Kilroy has started pursuing onsite battery storage. Proper stewardship of power resources is just one piece of the puzzle Neff is trying to solve.
Over the last decade, Neff has built a sustainability strategy at Kilroy which has positioned the firm as a leader in the real estate industry. For the fourth straight year, the company has been ranked first in North American office by the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). The company joined the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index in 2017, only one of three North American real estate companies to do so. Of the over 13-million-square-foot portfolio, 58 percent is LEED certified, and 73 percent is Energy Star certified as of 2017. And that is only a small sampling of Kilroy’s green cred. Through a culture of collaboration and open dialogue, and Neff’s careful listening, awareness of market trends, and clear-eyed approach to sustainability, an architecture of steady, measurable success has been built at the firm.
Improving Kilroy’s environmental impact and the work environment of its tenants is of course a primary goal, but for Neff it goes far beyond that. When she was deciding what program to pursue for her master’s degree, she says, “My theory was that the fastest way to save the world was to align business and environmental interests.” She hopes that the work Kilroy is doing can raise awareness in commercial real estate of actionable ways to reduce environmental impact. Here’s how she does it.
(Kilroy’s Key Center in Bellevue, Wash., is LEED Platinum certified. The 488,470-square-foot office tower has an Energy Star score of 97. Credit: Spencer Lowell, Incorporated, courtesy Kilroy Realty)
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