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National  + Weekender  | 
The Howard Hughes Corporation is moving closer to achieving its environmental goals, says the firm's Gautami Palanki

Commitment to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Community Stewardship

By Gautami Palanki

The beginning of a new year presents opportunities to evaluate one’s achievements over the past year and set new goals for the year ahead, incorporating new practices and revising or adopting new strategies for achieving success. 2022 brings The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) one step closer to achieving our Environmental, Social and Governance benchmarks in alignment with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a far-reaching plan that seeks to address the greatest challenges facing the global population and to heal and secure our planet.

This plan, which also seeks to eradicate poverty in all its forms, outlines bold and transformative steps that will ultimately shift the world onto a more sustainable path. To achieve this, the UN has outlined 17 sustainable deveSlopment goals (SDGs), which provide a roadmap for communities and businesses to become more aware of and attend to their social responsibilities, help work towards sustainable developments, protect surrounding environments and create a healthier landscape moving forward.

At their core, all of the SDGs represent a global call to action for creating and implementing strategies that improve health and education, spur economic growth and reduce inequality. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainability has roots as far back as 1992’s Earth Summit, during which over 178 countries adopted Agenda 21. This plan for a global partnership for sustainable development formed an early foundation that the UN’s current goals build upon and is representative of the global consensus that collaboration is the key to achieving truly effective sustainability goals.

This widespread partnership has allowed the UN to pursue ambitious goals that would have been significantly more difficult for individual countries, organizations and stakeholders to achieve separately. These goals range from addressing education, health care, poverty, environmental health, innovation and infrastructure, gender equality, sustainability, access to justice and global partnerships for eco-friendly developments. To ensure that each of these areas receives significant exposure, the UN 2030 Agenda spans over 3,100 events, one of the most recent of which includes the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from October 31st to November 13th.

The goals closely mirror the aspiration and vision of HHC: keeping 1.5 degrees within reach, protecting natural habitats and communities, and working together to deliver a higher quality of life. HHC, as the operator of the nation’s largest portfolio of large-scale master planned communities (MPCs), is distinctly aware of and proud to respond to the increased responsibility that accompanies a portfolio of this size and is committed to working towards sustainability goals. This is particularly true regarding monitoring our effect on the environment due to our significant presence throughout the United States, which spans several ecological environments from coast to coast. As such, our own Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) roadmap has taken the shape of a ten-year plan – devised in 2017 with annual updates – which outlines how HHC will operate moving forward in effective, environmentally friendly and conscious ways.

HHSustainability: HHC’s Sustainability Program

Specifically, our team at HHC intends to decrease our carbon emissions, energy and water consumption by 20 percent by 2027, using 2017 as a baseline. After exceeding our 10-year goals only three years later, in part due to the pandemic, our sustainability strategies were expanded to outline even more proactive approaches for addressing sustainability, natural capital conservation and cultural diversity, equity and inclusion. These efforts were spearheaded by Gautami Palanki, HHC’s Vice President of Sustainability, who has helped advance the company’s commitment to innovative placemaking, design excellence and operational high performance.

Supporting these goals are a series of corporate governance policies and guidelines as well, which include CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge, HHC’s Board Diversity Policy, Anti-Corruption Compliance Policy, Corporate Governance Guidelines and many others. All HHC employees have access to free, online ESG focused education through our partnerships with, the US. Green Building Council, Urban Land Institute, NAREIT and other organizations. Team members also have access to training in sustainable development and green buildings; this complements our portfolio’s existing LEED-certified and ENERGY Star certified properties, in addition to numerous realty and property awards.

Turning Plans into Action

Our efforts are regularly sustained by routine audits of building systems, upgrades and occupant preferences. These processes allow our properties to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions at a steady rate, aligning with evolving tenant preferences and including actionable steps. These include installing lighting retrofits to reduce energy consumption, implementing data collection software for streamlined processes and analytics, undertaking additional energy and water efficiency projects, expanding waste management programs, verifying that green buildings are meeting performance targets and engaging with community and residents to update policies accordingly. Periodic newsletters, awareness campaigns and workshops facilitate a constant feedback loop between HHC and the people in our buildings and communities.

From an environmental standpoint, our MPCs are distributed throughout the country and are ecologically diverse. Our Summerlin MPC is an ideal case study of an arid region, how HHC-operated MPCs are able to deliver on ESG policies and strategically implement them into existing designs. This 22,500-acre MPC with 115,000 residents is located in a desert landscape, providing unique opportunities to lessen our carbon footprint by implementing new technologies and programs. Recently, these have included our work with Paiute tribe leaders to preserve and protect historic Native American rock art and becoming the first community to implement a strict Water Smart conservation program while replacing turf landscapes with desert-friendly native plant materials and integrating existing topography into the MPC’s design. HHC is consistently working to achieve such goals across our portfolio and integrate best practices throughout all of our properties and developments.

Striving for Consistent Progress

Maintaining a sustainable approach to development is at the heart of what we do—it is our commitment to our stakeholders, to our communities, and to the world in which we live. This sense of responsibility has guided the growth of our master planned communities for many decades—long before the principles of environmental, social, and corporate governance fostered the global movement known as ESG. HHC’s legacy is our proven track record of long-term development which embodies our profound respect for conservation and inclusive communities. The UN’s Agenda for Sustainability and the 17 SDGs that it embodies are indicative of this view, and our team has proudly looked to these as sources of guidance and inspiration when forming our own internal policies.

By continuing to evaluate and reevaluate where our priorities lie in terms of pursuing sustainable operations and implementing forward-facing strategies, both HHC and other leaders in the real estate industry can build and improve upon our green building and industry practices, allowing us all to maximize and accelerate the environmental performance of the built environment on a global scale.

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