Center for Sustainability

A satellite map showing Duluth, a city grappling with severe flooding due to climate change.
A satellite map showing Duluth, Minnesota, which sits on the shores of Lake Superior. The Urban Resilience Program advised the city on developing resilience strategies such as reforestation and green infrastructure to combat flash flooding.

The need for sustainable and resilient cities has become more urgent than ever as climate change poses greater threats to land, property, critical infrastructure, and society. The ULI Center for Sustainability provides leadership to real estate and land use professionals using a two-pronged approach to addressing climate change and the built environment.

Through the Greenprint Center for Building Performance, the Center empowers commercial property owners and investors to develop high-performing, resource-efficient properties that lower carbon emissions while boosting their bottom line. Through the Urban Resilience Program, the Center sheds light on strategies to reduce community vulnerability to the immediate and long-term impacts of climate change while also identifying opportunities for enhancing asset values, environmental performance, and investor returns. The program also works closely with municipal and private stakeholders on pursuing land use, housing, and economic development strategies that protect community assets and fortify regional economies against climate change–related threats.

In FY 2016, the Center received major support from the Kresge Foundation to continue its work raising awareness of and spurring action toward building and designing sustainable and resilient communities in partnership with ULI member networks. Below is a summary of the Center’s major work for FY 2016:

Greenprint Center for Building Performance 

The report documents improved energy performance in San Francisco's commercial properties.
The report documents improved energy performance in San Francisco’s commercial properties.

San Francisco is one of 25 U.S. cities that have passed laws mandating property owners to track and disclose energy consumption in their buildings. Benchmarking allows a building’s energy consumption to be compared with that of others, and disclosure of such data helps leverage the marketplace to motivate energy reductions. Greenprint members have voluntarily tracked their building performance with the Greenprint energy and resource management platform since 2009, and the Center has begun to share its expertise with local and state governments also seeking to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions from buildings through regulations.

In FY 2016, the San Francisco Department of the Environment sought Greenprint’s assistance in evaluating the success of an energy reduction ordinance it passed in 2011. The collaboration resulted in The San Francisco Existing Commercial Buildings Performance Report, a report that demonstrates a nearly 8 percent reduction in energy use across 176 commercial properties in San Francisco from 2010 until 2015. The report also found that implementation of energy reduction measures in more than 800 buildings could lead to nearly $61 million in savings for property owners. The report’s launch was one of the events that kicked off the 2015 ULI Fall Meeting and was well received by both ULI members and the media.

In addition, Greenprint released its sixth annual Greenprint Performance Report in FY 2016. The report benchmarks reductions in energy use, water consumption, and waste in Greenprint members’ properties around the world. From 2013 to 2014, the 5,244 properties in Greenprint’s portfolio achieved a 2.7 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 3.3 percent reduction in energy consumption, and a nearly 2 percent decrease in water use. The report also included case studies of best practices in energy management, water conservation, waste management, and biodiversity.

resilience-report-coverSupporting the U.N. Paris Agreement on Climate Change

In December 2015, world leaders met in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP 21, to sign a historic agreement pledging to limit the rise of global temperatures to less than two degrees higher than those in pre-industrial times and curtail carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. Since buildings account for about 30 percent of global carbon emissions, leaders from the real estate and land use sectors were present at COP 21 to voice the industry’s role in responding to climate change. ULI was among more than 20 organizations that endorsed the formation of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, to advance efforts to mitigate the real estate industry’s contributions to climate change.

Food and Real Estate Program

In partnership with the ULI Building Healthy Places Initiative, the Center developed a new program focused on the role that food, food systems, and food-based developments play in placemaking and in creating sustainable and resilient communities. The Food and Real Estate: Trends and Opportunities Forum Series brought together real estate developers, property owners, food entrepreneurs, and sustainable food experts to discuss the intersection of food, sustainability, and real estate. Held in New Orleans and the Hudson Valley, New York, the forums highlighted the role of food in creating places that retain their long-term value while solving important sustainability challenges and removing barriers to health. Findings from the forums are now available in a seminal ULI publication: Cultivating Development: Trends and Opportunities at the Intersection of Food and Real Estate.

ULI member Jim Heid chaired the Urban Resilience panel in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.
ULI member Jim Heid chaired the Urban Resilience panel in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

Urban Resilience Program

In FY 2016, the Urban Resilience Program worked in partnership with the Responsible Property Investment Council, one of ULI’s sector-specific product councils, to produce case studies of real estate projects that were built to withstand impacts from climate change and that have demonstrated increased value and returns to investors. Returns on Resilience: The Business Case, published as a report and an interactive website, highlights a diverse set of ten properties in the United States and the Caribbean in which resilient design, construction, and engineering methods have ensured business continuity and minimized damage from sea-level rise, urban and coastal flooding, droughts, and other weather impacts from climate change. The website continues this important conversation by soliciting ideas for new case studies, resources, and policies that build resilience. Learn more about this report in Priorities – Building Sustainably.

ULI members recommended a "village-in-the-woods" approach--one that works in harmony with natural systems--for new development in rapidly growing St. Tammany Parish.
ULI members recommended a “village-in-the-woods” approach—one that takes advantage of natural systems to treat stormwater and prevent flooding—for new development in rapidly growing St. Tammany Parish.

Advisory Services Panels Focused on Resilience

Beginning in FY 2015 and funded with support from the Kresge Foundation, the Urban Resilience Program has engaged with municipalities across the United States that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change through Advisory Services panels focused on resilience.

In FY 2016, the program offered technical assistance to three municipalities—Duluth, Minnesota; St. Tammany Parish as part of Greater New Orleans; and Miami–Dade County, Florida—that sought guidance on flood management, physical or infrastructure upgrades, and housing and economic development strategies as part of a broader effort to develop community-wide resilience. Senior ULI members with expertise in real estate, land use planning, transportation, and urban design served on panels and provided the following recommendations:

District Council Work on Resilience

In addition, the Urban Resilience Program awarded grants, funded by the Kresge Foundation and ULI Foundation, to three district councils to raise awareness of and build capacity for developing community-wide resilience. With its grant, ULI Baltimore assisted the city of Annapolis, Maryland, on a long-range planning effort to protect the cultural and architectural assets of the city’s historic district against sea-level rise and other extreme weather events resulting from climate change. The district council played a critical role in engaging the private sector and the wider Annapolis community on the issue of building resilience within urban areas.

Learn more about the ULI Center for Sustainability.

Other Highlights