Industries across sectors are mobilizing around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), responding to an urgent call to action for urban development to recognize the ties between human health, environmental sustainability, and socioeconomic equity. The real estate industry has begun to align with this integrated approach by leveraging strategies that minimize environmental impact while also supporting individual and community health. We’ve seen the benefits of investing in these strategies, such as increased employee retention, productivity and engagement, and reduced spending on line items such as energy costs and employee healthcare.1, 2
Real estate also has a crucial leading role to play in addressing the third challenge underlying the SDGs: socioeconomic equity. Just as we’ve seen with environmental sustainability and human health, investing in socioeconomic inclusion can also support ESG reporting, tenant and employee retention and well-being, and benefits for the bottom line – while contributing to the global goals of ending poverty (SDG 1), achieving gender equality (SDG 5) and reducing inequality (SDG 10).
Key players in urban investment are already signaling that supporting social equity comes with financial returns. The Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group (UIG) has committed more than $7 billion USD to underserved urban neighborhoods in the U.S., primarily through the development of affordable housing but also of schools, retail and commercial space, catalyzing revitalization that empowers communities, creates jobs and promotes long-term economic growth. “You can invest in underserved communities, do it in a way that generates an impact and do it in a way that’s profitable,” says Margaret Chinwe Anadu, head of UIG.3, 4 Calvert Impact Capital has invested over $50 million in affordable housing with strong financial returns – demonstrating that, as stated by Enterprise Community Partners, “Investors have recognized the economic benefits of investing in affordable housing, including reduced volatility, lower risk, predictable underwriting and reliable returns, in addition to the social returns of stronger, healthier, more economically mobile communities.”5, 7 Morgan Stanley’s Investing with Impact Platform has committed $8.72 trillion since 2012 focused on “products that seek attractive returns while benefitting society.”6
Developers are beginning to recognize that “triple bottom line” investments can equate to buildings that are beautiful, innovative and profitable while meeting the needs of individuals with diverse needs and lifestyles. JMF Properties carefully selected Maplewood, New Jersey, as the location for its new CLARUS multi-use development, a WELL Multifamily Residential Certified Gold project that will foster a “healthier lifestyle experience” for tenants through WELL design and “enhance the communities in which it is active” by attracting new tenants that will enable economic growth in the neighborhood. In the Bronx, New York, the Morristown affordable housing development will provide healthy, sustainable housing for moderate- to low-income families by achieving both WELL Multifamily Residential and LEED Certification. These types of projects recognize that making integrated, well-designed spaces accessible for people of all backgrounds is an investment in collective long-term upward economic mobility that can ultimately generate long-term, stable returns.8
Alongside our WELL projects and partners, the WELL Building Standard is continually evolving, and with that comes even greater alignment with the SDGs, promoting social inclusion at the core of design and operations to offer owners, investors and developers a framework through which to achieve tenant and employee health outcomes, returns on investment and comprehensive, inclusive growth in the wider community. A new WELL beta feature promotes the incorporation of affordable housing units, while other features encourage the provision of free community spaces and programming or allocated time for voting and volunteering. Thoughtful incorporation of accessible and universal design alongside inclusive design, such as gender neutral bathrooms or new mothers’ rooms, can build a community in which people of diverse needs and abilities can safely and easily access, utilize and engage with the places and spaces around them. Including local tenants, residents and other stakeholders in design, planning and decision-making processes – and measuring their experience through surveys and other feedback channels – can also help ensure projects actually meet the needs of the community and therefore promote long-term growth and returns. Adapting to the needs of our global community requires a flexible and holistic approach, and WELL is constantly evolving to help projects address the nuanced challenges of collective social and economic well-being alongside physical and mental health.
We’ve been excited to see the real estate industry establish itself as a leader at the crux of environmental sustainability and human health. Now the industry has the opportunity to up its contributions to triple bottom line impact on a global scale. Real estate and other companies that fully align with the SDGs and drive investment in broader socioeconomic equity will be well-positioned to benefit the most from long-term returns for the people within their buildings, their bottom lines and communities around the world.
This article was written by Rose Winer, Director, Standard Development at International WELL Building Institute (IWBI).
- Baicker K, Cutler D, Song Z. Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Aff. 2010;29(2):304-311. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0626.
- World Health Organization. Workplace health promotion. http://www.who.int/occupational_health/topics/workplace/en/. Published 2010.
- Mirabella, L. (2017, September 13). Goldman Sachs invests $233 million in Port Covington. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from https://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-port-covington-partner-20170913-story.html.
- ‘You can have social impact and profit at the same time’: Goldman Sachs executive. Yahoo Finance. Retrieved from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/goldman-sachs-executive-you-can-have-social-impact-and-profit-at-the-same-time-211930804.html
- Godschalk, Catherine. (2018, April 24). Dear Impact Investors: Consider Affordable Housing. Calvert Impact Capital. Retrieved from https://www.calvertimpactcapital.org/blog/773-impact-investing-affordable-housing.
- Morgan Stanley. Investing with impact. https://www.morganstanley.com/auth/content/dam/msdotcom/en/assets/pdfs/articles/investing-with-impact.pdf. Published 2018.
- Enterprise Closes $110 Million Equity Fund to Preserve Thousands of Affordable Homes While Delivering Competitive Returns. Enterprise Community Partners. Retrieved from https://www.enterprisecommunity.org/news-and-events/news-releases/fund-preserve-thousands-affordable-homes-closes-new-investment
- Lorin, Eddie. How You Can Help Fix America’s Affordable Housing Crisis (And Earn Returns In The Process). Forbes Real Estate Council Post. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesrealestatecouncil/2018/04/16/how-you-can-help-fix-americas-affordable-housing-crisis-and-earn-returns-in-the-process/#504b44413228.