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Why Corporate Social Responsibility Matters in Commercial Real Estate

Why Corporate Social Responsibility Matters in Commercial Real Estate
The benefits are many; here's how to make sure you and your firm get it right.

By Michele Wheeler | Published in D Magazine Commercial Real Estate

Real estate, at its heart, is about building communities. At the most basic level ,the physical property is the literal foundation of every project. The same can be said of corporate social responsibility, or CSR.

The benefits of such activities are many. CSR has the potential to increase financial performance, attract new customers and investors, engage employees, increase innovation and provide competitive and distinctive business advantages. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 92 percent of the 250 largest companies in the world inform shareholders and the public about their CSR activities, spending almost $20 billion a year.

Moreover, CSR creates brand advocates. Research has also shown that consumers are more likely to do business with a company that embraces sustainable strategies. They’re more likely to buy your services, work with you, and, most important, refer your business to others. These three things alone can increase a company’s resiliency and ensure the probability of long-term survival.

However, having strong CSR  is not just as simple as management making some financial donations or supporting a few professional organizations. CSR should be woven thoughtfully into the fabric of your company. Three ways to engage your teams are:

  • Involve every level of the organization. CSR shouldn’t be limited to management; rather, it should involve everyone in the company. You can even go as far as removing the word “corporate,” as every employee has a social responsibility. The people in your organization are the drivers of your brand’s identity.
  • It’s not just a program—your company needs to live it. If employees are engaged with CSR, your team is one step closer to embedding it into your company’s culture. Start at the top and foster it as part of “who we are,” not “what we do.” Actions speak louder than words. If it’s just a “program,” CSR may not drive the desired results.
  • Don’t mandate it. In a perfect world, every company would choose to act responsibly. CSR should not be forced; instead, it needs to be voluntary and authentic for the right reasons. When commercial real estate professionals inspire others by explaining why the destination is important, people then develop the intrinsic motivation to see the race through to the end.

Companies are putting a greater focus on social change, and several large commercial real estate firms are encouraging their teams to get involved by promoting community service, improving diversity and inclusion and increasing sustainability initiatives.

As an example, at Jackson-Shaw, our “caring culture” is reflective of our own CRS initiatives:

  • Caring for communities. We embrace a keen sense of corporate citizenship towards the communities in which we operate. This includes being a long-time advocate of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, providing matching donations to where an employee wants to donate and giving back through backpack and canned food drives, special events and professional organizations.
  • Caring for each other. We foster a workplace that is kind, nimble and entrepreneurial and promotes the sharing of ideas, interests and passions. This includes a family and pet-friendly culture, a “work hard and play hard” mentality and “working together means winning together” atmosphere.
  • Caring for the environment. We are a steward of the environment through conservation and sustainable practices. This includes energy conservation, disposal practices and other environmentally friendly programs.

These values echo those I learned at a young age. My family was always willing to help others less fortunate and stressed the importance of investing in the future. My philanthropic interests have been a part of my entire life. Serving has ignited a blaze of interest in building and preparing the next generation of leaders throughout the communities I live and work.

In the words of the statesman Sir Winston Churchill, “Responsibility is the price of greatness.” I cannot think of a more thoughtful way to express the value of CSR. Seize every opportunity with self-confidence and emerge triumphantly.

Michele Wheeler is president and chief operating officer of Jackson-Shaw.