Creating Resilience

Sustainability Leadership: How Life Sciences Companies Are Evolving to Meet Green Targets

July 26, 2022 5 Minute Read

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CBRE’s Life Sciences Sector hosted a FOCUS Forum on “Sustainability Leadership: How life sciences organizations are changing their culture and decision-making to meet sustainability targets.” Clients and CBRE professionals attended the virtual event, where experts shared best practices and solutions to identify and establish strategies to meet sustainability goals. 

Key actions recommended to drive sustainability include:

  • Ensure sustainability planning is moved up earlier in the project timeline. Don’t pledge without a plan.
  • Work with consultants and design firms to make new construction projects more efficient. Seek advice on how to become more sustainable based on the embedded carbon in materials being chosen. 
  • Pilot decision-making around sustainability with regional suppliers and then roll out the best practices globally. 
  • Develop an efficient return-to-office strategy. When planning lease renewals, work with local teams to measure space use and adjust footprint. As needed, idle facilities or bring in subtenants to help offset facility OpEx. This strategy should be front and center in the C-suite executives’ decision making. 
  • Set check-ins around projects, similar to value engineering. Incorporate sustainability elements throughout the plans and set targets in the beginning of projects to ensure that metrics are being hit along the way. 

Life Sciences Trends & Insights

Rob Behrns, CBRE’s Global Energy Transformation Lead, covered recent trends and industry insights, noting CBRE benchmarking has found that more than 75% of life sciences companies have announced science-based carbon-reduction targets. Additionally, the life sciences sector is 10-15 percentage points ahead of other sectors in establishing strong carbon reduction goals. Life sciences organizations are seeing a shift beyond simply using less electricity to looking more holistically at environmental conservation, reevaluating everything from how they use water in manufacturing processes to supporting the built environment. Advanced heat recovery and electrification opportunities are common across life sciences space types and complement sustainable product design.

Further, the life sciences sector is seeing a shift in thinking from traditional energy management to a long-term decision-making paradigm centered around decarbonization. Decarbonization moves us from a model driven by OpEx savings to a model driven by CO2e-reduction priorities. To fully decarbonize companies need to do more than reduce; they need to nearly or entirely eliminate carbon. Life sciences companies must change the way they think about investment and payback to reflect diminishing marginal economic returns on avoided carbon—moving organizations from a 3-5-year decision-making horizon, to a 10-20-year decision-making horizon.

New Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed reporting requirements underscore the need for stringent and transparent reporting criteria that publicly showcase the organization’s emissions footprint, progress toward publicly stated goals and understanding of their own climate risk. All these factors are included in the shift from traditional energy management to decarbonization, which is a top priority of the C-suite as part of their sustainability strategy.

Sustainability Priorities Across Real Estate and Facilities:

Data from the event’s live polling indicate that many clients have new expectations around reporting and must provide better data. Clients also report a mandate to influence and drive sustainability strategy within their organization.

How is your organization placing sustainability at the core of real estate and facilities?


Clients shared insightful actions their organizations are taking to prioritize sustainability in a more visible way, including:

  • Building out biodiversity projects to restore animal life and water and return nature close to its original state.
  • Building out a new global HQ with LEED certifications and incorporating LEED into their overall portfolio of leased space.
  • Unifying separate sustainability programs, including Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) carbon reduction plans, Utility Risk Mitigation Programs to buy renewable energy certificates (or geos in Europe) and virtual power purchase agreement strategies. Tying science-based target reduction goals to EHS helped one company advance a large VPPA wind and solar strategy. Capital projects including electrification for new buildings helped to develop a sustainability fund for key projects and strategies. Creating awareness internally is key to ensuring that sustainability funds are well known within the organization and set up for success.
  • Joining Green Lease Leaders, a national recognition program honoring landlords, tenants and partnering real estate practitioners from a variety of sectors that incorporate green leasing to drive high-performance and healthy buildings.

Data Accuracy Is a Challenge

Clients identify the need for high-quality environmental data as a significant challenge to sustainability. Specifically, occupiers struggle to get consumption data for gross leases, especially in multi-tenant situations. Life sciences companies must work closely with landlords and energy providers to report timely and robust data to increase the accuracy of GHG inventories and subsequent public disclosures. Sustainability data management is not always straightforward, although some pilots of metering upgrades have been successful. One client developed an in-house set of data analytics and dashboards that combine information from various sources to move from lagging data and indicators to leading data and indicators. They found significant invoicing errors and were able to correct the data.

Sustainability’s Impact on Decision Making

Data from the event’s live poll show that real estate footprint and return-to-office plans have the greatest impact on sustainability decision-making.

How is sustainability changing your decision-making?

The FOCUS Forum event poll surveyed 33 attendees from 10 companies.

CBRE and other companies have set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. To drive change efficiently, sustainability leaders need to ensure they act early to impact investments decisions. Proactive steps include changing design parameters to emphasize sustainable design of new buildings.

How CBRE Is Supporting Clients With Sustainability Data, Strategy and Decision-Making

CBRE believes sustainability and environmental stewardship is core to real estate and facilities services, and our solutions globally help clients meet their public commitments. Our services and solutions can be categorized into three key areas that impact organizational sustainability goals: Energy & Emissions Reduction, Circular Economy & Resource Conservation and Sustainability Performance & Insights. These three case studies highlight the breadth and depth of our programs:

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