Ron Becker, SVP of Operations and Sustainability at Brandywine

In this episode, we chat with Ron Becker about Brandywine's operational and sustainability initiatives, health and wellness certifications, preparing for the return to the office, ESG and the role that tenant consumption plays, and tech adoption.


Comly Wilson  0:08  

Hi, everyone, welcome to Enertiv’s Fireside Chats. I'm Comly Wilson. I'm really excited to have Ron Becker with me. He's the Senior Vice President of Operations and sustainability at Brandywine realty trust, one of the preeminent office reads and welcome, Ron.

Ron Becker  0:27  

thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it,

Comly Wilson  0:30  

of course. So for those who might not be familiar with with Brandywine, can you give us a little background on the company?

Ron Becker  0:38  

Thank you for the question. Brandywine realty trust is one of the top tier office real estate investment trusts in the country, we have about 24 million square feet predominantly on the East Coast. And then over into Austin. We are known for office buildings, our approach to customer service, and certainly the top tier management approach that we take in all of our buildings as well as our construction.

Comly Wilson  1:06  

So what are Brandywine’s big initiatives for 2021 from an operational and sustainability perspective,

Ron Becker  1:16  

not to be too tongue in cheek, but our first order of business is finding ways of inviting and encouraging our tenant base, to return to our buildings and get people back to work. Frankly, I think from the standpoint of our aggressive approach to IQ, and facility health and wellness, you know, we're very well positioned for that. But we really need to work and help our tenants begin this re occupancy phase. Hopefully, we'll be coming sooner than later now with the rollout of the vaccines. But you know, we're still working diligently to find new and creative ways to entice that commencement sooner rather than later. You know, I mean, this is a really great question. So if we can get away from COVID for a moment, I mean, actually try to do that will be fun, right? I'm really thrilled to answer this question. Because as of the end of 2020. So with our focus now for 2021. We, and through our the release of our inaugural Corporate Social Responsibility report, Brandy White has committed to a 15% reduction in energy, water and GHG by 2025. Wow, this is Yeah, this is benchmarked against the 2018. That's, excuse me 2018 baseline, and really stands as a testament to the company's global pursuit of energy and carbon reductions, as well as our commitment to trash on landfill diversion, for which we were able to achieve a 49.7% diversion, as recorded in our 2020 submission. We're forward. Yeah, thank you. It really is. It was a great, great, obviously, testament to the work that our management teams do. We're also looking forward to breaking ground what looks like probably next month, on our newest squiggle yards edition, which is slated to be LEED Gold and fitwel certified. It's a building that we're going to be incorporating and really taking a shift on office and switching over to lab and science spaces. best in class building operations will include something that's really neat, which is harvesting rainwater for use in our laboratories. Wow.

Comly Wilson  3:26  

A lot of exciting stuff. You guys are busy.

Ron Becker  3:30  

It's definitely gonna be a challenging 21. But I mean, look, counseling, that's what we've dealt with this past year. It's all positive. And it's certainly all aimed at getting people back to work.

Comly Wilson  3:41  

Yeah, yeah, my my mom just got her her first dose of the vaccine today. So

Ron Becker  3:47  


Comly Wilson  3:47  

It's happening. Yeah.

Ron Becker  3:49  

Congratulations. I actually go for mine tomorrow.

Comly Wilson  3:51  

Excellent. Good to hear it. I'm glad to hear it. Great, so So tell me a bit more about those initiatives. Let's let's dive in a little deeper. You know, I know one building that that we're familiar with. Here at Enertiv, the Cira Center has gotten a number of health and wellness certifications. Can you kind of speak to those and what why did you pursue them and what benefits? can you expect now that they're achieved?

Ron Becker  4:24  

Yeah, I'm actually another one I'm thrilled to talk about because Cira Centre has in fact, just become the first building of its kind in Philadelphia, which has achieved the UL verification for IQ. This accomplishment is really focused on prioritizing the health and well being and comfort of the workers and guests, and certainly builds trust around the commitment that we have to all of our building occupants. You know, providing a safe and healthy environment has always been a focus for Brandywine realty trust, and property management teams of course, play a huge role in that you So when the IWC bi, the International well building Institute approached us back in, I think it was in 2017. You know, our team immediately recognized the value of this comprehensive approach to evaluating health and wellness with a program that was based on medical research, scientific evidence, you know, the wall certification lines up really nicely with our approach to design, construction, and operating spaces that work for the people and the occupants. Certainly, the wall certification provides us an independent third party verification. And it really focuses on healthy and productive environment for occupants and everyone to work in. And I think that given what we've all faced this year, there is nothing more top of mind.

