Owen Thomas, through the family foundation he established with his wife, Jennifer, has made a substantial donation to the ULI Foundation to combat climate change, which will also further position ULI as a globally renowned authority on mitigating emissions in the built environment.
Thomas has committed $1 million to create the Net Zero Imperative (NZI), a major ULI initiative that will involve assembling Advisory Services panels and technical assistance panels (TAPs) to advise building owners of all categories and their local governments on decarbonization strategies for the built environment. The donation—which has already catalyzed other gifts to support NZI—is expected to support as many as six panels per year for at least five years.
Real estate is responsible for 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 70 percent of emissions in cities. NZI seeks to provide a road map to decision-makers and policymakers on how to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the built environment. Panelists will be working with building owners and communities at various stages of their decarbonization effort, including those just starting to decarbonize and those with efforts underway. The panel recommendations for decarbonization will be curated and aggregated, and reference materials will be made publicly available to encourage the broadest possible sharing among building owners and communities worldwide, ultimately expanding the reach and impact of the initiative.
The program will be administered by ULI’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance, whose members have committed to reducing carbon intensity by 50 percent from a 2009 baseline and achieving operational net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. ULI plans to set an industrywide goal through the initiative that is aligned with Greenprint’s goals.
“We are extremely grateful for this generous gift from Owen and his family,” says W. Edward Walter, ULI global chief executive officer. “This initiative will address one of the most pressing urban concerns—climate change—by leveraging one of ULI’s most effective, solution-oriented services and by building on our success in reducing the real estate industry’s carbon footprint.”
The ULI Foundation is currently in the quiet phase of its $100 million “Our Cities, Our Future” capital campaign. Using decarbonization strategies to reach net-zero emissions is one of the campaign’s three key areas of focus, along with attainable housing and diversity, equity, and inclusion. The gift from Thomas and his family reflects one of his top priorities—increasing sustainability throughout the built environment, with a particular emphasis on mitigating climate change.
“We are delighted that Owen is pursuing his commitment to sustainability with a gift to the ULI Foundation,” says Douglas Abbey, ULI Foundation campaign co-chair. “His generosity has encouraged other ULI leaders to join him in this effort, including Joe Azrack, Dan Cashdan, and Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld. Through these gifts, ULI can help cities create a more sustainable future for generations to come.”
Thomas, who is on the Foundation Board of Directors and is a member of the Foundation’s Charles Fraser Society, is chief executive officer of Boston Properties in New York City. Under his leadership, the company has become a world leader on climate change mitigation, sustainable development, and environmental stewardship. Thomas recently spoke with Urban Land about the role of real estate in climate change mitigation and the importance of ULI’s leadership on the issue. His interview will be available in the Fall issue of Urban Land magazine.
by TRISH RIGGS, a public relations consultant and freelance writer with Keadle-Riggs Communications, was a senior vice president with ULI from 2005 to 2019.