Company: CB Richard Ellis
Title: Global Director of Environmental Strategy
Time in current role: Four years
Currently reading: “Come Hell or High Water” by Michael Eric Dyson and “Green to Gold” by Andrew Winston
Back in the days before it was hip to be green, Sally Wilson, a tenant rep for commercial real estate services giant CB Richard Ellis, was making noise about green building, foreshadowing a trend that has since borne down on the industry like a tsunami. The ah-ha moment came in 2003 when Wilson joined CBRE after spending 18 years as an architect.
As a result of her efforts, last March the firm launched a worldwide environmental task force. In August, Wilson took on the new role of global director of environmental strategy at the world's largest brokerage. She is tasked with overseeing all things green, a mammoth undertaking that includes the company's efforts to make its 1.7 billion sq. ft. property management portfolio energy efficient. Wilson also guides execution of the company's pledge to make all its operations carbon neutral by 2010.
“I give her full credit for being a visionary,” says Dave Pogue, a CBRE senior managing director and Wilson's green counterpart on the asset services side. “I think that her passion and her belief in the process was one of the early catalysts to us getting engaged.”
CBRE has already been more successful with its green strategy than even Wilson imagined. In November, when the company announced it would enter 100 of its managed properties into the LEED EB (existing buildings) program, Wilson worried whether enough clients would respond. “We thought, ‘Wow, how are we going to find 100 buildings?’ Right now, we have almost 200 clients asking to put their buildings in the program and we're faced with this issue of having to turn clients down.”
Last year, Pogue placed 130 million sq. ft. of office space into the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program, which seeks to lower utility costs by 10% to 15%.
Wilson's strategy has also been applied internally. More than 1,500 employees, from building to project managers, have attended workshops on LEED certification and professional accreditation.
“We're out there educating the tenants and selling the benefits of green building as we represent buildings,” Wilson explains. A number of major owners and CBRE clients are on board, including such industry heavyweights as TIAA CREF, ING Clarion, Invesco, UBS and Kennedy Associates.
Wilson's husband, Ken, principal of Washington, D.C.-based Envision Design, which focuses on sustainability and smart design, planted the seed for her activism. A member of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Commercial Interiors and Core and Shell committees, he also has served as principal-in-charge for such prominent sustainable projects as the Greenpeace USA headquarters and the Environmental Defense headquarters.
“He's the one who said, ‘Look, you guys are really the ones who are holding us back. You should really make a change in the company,’” Wilson recalls.
She convinced CBRE to join the U.S. Green Building Council, for which Wilson is now the primary liaison. She also received LEED AP certification and is noted as the first broker in the U.S. to do so.
While forward-thinking corporations and institutions take the lead on green building, Wilson says data supporting increased building valuations for participants is not far off. Only about 1,000 LEED projects are certified in the U.S., but another 15,000 projects are slated to come on line in the next two years.
“When you make that shift from one to 15, then all of a sudden it's 30,” says Wilson. “Then you start to transform the market and awareness about what green buildings are doing.”