Comly Wilson  5:48  

Yeah, couldn't agree more. And, you know, this is a this is a topic that had been kind of bounced around for, you know, probably decades in your experience, but COVID really brought it to the forefront. And at least from our perspective, you know, I don't think it's going away anytime soon, even after the vaccine rollout does kind of hit hit the population broadly. Do you agree there?

Ron Becker  6:13  

I agree. emphatically, yes. I think it's gonna be the new focus. When you think about occupants, it doesn't matter if it's residential, commercial, retail, it just doesn't matter. Everyone's key focus will be, am I healthy? Am I safe? And, you know, preparing for whatever could come? Because we can no longer say this could never happen. Like it has.

Comly Wilson  6:36  

Great, thanks. Thanks, that that, uh, that all makes a lot of sense. And, you know, you guys are clearly on the forefront. Can you can you tell the audience a little bit about how you're preparing for the vaccine rollout, you know, what your expectations are in terms of occupancy and what you're doing to remain flexible to uncertainty in terms of, you know, occupancy and schedules in the coming months. And,

Ron Becker  7:04  

you know, the nice thing about Brandywine is, and the approach that we took from day one that we're really not pivoting on or changing, regardless of vaccination occupancy changes, is that we were doors open and lights on throughout this entire pandemic, what that gave us the ability to do, again, focusing on the fact that a large number of our tenants are central businesses. And that's certainly not a decision that we want to make for them. So we felt it was incumbent upon us to keep our buildings open to keep everything there, ready to go and set for whomever showed up. You know, as we went through this, what we wanted to ensure also was that through the pandemic, and the closures, that our building staff was able to remain at full capacity, that we could keep both our first party and our third party vendors fully employed. We understand we're not the only employer, they might have other issues, unfortunately. But the bottom line is, what more could we do to ensure their safety through the work environment. So again, we were able to keep everyone fully employed. And these folks are the backbone of our in person operation. And we're that through the pandemic, they met and wholly exceeded every expectation we had when it came to customer support, obviously, which is tenant support. We also maintain communications, excuse me, throughout the pandemic, with our tenants and frankly, the responses that we've received to that have been very well received. They highlight the fact that health and wellness will be a primary focus as we as we've discussed, moving forward, and, you know, at least for the foreseeable future, we fill our buildings are uniquely positioned to accommodate. Again, this focus on health and wellness, especially given our proactive approach in increasing our filters to a minimum of a Merv 13 standard, adding MPB epi needlepoint, bipolar ionization to our all of our elevators thus far the FMC tower and now as a national program, we will be rolling that out to all of our own and manage properties to again, achieve that level of customer safety and customer awareness that this is a safer building to be in. You know, that's been a great attempt for us to to welcome them back. None of these practices are really gonna be modified. As I stated earlier, we have always approached our buildings from that health and wellness mindset. So we might tweak some things we might change a little bit here and there as the occupants come back because it's really got to be tested at that point, that level of occupancy coming in, but frankly, we're ready for it. We're ready for these people to come back. We are welcoming them back. We are partnering with groups like SEPTA to get their message out there on the fact that they're transit oriented. You know, the buses, the trains, everything. They've got great air circulation. And they're, they're changing their air every two minutes. We're changing our air constantly through the day, we have a 24, seven operating buildings, we're going to keep that air flowing so that everyone is comfortable with the fact they have clean air. Yeah, of course, we're going to continue to evaluate whatever new approaches may come as they develop. But at this point in time, I think we are head to shoulders above the majority of our competition out there, from the way we've approached this from day one.

