WashREIT, which owns approximately 8,000 apartments in the Washington, D.C., metro area and the Southeast, is making strides in strengthening its sustainability efforts across its portfolio. The owner has achieved certification for eight multifamily communities under BREEAM’s In-Use standard. This marks the first U.S. multifamily assets to be certified under BREEAM, a leading sustainability assessment method developed by BRE Group.
According to WashREIT, it turned to the guidance provided through the BREEAM certification process to bring the eight communities that it had acquired in 2019 to its sustainable standard, with half the assets earning a rating of “very good.” The eight communities, most of which are at least 30 years old—comprise 2,390 units in Maryland and Virginia. They include Assembly Alexandria, Assembly Dulles, Assembly Germantown, Assembly Herndon, Assembly Leesburg, Assembly Manassas, Assembly Watkins Mill, and Cascade Landmark.
“We’re focused on existing Class B assets, and, historically, this asset class has lacked in sustainability investments. But residents and investors alike care about sustainability,” said Paul McDermott, president and CEO of WashREIT. “As we work with BREEAM, our goal is to create opportunities for the industry and other operators to also find ways to invest in sustainable improvements to achieve environmental, social, and governance (ESG) certifications for their assets.”
Last year, WashREIT expanded its Green Bond Framework, setting aside $350 million in capital for eligible green projects. It was through this bond that the eight certifications were funded.
WashREIT selected BREEAM based on its rigorous certification process and the return on investment offered to both multifamily and older facilities. According to the multifamily owner, the certification process helped it identify short- and long-term improvement areas to build a systematic road map to meet its sustainability goals.
The short-term improvements included HVAC upgrades and LED retrofits as well as new policies and procedures around nontraditional recycling for items such as electronics. For the long term, WashREIT is working toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in line with ULI Greenprint. According to the owner, BREEAM is one of the tools it is using to identify improvement opportunities in its portfolio of existing buildings.
The multifamily owner is in the process of pursuing certifications for additional assets across its portfolio, leveraging BREEAM to standardize sustainable operations across both existing properties and future acquisitions.
“Real estate is ripe with opportunities for sustainable improvements, and we’re proud to be working with WashREIT to demonstrate how these opportunities can be leveraged in the multifamily sector, as well as across the industry at large via green financing options,” said Breana Wheeler, U.S. director of operations at BRE, which delivers rigorous products, services, standards, and qualifications used around the globe to make buildings better for people and the environment. “In recent years, we have seen a significant demand for owners and operators to improve their ESG performance, and in that time WashREIT has exerted a conscientious and ultimately successful effort to exemplify its own commitment to measure its performance and report against external sustainable standards across its portfolio. Moving forward, the implementation of a holistic, science-based approach to building performance will prove crucial for the success of any asset, and we see this as the first of many partnerships with REITs and the entirety of the real estate sector.”
WashREIT added that it is hoping to help other multifamily owners see that BREEAM certification is attainable and that existing assets can meet a high bar for sustainability.
“What has made the biggest difference for our team—and what we hope others can learn with BREEAM—is the implementation of sustainable thinking into our everyday workflow and processes, whether it’s routine maintenance or unit upgrades,” said McDermott. “Furthermore, BREEAM can also be an incredibly useful tool for benchmarking and gap analysis, regardless of whether a property intends to pursue third-party assessment and certification.”
The certification process for the WashREIT communities was led by independent third-party assessor UL.