Sara Neff may be the face of Kilroy Realty’s impressive sustainability accomplishments — including a commitment to carbon neutral operations by the end of 2020 — but she knows her work is a team sport. Beyond setting goals and formulating company strategy, Neff views a large part of her role as encouraging and recognizing Kilroy employees whose work makes company-wide sustainability possible.
Sparkfund: Explain your role at Kilroy Realty.
Sara Neff: I run our sustainability programs, which span three areas: existing buildings, new development and industry outreach. I’ve been with Kilroy for eight years.
What’s one accomplishment you’re most proud of?
At the Global Climate Action Summit this year, we announced that we are the first North American real estate company to commit to carbon neutral operations by the end of 2020. That’s an accomplishment I am super proud of. Also, this year we’ve been named the No. 1 publicly traded real estate company on sustainability in the world for the first time, and we’ve been the No. 1 office company in North America on sustainability for now five years in a row.
What's a best practice that a small real estate organization without a sustainability team can implement tomorrow?
You are only one person — without the support of other people, you’ll never reach your goals. So, with that in mind, always show gratitude and support. Spend time writing thank you notes for the things your coworkers do, and be grateful to the people who make it happen. People need to feel appreciated.
We did a baseball card campaign for Kilroy’s engineers, for example. Just like a baseball trading card, we made a card with each engineer’s picture and energy or water reduction stats, their certifications, and they really loved it. I kept getting emails from them saying how nice it was to work at a company that appreciate what they do. With their help, we doubled our energy efficiency reduction performance that year, and I think that was because the campaign re-motivated them.
If you had to quit your job tomorrow and couldn’t work in this field anymore, what career would you pursue?
I went to business school with the belief that the fastest way to solve the world’s problems is to align business and finance. So, I would work in a social field, helping cities figure out how to solve civil issues in a way that makes financial sense.
Name one tool you use every day.
Meditation. Also, your best brain is your morning brain, so I make sure to tackle my toughest tasks first thing in the morning. I also create a to-do list when I leave the office every day so the next day I know what to work on. When I get there in the morning, I only work on the to-do list and avoid checking my email for the first 30 minutes. That shocks some people, but nothing in my inbox is truly an emergency, I’m not an ER doctor.
What do you teach your children about sustainability?
They have lots of questions about how to help the Earth and what that means. That’s great, and you can tell kids all sorts of things, but you have to model something for them to adopt it. We have arranged our lives around not having to drive (they walk to school and I bike to work). As a result, we live in a hilariously tiny house, which I love. I also model conservation because nothing drives me crazier than leaving the water running, so they always see me run to turn off any drips. Nobody is perfect and I don’t pretend to be — what’s most important is that we try.