The team at GI Quo Vadis, a Montreal-based ESG impact, real estate developer and Quebec’s first B Corp, takes waste reduction seriously. So seriously in fact, that they mandated recycling in their leases — and installed cameras in their waste room to make sure tenants were complying.
“We ended up putting video cameras in our waste room so that if people put it in the wrong place, they’d actually be in default of their lease,” said Natalie Voland, President of GI Quo Vadis, with a laugh.
“Initially people thought I was crazy…they said, ‘You’re psycho! You’re going to lose your tenants.’ [But] the more ‘psycho’ we became, the more the tenants were like, ‘Oh, okay — this is kind of cool’,” she said.
It’s these sorts of initiatives — those that run counter to the popular real estate industry’s ‘good business’ practices — that have set GI Quo Vadis apart from their competitors. And it’s these kind of initiatives, said Voland, that have lessened their buildings’ environmental footprint while positively impacting the company’s bottom line.
The organization’s sustainable vision, and efforts to consciously retrofit historically relevant buildings, won GI Quo Vadis the 2021 Clean50 Community Champion award from Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB).
“GI Quo Vadis has an incredible way of thinking outside the box to build greener establishments,” said Vince Gasparro, Managing Director of Corporate Development & Clean Energy at VCIB. “It’s really encouraging to see real estate developers take such an active role in sustainability, enough to become wardens of the environment.”
Today, GI Quo Vadis has a portfolio of properties that span over 1.5 million square feet and support over 500 tenants. And despite the pandemic, their properties are 100% leased.
Saying no to waste, and yes to values-aligned tenants
GI Quo Vadis’ environmental journey first began with the question of demolition.
“Tenants would bring in their architects and they would rip everything down in the space and then rebuild it again — only to have a wall rebuilt but four feet to the left,” said Voland.
The demolition was expensive, disruptive and bad for the environment. “We started saying no to some of these architects,” said Voland. Tenants adjusted to the new normal and started improving their practices — no more walls being moved four feet to the left, but being redesigned for the tenants’ needs while considering the environmental footprint.
The success of this tweak encouraged the GI Quo Vadis team to keep doing more.
First, they started foreboding tenants from storing toxic materials in the buildings, and required that all tenants compost — a commercial rarity at the time.
“Years ago, we started having very different procurement policies for the construction industry. We changed our leases to reflect the fact that we did not want people to pollute in our buildings,” she said.
Based on the advocacy of one of their tenants, GI Quo Vadis then erected beehives in each of their buildings. The motivation was simple, explained Voland: “Our realm of influence is over our suppliers and our tenants. [And] we have 1.5 million square feet of property.”
These changes have been good for the environment, but they’ve been equally good for business.
“People choose to come into our portfolio because of who we are”
For the GI Quo Vadis team, environmental sustainability has positively differentiated them from their competitors.
For one, it’s drawn together a community of values-aligned tenants.
“A lot of international public companies, many that come from Europe, have to showcase and document their [environmental, social, and governance] policies,” said Voland. “These companies are coming specifically to us because they can prove that we are a B Corp, which counts for their investors.”
Several of GI Quo Vadis’ ‘green’ changes have also had material savings. Forbidding that tenants store toxic products, for one, has reduced their buildings’ insurance fees. In addition, improving the tenants’ recycling has generated savings on waste removal costs.
Pushing the envelope and leaving a carbon-neutral legacy
For Voland, what drives her firm’s environmental stewardship is obvious.
“It’s pretty simple, I have two daughters and I don’t want them to inherit what we inherited from previous generations,” she said. “I want to show them that they don’t have to decide between money, social wellbeing, and environmental stewardship.”
To this end, GI Quo Vadis is going carbon neutral this year — making a shift to become even more closely aligned with their values.
“It’s not just amazing environmental consultants who should do this work,” said Voland of their pursuit of sustainability. “I think all businesses should do this work. And we don’t think that real estate should be excluded from that.”
At VCIB we offer specialized lending for multiple energy efficiency retrofit projects and renewable energy solutions. If you’re seeking funding for your clean energy project, learn more about VCIB’s offerings by visiting our Clean Energy site, or directly to discuss opportunities.