Comly Wilson  10:31  

Yeah, and so to to kind of expand on that more than the other side of the coin for this is ESG. And the kind of energy efficiencies and and carbon reductions, waste reductions that you mentioned earlier. Yeah. So, you know, there are these two competing pressures. And it seems like a lot of commercial real estate portfolios have, you know, begun meeting the baseline requirements at this point, but you know, what, what do you think needs to be done to kind of future proof all these efforts and stay ahead of the curve is, as you guys have,

Ron Becker  11:09  

we've certainly been occupying our buildings in a way even though there's not the level of tenancy that was there because of the fact that people were coming in. But we're certainly still running our buildings, right. So we have a mindset of energy reduction, whether or not there are people there or not, that's what our team is looking at. I think that ESG, especially in the realms of E ns, are really finding even more traction, you know, given the rise of the millennial generation, certainly with the new administration that we have. And again, with the millennials taking over the workforce, so with that focus on creating a fair and equitable baseline for the workforce, as well as a true sense of diversity and inclusion, it's now a critical path for most, if not all organizations, but certainly, you know, that mindset is very clear in the publicly traded markets, in terms of environmental, the E of this, you know, couched against the absolute critical need of the planet, to see the reduction of precious resource consumption. You know, in our coastline development, among other things, we're seeing a real focus of all levels on the development and redevelopment of buildings, and retail properties that focuses on efficiency focuses on the resourcefulness, when you think about utility usage, embodied carbon, things like that. landfill avoidance, composting, on site, green generation, I mean, one after the other, all these things are becoming very front and center where they never were before. And the great thing about that is, is that while it's altruistic while it's benefiting are extremely benefiting our planet. Certainly, if businesses know how to utilize it the right way, they can also benefit the business. So there is a positive thing there. So it's very interesting. And most people think, well, it's got to be big organizations and big corporate we book, it doesn't, we need to really get the boutique owners, the small property owners to be involved with us and see that positivity of what can come from it. And certainly, what their their their tenants want their customers, and get them involved in the conversation and bring them to the table. Because without all of us doing this together, it's only going to partially work. And, and frankly, right now we're at that, at that inflection point, this world that we live in, is busting at the seams. And, you know, it's very hard to now find and I think it'll get worse and worse and worse, throughout the world clean potable water, coastal flooding, you know, sea rise, simply flipping a light switch off, or at a certain point become a problem, which is why there's such taxation on the grid, because it's so overworked. California, unfortunately, the bottom line is if change is not made, we will suffer from our own ignorance. And I think that's really where what we're all aiming at. And again, to your point, I think the fact that we've all had a chance to breathe, for lack of a better term through this COVID event. I think everyone's realizing how vital This is to our future.

Comly Wilson  14:15  

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, from where we sit, it seems like half or something of the commercial real estate portfolios out there have have in this breather period, this kind of COVID induced kind of reset period. Half of them have accelerated kind of innovation, tech adoption, and the other half have kind of slammed on the brakes. You guys are clearly in that in that first camp. Why do you think there's that dichotomy does does anything, just being a read have anything to do with it? Is it a Corporate DNA thing. Why do you Why do you think that might be?

Ron Becker  15:04  

I can certainly speak for us that it is absolutely a corporate DNA thing. That is the fact that as well. And we want to leverage the best practices, the best technologies as we operate our buildings, because frankly, we can operate them a little bit better at that point, with that nuance of the learning capacity that it has, as well as those little tweaks that can then run our buildings how much better? You know, frankly, I think that the focus on health and wellness, which has been around for quite some time, will certainly now move to the top of the heap, as we mentioned earlier, in terms of both demand and expectation from every occupant of an office building. I think that'll be coupled with the new technology and a much deeper focus on the role that indoor air quality plays, how you monitor that will be obviously critical in that mission, because I think people will want to know, they don't still want to be told they want to actually see the data, right. And that's why some of these verifications are just so critical. Be at home a 360, which we've got via the UL verification, certainly a fit well, you know, those all function and flow by verification and certification of what's going on. And the best way and easiest way to do that is technology. The bottom line is people want to know and feel that they're safe when they're coming to work, and more so that the firm that owns and manages their buildings is hyper focused on these priorities. But I think for us is that our focus, like I just said, is a part of our DNA, and really brings to light the unique way that Brandywine manages and engages which is with his customers and stakeholders. As it relates to tech adoption, we've always been well down this road. I mean, for years, the interesting thing is that we've been doing these types of things and looking at these technologies and working with what wasn't called them, but is now called ongoing commissioning in the buildings, which was very tech driven. Obviously, we've been doing this since the early 2000s. I would I would venture to say pioneer, but I wouldn't go that far. Without without fact checking behind me. But but certainly we were ahead of the curve. And at this point, really what we're doing is we're trying out and saying, hey, we've actually been doing this for quite some time, we just haven't spoken about it. Because to your point, it's part of our DNA didn't matter if everyone else was doing it wasn't it, it was just important to our buildings to the way we ran our business. And we really see this as an opportunity in a way to communicate with our tenant base, find out what's driving them what they're most concerned about. And making the best business decisions for our buildings, we've got knowledge and hands from being a read as being a breed have something to do with it. I think it really has more to do with the rigorous way we're required to report on these things. And more. So certainly the frameworks of what the market is asking for. Investors are asking for just a true transparency. But if we're thinking about COVID, being a rate, it really didn't matter. I think COVID school, no boundaries. So being a rate didn't offer any protection or safe haven for us. It was how you reacted to it. And while again, a public eye being on you might drive some thought what drives us, what drives us is what's best for our buildings, what's best for our constituents and our stakeholders.

