If the celebration of Father’s Day was low key for Carlos “Charlie” Rufino, that’s because the real estate magnate and the man behind the dynamic business and leisure destination Bonifacio Global City (BGC) already spends much of his time with his sons Javier Vicente (JV), Raymond and Carlo.
“I have meetings with them every week,” says Charlie, who celebrated Father’s Day with his family over lunch, as usual.
“We already see each other every day,” chime in JV and Raymond.
Work brings them together, more so now since Carlo and JV are involved in NEO, the developer, owner, and manager of certified-green buildings in BGC. The company is chaired by their father, with Raymond as CEO.
Carlo, who manages several of the family’s businesses, steps in as NEO co-managing director in July, taking over Bob Barretto who is retiring. With over a 20-year stint in publishing and digital media (Philippine Daily Inquirer), JV is a stakeholder of NEO. He’s also principal of investment and technology firm Threadborne Group. The company has interests in real estate, technology, and their intersections, and is chaired as well by his father.
“They’re on call, so they can’t avoid their WhatsApp,” says Charlie with a chuckle.
The presentation of NEO’s inaugural Sustainability Report last June 13 at Manila House in BGC saw Charlie, JV, and Raymond come together to share impressive news about their green initiatives in their seven-building office portfolio. (Carlo was at his daughter’s graduation and answered questions via email for this interview.)
From One/NEO, one of the first office skyscrapers constructed in the former Philippine Army camp in 2002, to the 2013-built Seven/NEO, all are recognized with seals and certifications for their achievements in sustainability.
All of the company’s office buildings are recognized with seals and certifications for their achievements in sustainability
Each has a five-star certification from voluntary green building rating tool BERDE (Building for Ecologically Responsive Design Excellence). NEO’s portfolio is the first in Southeast Asia to earn a seal from WELL, which champions health and well-being through “people-first” buildings.
In 2021, the portfolio achieved net zero carbon emissions with verification through the International Finance Corporation’s EDGE Zero Carbon certification and the Philippine Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero Philippines program. The first portfolio in the world to acquire this accolade, NEO arrived at the milestone four years ahead of its 2025 target.
The numbers are impressive, as well. From 2017, active and passive design strategies have seen the energy consumption of NEO’s portfolio go down by 18 percent. Water efficiency and conservation practices reduced the consumption of NEO’s portfolio by an impressive 64 percent.
The effort is admirable, considering how real estate and construction account for 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
‘I felt this from my parents when we were growing up…. you don’t develop in a vacuum’
The idea of green buildings resonated with Raymond even years before he completed his master’s degree in real estate at Columbia University. “I felt this from my parents when we were growing up,” he says. “When you develop, you don’t develop in a vacuum. You also have to think about how it impacts the community. As a developer, there’s an implied responsibility and accountability in the work that you do.”
BGC was born around the dotcom era, a time when developers like Charlie were into “smart” buildings. Admittedly, his earliest efforts to cut water and energy consumption in his properties were driven by economics, not the environment.
“Eventually, it evolved. Better than ‘smart,’ why not ‘healthy’?” he says. “At the end of the day, the best outcome is if people are happy and healthy.”
Through the years, NEO has retrofitted its older buildings with environment-friendly features, and integrated green systems into its newer structures. Six/NEO and Seven/NEO have sun shades (to control the amount of direct sunlight) and double-glazed glass curtain building envelope systems (for better weather resistance and noise insulation). Both buildings have a green roof sky park on their eighth floor filled with native plants to absorb rainwater and contribute to the cooling of the buildings.
Seven/NEO practices water recycling through a rainwater harvesting system.
Ultimately, the Rufinos have proven that sustainability isn’t just sustainable, it’s become a necessity. To monitor their carbon footprint and increase sustainable practices in the workplace, multinational companies follow a corporate mandate to occupy green buildings. Bike racks and stairways adorned with art in NEO buildings encourage tenants to consider eco-friendly ways to get around and inculcate healthy habits into their daily routines. NEO also co-sponsored the BGC Greenway Park, a 1.6-km stretch of asphalt open to walkers, runners, and bikers.
‘Aside from the physical realm, you’re creating a soul’
“When it becomes part of your process, it becomes part of the culture of the building,” says JV, to which Charlie adds, “Aside from the physical realm, you’re creating a soul.”
The plan to work with Dad “was his plan,” says JV, who started his career outside the family business. So did Carlo. “I didn’t want to live up to an expectation,” he says.
“But now we’re all working together,” says Raymond. “So, it all worked out. It just took longer than he expected.”
Having worked with his father the longest, Raymond describes Charlie’s brand of leadership as gentle yet firm, a style he and his brothers appreciate and one that contributes to their harmonious relationship. “For my dad, everything is related. Work bleeds into all aspects of our lives. It’s nice because you’re always learning in this kind of environment.”
And there is much to learn from him. “Always stay true to your word,” says Carlo of a life lesson he picked up from his father. “He built a reputation of dependability and honesty over the years. This is his greatest legacy, and we see it in the day-to-day dealings we have with other people.”
Once an introvert, Charlie has since become open “to the point of almost being too open,” he says with a laugh. “But I tell my kids what’s on my mind, and I think it works well because they know what I’m thinking.”
He’s learning from them, too. Often, Charlie’s sons will call him out for jumping from one subject to another without breaks or warning. “Now every time I talk about something different, I have to say ‘change of topic!’” he says with a laugh. “But my boys already know how I think. In fact, I think they can finish my sentences for me already.”
What happens when his thoughts tend to fly? “They bring me back,” says Charlie, and he, JV, and Raymond laugh when they exclaim in unison, “Reality check!”
Life, work, and age may see parents and their children grow apart, but such isn’t the case with the Rufinos.
“The irony for us—no, the blessing for us, is that we’re getting closer to our dad as we get older,” says Raymond. “Because of our work and the constant requirements of the business for us to always be together, we see our dad more often than ever! We’re always together—meeting, calling, speaking, interacting, learning, growing. I think that’s one of the blessings that the family business has given us.”