Simon owns 191 million square feet of retail shopping mall space across North America and Asia, and Mona Benisi oversees every square inch. It’s her job, as the vice president of corporate sustainability, to consider how each of the 200-odd malls, mills and premium outlets can lower their impact on the environment. It’s a lofty goal, and Benisi uses every tool in her arsenal to achieve it — from educating customers on the true environmental cost of online shopping, to empowering employees to contribute to sustainability strategy.
Sparkfund: Tell us about your role and responsibilities at Simon, the biggest U.S. mall owner and operator?
Mona Benisi: As head of sustainability, I am responsible for developing Simon's sustainability strategy, including setting the company's sustainability focus areas, key performance indicators and leading execution of those initiatives across Simon's portfolio. Our sustainability initiatives consider all of Simon's existing properties as well as the new developments. In my role, I drive sustainability by creating partnerships, closely collaborating with key corporate functions, and levering our onsite teams to get the work done. Over the last few years, some of the sustainability initiatives I have advanced include scaling energy efficiency projects, piloting renewable energy and battery storage, improving recycling, and driving water conservation measures throughout the portfolio.
Simon completed a study comparing the environmental impact of mall and online shopping. What were the results?
Results highlighted that online shopping has a 7% larger negative environmental impact than mall shopping if shoppers purchased the same number of products via a brick-and-mortar mall as online.
The white paper identified the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with mall and online shopping and established that the choices customers make regarding how they buy products and how they utilize product return options have clear impacts on the environment. In either shopping experience, the main contributors that affect the level of GHG emissions include transportation fuels, building energy usage and packaging differences.
What is the average employee’s role in achieving Simon’s sustainability goals?
Sustainability starts with passionate employees, and I am very proud of Simon employees at our more than 200 shopping centers and corporate offices. They ultimately execute the initiatives and find new opportunities to make our properties better on a daily basis!
What's a best practice that a small organization without a sustainability team can implement?
I recommend starting by looking for low-hanging fruit that can improve net operating income by reducing expenses or increasing revenue. For example, think of switching out your light bulbs to LED or making use of roof space to install solar panels that create a new revenue stream. Finally, a general rule I like to say: think big, start small and scale really fast. Scaling is key to making an impact!
What’s one professional lesson you’ve learned the hard way?
It doesn't matter how great you think your ideas are, you need to come up with solutions that solve business problems. Also, as a sustainability professional, you need to remember that ultimately you're a change agent; you need to identify key stakeholders and continuously sell your ideas to them. The right timing and clear communication are key to getting both executive buy-in and engagement from field employees.
How do you start your day? What’s your morning routine?
I believe how you start your day impacts the rest of your day, so I like to start it with something positive like listening to an inspiring podcast during my commute to work. When I arrive in my office, I make a list of tasks that I want to achieve throughout the day and set myself a certain amount of time to get those tasks done so I stay efficient.