Comly Wilson  18:12  

Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. And, and obviously, you know, tenant consumption plays a huge role in kind of overall energy use. And the technology to get that consumption or or tenant analytics are becoming more prevalent. How are you guys thinking about data from tenants and creating partnerships with with tenants? Oh, god,

Ron Becker  18:39  

it's, it's, it's interesting, right? It's been around for so long, that we've been metering we've been doing, you know, telling the tenants what they've consumed, how they've done that, it's honestly been through our partnership with our team with you guys, that we've really just nailed it. Actually, you got guys nailed it, and we're the benefactors of that. So what is the way your bills are set up? As opposed to being just an invoice? Which is, you know, what an antiseptic for lack of a better term. I mean, there's nothing to it, right? Here's what you're used. you consume the x, you know, this month, that's over why from last month, and you owe me 20 $500, that's great. It means nothing, every time it gets a bill and pay the bill, and you go on from there. But when we think about it, how can we take that to the next level, but you guys have done and we've really seen the value of this, from the social side of partnership, tied back to the E in energy consumption, right? We want our tenants to know what they're using through your invoice, we're able to show them and really create a partnership out of it, how they rank within that building, how much they using, it's not giving out information that other tenants of what they're doing specifically, just where you rank against the group. However, many tenants might be in your building. What options are opportunities, you might have to find reduction in that, that sort of new education for attendance is one that when they get it, they've actually called up and said, This is amazing. You know, we're being asked, because certainly in our buildings where you've got Class A operations, they have their own sustainability goals. So our question generally is, what can we do to help them achieve that, right, so just like a well, core certification, where our tenants can then take the benefit of that to get their own certification, they can take the benefit of this invoice now, and not just pay it, but look at it and see ways for reducing ways to help our building operate better. So hence, the partnership, but certainly, to give them the absolute understanding of here's what you're doing, here's what you can do better. And by the way, the guy across the hall from who's doing it much, much better than me. So let's create some competition and make it fun. Right? And what is that fun yield, yields reduced, reduce consumption of electricity, water, whatever it might be, it certainly gives that opportunity back to us that we didn't otherwise have, which is a tremendous advantage.

Comly Wilson  21:06  

That's great to hear. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know, for you guys have been kind of had the ahead of the curve since the early 2000s. He said, But to this day, a lot of owners and operators say that, you know, evaluating technologies is like trying to drink from a firehose, you know, there's just too many options out there. There's new ones coming out every day. There's a lots with bells and whistles, but it's unclear if anybody will actually use it. Yep. So how do you guys kind of think about technology conceptually? And what advice would you give to any portfolios that are struggling to identify and, and scale adoption?

