Introduction and Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz and Patrick Kasingsing
Images NEO and NEO Sustainability Report
“The urgency of our climate crisis requires significant commitment and action from the real estate industry. Internally, our report helps our organization identify improvement opportunities, engage our employees and tenants, foster innovation, and create long-term value for a sustainable future,” answered NEO Chief Executive Officer Raymond Rufino when asked about the timing of the first-ever NEO sustainability report. A live reading of the 46-page report happened last June 13, 2023, with NEO discussing their sustainability framework, campaigns, certifications, and other accomplishments.
With NEO recognized as a leader in sustainable real estate developments, the launch of their report comes with the hope to “challenge and inspire local real estate companies (especially private ones) to be focused, results-oriented, transparent, and accountable.” After the successful launch of their report, Kanto invited NEO to share some of their preparations and learnings in crafting the document. Rufino, along with NEO Managing Director for Property Management Gie Garcia, also talked about NEO’s sustainable plans and goals for the near future.
Our conversation follows:
Hello, Raymond and Gie! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Let’s start off with your preparations for the report. How long did it take to produce this document? Will this be an annual commitment or a one-off?
Garcia: Hello, Kanto! Thank you for your genuine interest in our report. Our journey towards sustainable practices has been characterized by long-term dedication that we cannot quantify. Over the years, we have worked tirelessly to integrate sustainable practices into our operations. The process of gathering and analyzing ESG data has been thorough, involving extensive research, employee training, third-party validations, and meticulous attention to detail. Crafting the sustainability report itself involved a continuous exchange of information and feedback, enabling us to ensure precision and meaningful interaction with our stakeholders.
Yes, as part of our commitment to transparency and accountability, we will provide an annual update on our progress in achieving our ESG goals.
You say that NEO’s journey toward sustainability is characterized by long-term dedication. The previous NEO buildings were not originally built for sustainability. Would you say there was a particular moment that steered the portfolio in this direction at the speed and level of commitment NEO has?
Rufino: The turning point was in 2006 when I joined the company as this was one of the key learnings I brought back with me from my Masters in the US. It took us a while to really integrate green building strategies into the design of our buildings which started with the 6th and 7th buildings in our portfolio. We as a company recognized the urgent need for sustainable development in the face of growing environmental challenges. We understood that our responsibility as a developer extended beyond the construction phase and encompassed the long-term impact of our buildings on the environment and the communities we serve.
We closely monitored global trends and advancements in sustainable practices within the industry. We studied successful green building projects around the world and observed the positive outcomes they generated, both in terms of environmental benefits, user health, and economic viability.
We also saw the growing demand from tenants and stakeholders for eco-friendly buildings that align with their values and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable future. This demand acted as a driving force for us to elevate our commitment to sustainability and push the boundaries of what was possible in terms of green building practices.
Through strategic partnerships with industry experts, collaboration with sustainability organizations, and continuous research and development, NEO was able to rapidly transform its portfolio, implementing sustainable design principles, energy-efficient technologies, and environmentally conscious building practices.
NEO’s portfolio is exclusively in Bonifacio Global City. How has being in a growing ‘city’ aided the company’s sustainability agenda? Are there plans to spread the portfolio elsewhere and with the same level of commitment to sustainability?
Rufino: We are very fortunate to have grown alongside BGC. A new and growing city brings the benefit of a fresh mindset that embraces growth and innovation while being fully cognizant of our responsibility and accountability not only to our business stakeholders but to the larger community. That mindset has worked to attract and retain the best people, companies, and partners who have supported and pushed our vision for sustainability.
BGC continues to be one of the most exciting markets in the Philippines and that also applies to sustainable developments. We believe that we have helped promote green and sustainable buildings in terms of design, construction, and operations and that the level and quality of sustainable development in the BGC and Metro Manila, in general, have continued to improve.
We are very hopeful to be able to develop new projects beyond BGC in the future and now exploring several opportunities.
You spoke of the company’s all-encompassing embrace of sustainability. What would you say were the ingredients that helped the company succeed in checking off its sustainability goals? What were some factors that proved to be a challenge?
Garcia: At NEO, sustainability isn’t just a passing initiative, it’s deeply ingrained in our leadership as a genuine commitment and advocacy. This sets us apart from other companies who struggle with this important aspect. Our success is the result of strategic policies that prioritize sustainability and align our business practices with environmental and social responsibility. Additionally, we understand the importance of upskilling our employees by providing them with the necessary knowledge and certifications in sustainability. By investing in their professional development, our workforce can effectively contribute to our ESG goals and initiatives. Our focus on continuous learning and skill-building has played a significant role in our positive sustainability performance, resulting in tangible change and meaningful outcomes.
It is nice to see an investment not just in physical infrastructure but also in human infrastructure (by way of gender equality, etc.) Why is it vital for NEO to invest in these things beyond meeting a certain metric or rating?
Rufino: Investing in gender equality and other social initiatives such as DEI goes beyond meeting metrics or ratings. It aligns with our social responsibility, drives business performance, enhances long-term sustainability, strengthens stakeholder relationships, and upholds legal and ethical obligations. These investments are integral to our vision of creating a greener, more inclusive future for all people – and people are at the very heart of real estate.
