By Green Building Initiative and Solar Landscape
From the October 2022 Issue
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives are becoming increasingly popular with both the investment and development communities. The investor community strongly supports funding organizations that prioritize proven success in ESG measures, and developers know that transparent ESG efforts can help properties stand out to both buyers and tenants.
The generation and use of solar energy is one powerful way for organizations to contribute to their ESG goals. Solar energy is sustainable, clean, and effective, and, once installed, solar arrays passively generate clean electricity with minimal maintenance.
Historically, large-scale solar has required a significant investment of both capital and space.
Community solar is changing that by leveraging government programs to incentivize large-scale solar applications. Solar Landscape, a New Jersey-based solar developer, owner and operator, is one company taking community solar to the next level by leveraging existing commercial rooftop space to bring solar energy (and the associated energy cost savings) to marginalized communities.
The Green Building Initiative (GBI), an international nonprofit dedicated to reducing climate impacts by improving the built environment, administers the Green Globes certification, which incentivizes solar and renewable energy initiatives. Community solar can help meet both “E” and “S” goals in an ESG initiative by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and benefiting the surrounding community.
Community And ESG Initiatives
The U.S. Department of Energy defines community solar as any solar project or purchasing program with benefits that apply to multiple customers in the geographic area, including individuals, businesses, nonprofits and other groups.
The basic process for a community solar program is simple:
- Solar panels are installed at community solar projects throughout the state
- The panels send electricity to the grid
- Subscribers automatically receive savings on their energy bills
Community solar is non-invasive for the community and low-risk for corporations interested in or already working toward achieving ESG goals. These organizations can drive sustainable social change and make a positive impact on the surrounding community by simply installing a rooftop community solar project.
“Historically, sustainability efforts—including solar—have been unattainable for marginalized communities,” explains Felix Aguayo, Vice President of Strategic Development at Solar Landscape. “Commercial property owners can decrease impacts and meet ESG goals with rooftop community solar. This work mitigates environmental impacts associated with the built environment and delivers electricity cost savings directly to the low and middle-income communities nearby.”
Developing new properties or improving existing buildings with community solar not only addresses the social components of a company’s ESG initiative, but also presents a massive benefit for property owners; solar initiatives like this generate revenue, in effect creating a rooftop “tenant.”
GBI’s Green Globes certification program is a comprehensive, science-based building rating system that supports both new construction and existing commercial and multifamily real estate.
“Adding a 5MW array to a warehouse roof has significant economic value to all stakeholders,” continues Aguayo. “Facility owners receive rental income for unused roof space and local residential subscribers on average save about $200 per household per year. Multiply that by the 1,000 residential subscribers equates to $200,000 in annual savings that can be put right back into the community. The local economic impact is powerful, and commercial property owners have the chance to be right at the center of it.”
Leading commercial real estate owners and real estate investment trusts often promote their involvement in community solar in their ESG reports and other public-facing materials; Duke Realty’s community solar project in New Jersey was named “Community Solar Project of the Year” by Solar Builder magazine, which they then announced in a press release and featured in their most recent ESG report.
Community Solar And Green Building Certification
Measurement and reporting are critical parts of any ESG strategy. Investors, leadership, customers, and the local community want to quantify the impact of initiatives like rooftop solar. Achieving a third-party green building certification is an excellent way to earn recognition for and promote the inclusion of community solar on a warehouse rooftop.
GBI’s Green Globes certification program is a comprehensive, science-based building rating system that supports both new construction and existing commercial and multifamily real estate. Energy efficiency, usage, and sources are evaluated under the most heavily-weighted Environmental Assessment Area, due to their sustainability impact. A large-scale rooftop community solar array drives clean energy equity and savings for the community, which can translate to high marks on both an ESG report and Green Globes certification.
“Global businesses are making public commitments to achieve net-zero emissions, and they’re looking to the built environment to lead the charge,” says Vicki Worden, Green Building Initiative CEO. “Pursuing a green building certification demonstrates a strong commitment to ESG practices and can help building owners attract and retain personnel and tenants, generate favorable publicity, and create value for stakeholders. Implementing a community solar project and achieving Green Globes certification are parts of a holistic sustainability strategy.”
Towards A Greener Future
In terms of ESG, community solar can help companies meet both environmental and social goals, providing green energy and elevating a company’s standing in the community by sharing the benefits and cost savings associated with solar energy. Both Green Globes certification and community solar aim to increase access to sustainable, healthy, and resilient buildings.
The clean energy transition is here, and it’s happening in communities across the world. With community solar, companies and communities work together to move toward a more sustainable future, making tangible efforts to ensure clean energy is accessible to all.
Green Building Initiative can help building owners or developers with comprehensive ESG planning, including solar and renewable energy options.
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