Ron Becker  21:51  

You know, I think is a great question. And fortunately, unfortunately, one that I've had firsthand experience with, with that 200 psi of water coming out at you from that, you're coming constantly, and there is so much that goes into having to evaluate it, and find the time and take the time to go through it. Because you never know where that one, you know, diamond in the rough is, or that technology or whatever it might be that works best for your company might be, you know, I would say first and foremost, I've been very, very lucky to work with great people in that role in both the CIO and the CTO roles. So that I had, you know, trustworthy people who know, I don't know, convey the tech as well as they do not even remotely close, I know what I needed to do for my building. Certainly, I know what my managers are searching for. But those are the people that really make those best decisions. So while your fire hose analogy is spot on, you know, that is what sort of enables us, at least at this level to temporary event, so that we can truly sit down, look at it, look at you know, the different focuses that we have what whether it's the sensors on the walls and the doors so that we know the occupancy as they're coming in, we can right size, how we're running our maintenance crews, how our BLS or our building, Operating Engineers are running our buildings, you know, we can apply it to demand response. There are so many different technologies out there, what I think you really need to do first is sit down and take one property, I don't care how big your portfolio is take one property and say, What is the best of the best that I could use in this building? That would truly help me through its own, you know, whatever, the technology has helped me run this building better. Because automatically you're building that return on investment. From there, you can expand that out and then say, Okay, well, what would I need for my tenants? what they what might they use? And where would I go from there? And then really, it's sitting down. And once you have that, sort of that, that spec sheet out of what are the top three, four things, it's disseminating what you're being told, it's sitting down, because everyone is just looking to sell you their product. And it's the best and this and that. And frankly, I think the other, you know, backside to that is that backside roll work. The flip side to that is, frankly, I'm part of peer groups. And I think peer groups are just an enormous value, especially in this day and age, there's so much coming out you to have other people that are robbing the same train in the same industry that have evaluated these things going through this maybe even started using some and found the positives and all the negatives. You know, I'm in one for the operation side, which I actually also co chair I'm in sustainability group through may read with the real estate sustainability committee. And that's just a group of people who are doing the same thing who you can push out a question to and say, hey, I've never had any experience with this. What are your thoughts? I think the first step in that is not being embarrassed to say, I'm not sure about this. I don't know this. I run real estate. Yeah, well, tech, help me. Help me. Give me some advice. And I think that's that's key and Also, frankly, it builds great relationships in the industry because those that all comes around, and we all help one another. And I think that's a great way to do it as well.

Comly Wilson  25:09  

And you know that the the data that everyone's capturing and the best practices that they're all putting into these platforms can then be disseminated back to the people you're helping out

Ron Becker  25:22  

without question. And honestly, can really help is also in benchmarking how those can benchmark what you're doing. I mean, if I took every idea I had and only played it against myself, they're all great ideas, right? But when you when you put it out there when you can actually look at it against somebody that's stronger or bigger than your portfolio, maybe they even do it better. And you want to adapt to that. What are they doing? And how can I assimilate? Mm hmm.

Comly Wilson  25:49  

Great, this has been super helpful. And I'm sure our audience will agree is, is there anything else you want to add about brand new one, or the industry or kind of what you're seeing in the in the near or medium future?

Ron Becker  26:04  

I think in the near and immediate future, I think what we're seeing is a lot of trepidation. A lot of companies that are not sure what's going to happen next. And so there's, there's just consternation out there. Frankly, I think we all need to buckle down, stay with what's true, stay with what we know. And frankly, I think that the real estate industry, in and of itself, is going to come out of this much stronger. You know, the real estate industry has always talked about, you know, every eight to 10 years, we have a dip in the market or a major decline in the market. How do we future proof for that? Well, I think we're future proofing for something even worse than just a dip in the financial market right now, given what we're seeing. So I think this is going to allow us as a market to reinvent ourselves to hopefully future proof against both financial and physical or, you know, through pandemics, what could What else could come and how can we be ready for it? And what can we do that makes sense? So that we can keep our tenants employed, working, keep their customers coming to the shopping centers, coming to the office buildings, and really, frankly, just keeping everybody working? I think that's key.

Comly Wilson  27:13  

No doubt about it. Well, thank you so much. Again, this has been Ron Becker. He's the Senior Vice President of Operations and sustainability at Brandywine realty trust. We hope you all enjoyed and we'll be back with another fireside chat very soon. Thanks, everyone

Ron Becker  27:33  

for having me. Great. Really appreciate it. Thanks, Rob. Have a good night.