Can you let us in on the specific steps that NEO is taking to ensure that the sustainability practices and commitment to the environment do not end with the accomplishment of a desired rating?
Garcia: We keep ourselves informed about the latest industry advancements, ratings, and certifications that help us assess our ESG performance. This way, we ensure that our sustainability efforts aren’t just superficial and that we avoid greenwashing practices. But we don’t just rely on external validations. We also take practical steps like planting trees and cleaning up coasts to deepen our commitment to sustainability. These activities actively involve our employees and help raise environmental awareness. Our goal is to create a comprehensive approach to sustainability that involves our workforce and fosters genuine dedication to sustainable practices throughout our organization.
Do you have plans to document your sustainability efforts and targets through other mediums, apart from the report?
Garcia: The report provides an excellent platform for us to present a comprehensive account of NEO’s remarkable ESG milestones and initiatives. To enhance our reach and engagement, we will continue maximizing social media platforms and newsletters as our primary communication channels alongside the sustainability report. We strive to form strategic partnerships and collaborations with our tenants and other stakeholders in the real estate industry who share our goals in promoting positive change. These alliances allow us to amplify our impact and work together toward achieving our advocacy.
Speaking of alliances, you have a sustainable energy partner in AboitizPower. How far along has the Philippines come in generating and utilizing renewable energy? What made Aboitiz the ideal business partner in renewable energy?
Garcia: The Philippines has been advancing in renewable energy with programs that allow consumers to choose green energy. The country’s goal is to attain 35% renewable energy by 2030 and 50% by 2040. Furthermore, the sector now offers opportunities for foreign investors.
Since 2013, we have partnered with AboitizPower, a company that shares our values and commitment to sustainability and nation-building. Together, we have been working towards a more sustainable future by providing high-quality renewable energy to our tenants. We are proud to collaborate with a company that not only meets our strict standards but also shares our vision for a greener and more prosperous nation. AboitizPower’s dedication to renewable energy sources has a significantly lower environmental impact compared to non-renewable alternatives, making them a trusted and reliable partner for us.
Talking about sustainability plans and goals can be a little easier with people and companies who share the same values and visions. What were the steps to make your report approachable, especially to readers who are not as well acquainted with green or sustainability concepts?
Garcia: Our report clearly outlines our main priorities, framework, and focus areas, including our efforts to reach net zero energy consumption. We detail our energy efficiency initiatives, which have led to significant achievements, and we have included visually appealing graphics to enhance clarity and make the report inviting.
The NEO Sustainability Report is like a story that demonstrates how collective determination can overcome challenges and achieve remarkable results. Our objective was to create a report that resonates with all stakeholders, fostering a shared understanding of sustainability. We made the report accessible and engaging by using clear and easily understandable language, limiting technical jargon that could exclude anyone.
Can you share some of the team’s learnings from the experience of producing the document?
Rufino: The creation of our sustainability report requires teamwork and, above all, alignment with the company’s vision, mission, and values. Throughout the process of producing the report, the team gained many valuable insights and experiences. They learned the significance of cross-departmental collaboration, the need for effective communication, and the importance of diligent discipline to gather, analyze, and report data from various sources and partners. We discovered the value of engaging stakeholders and partners throughout the process, obtaining their input and feedback to enhance the credibility and relevance of the report.
The creation of our report was a collective effort that also involved working with many external partners such as WWF Philippines, Philippine Green Building Council, International Finance Corporation, International WELL Building Institute, and many others who contributed their experience and expertise. The team strengthened its understanding of sustainability, deepened its commitment to responsible practices, and reinforced the importance of teamwork in driving its sustainability agenda forward.
After coming up with the report, what other sustainability goals or targets is NEO after? Why are these goals next?
Garcia: Our primary objective is to enhance our ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) performance by effectively decreasing Scope 3 emissions while simultaneously promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the Philippines. By meticulously accounting for and reducing emissions throughout every aspect of our value chain, we aim to achieve our net-zero carbon footprint goal. Furthermore, we are resolute in our mission to cultivate an inclusive and equitable workplace environment that values and cherishes differences, leading to the unlocking of the full potential of our employees. These ambitious sustainability goals reflect our unwavering belief in social progress and responsibility.
Lastly, what would you say is the single most important quality a developer must possess in order to successfully steer one’s portfolio into sustainability, as one of the pioneering developers to have done so?
Rufino: I believe that the single most important quality a developer must possess to steer their portfolio into sustainability is vision. Having an ambitious and forward-thinking vision for sustainable development is crucial in driving meaningful change and overcoming the challenges associated with transforming traditional practices into sustainable ones. This vision serves as the guiding force that aligns all aspects of the development process, from design and construction to operations and maintenance. It inspires innovation, fosters collaboration, and empowers stakeholders to prioritize sustainability in every decision and action. •
Read more here: https://kanto.com.ph/voices/green-beyond-paper-neo-on-their-first-sustainability-report/