By Brett Merz, senior vice president, asset management, KBS Realty Advisors
The demand for office properties with amenities that reflect an awareness of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles is growing as a result of younger generations joining the workforce and investing.
A recent study by CNBC Make It found that one-third of millennials in the United States place a high focus on investment products with ESG factors. This tendency naturally extends to the places where they work.
In fact, 47 percent of 18- to-34-year-olds in the United Kingdom say they would look for a new role if they thought their employer was not committed to the cause. This finding demonstrates that ESG is becoming an essential part of recruitment and retention — particularly among younger workers. Since millennials and gen Zers make up the majority of today’s workforce, ESG is becoming a rising concern among office owners.
In the growing markets of Dallas and Austin, businesses are now seeking office spaces that offer eco-friendly features to help attract and retain employees. As a large investor in top-tier commercial real estate, KBS has seen how these amenities can benefit office investors. This is one of the reasons we created an in-house “Green Team” to enhance our sustainability initiatives.
Here are some of the ESG-focused amenities we have observed being driven by the younger generations in Texas’ current office environment.
Sustainable Building Systems
Many young workers are drawn to companies whose office spaces feature amenities that reduce their carbon footprints and help conserve natural resources.
In addition to LEED-certified and ENERGY STAR-rated properties that are built to eco-friendly standards, these employees are seeking amenities that decrease electricity and water use. These features might include maximized natural lighting, sensors that adjust temperature control and lighting according to occupancy, low-flow sinks and toilets and integrated energy management systems.
Along with these amenities, buildings that promote healthy indoor air through advanced filtration systems are especially attractive to millennial and gen Z employees and investors.
In 2022, KBS completed the verification of more than 14 million square feet of Class A office space across its real estate portfolio, achieving the UL Verified Healthy Building Mark for Indoor Air. Among our Class A, Texas-based properties that received this verification were:
- City View, a 10-story office building in San Antonio
- 3811 Turtle Creek, a 300,961 square-foot property in Dallas
- 1800 Bering, a 171,510 square-foot property in Houston
In addition, 515 Congress Ave., a 263,058-square-foot office tower in Austin, not only achieved the UL verification for Healthy Building Indoor Air but also the the UL Healthy Building verification for Water.
Office buildings located near public transportation lines and within walking distance of shopping, dining and daily-needs retail align well with ESG initiatives for reducing carbon emissions through fossil fuels. Younger employees are especially interested in working at office properties that promote sustainable transportation and commuting options.
Centrally located properties are integral to KBS’ investment strategy, which is why many of the premier assets in our Texas portfolio are situated near rail and bus routes, as well as within easy access of major roadways. Examples of these properties include:
- Fountainhead Tower, a 10-story office tower in San Antonio
- Providence Towers, a 524,143 square-foot office building in Dallas
- Tower 909, a 374,251 square-foot office tower in Irving located directly across the street from a Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) station.
Electric car charging stations are another transportation-oriented amenity finding favor among the next-gen workforce. Several of our Texas properties feature this amenity, including Legacy Town Center, a 522,043 square-foot office complex in Plano, and Sterling Plaza, a 313,609 square-foot office tower in Dallas.
Health & Wellness
Amenities that enhance well-being are becoming increasingly popular among young workers. This trend, which had begun before the pandemic, has accelerated considerably over the last three years.
Automated and touchless building mechanisms and sophisticated HVAC and bipolar ionization systems that can sanitize indoor air more effectively are essentially prerequisites to healthy office occupancy in the post-pandemic world. In addition, some of the health and wellness amenities that are growing in demand at office properties are onsite fitness centers, wellness and rooftop gardens, WiFi-enabled outdoor areas, healthy food and drink options and access to community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) programs.
Many of our properties in markets where people bike to work, like 515 Congress Ave., offer bike storage to help tenants accommodate this healthy lifestyle choice among their employees. As millennial and gen Z workers continue to seek health and wellness amenities at their places of employment, savvy office stakeholders will explore new ways to implement them at their properties.
Philanthropic and socially focused programs are becoming more prominent at office properties, driven by next-gen workers.
Tenant activations are a great way to get people involved. For example, at Preston Commons, food drives, Christmas gift drives and other forms of connecting with the community are ramping up at office assets in Texas as well as throughout the country.
As millennials and gen Z make up a larger share of the workforce, they are increasingly focusing on ESG amenities at the office buildings where they work. By offering sustainable building systems and transportation options, as well as health and wellness and community-focused amenities, office stakeholders can distinguish their properties and attract investors and top tenants in the Texas markets.
Brett Merz is a senior vice president and asset manager for KBS, one of the largest investors of premier commercial real estate in the nation. KBS is a private equity real estate company and an SEC-registered investment adviser. SEC registration as an investment advisor does not imply any particular level of skill or training.