Social Impact Certification Launches For CRE Development, Joining LEED And WELL

A nonprofit launched by two commercial real estate veterans aims to offer some standardization to CRE’s social impacts, offering a certification and accreditation for companies based on their social impact efforts.


Atlanta-based SEAM Inc. "addresses a critical gap in understanding and metrics surrounding the social impact of commercial real estate," SEAM co-founder Rainey Shane said in a statement. "With SEAM Certification, organizations can differentiate themselves and their developments by meeting rigorous international standards for positive social impact in their communities and beyond.”


SEAM, which stands for social equity assessment method, works on a project-by-project basis to evaluate new developments based on eight social equity criteria inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and other similar standards: transformational government, community involvement in development, social investment, social impact, social equity and justice, innovation, human rights and health and safety in the workplace, Shane told Bisnow in an interview. 


The company was founded by Shane and Alex Demestihas, industry veterans with 30 years’ experience in CRE between them. Both work at JLL, with Shane serving as the social sustainability director for the Americas and Demestihas serving as managing director of project development services in the Southeast. 


Like LEED certification, meant to benchmark the sustainable components of buildings, SEAM developments will be given points that translate into a level in each category, which then denote an overall certification, whether bronze, silver, gold or platinum. 


SEAM addresses an issue that many CRE companies have with attempting to quantify social benefits and their impacts. SEAM anticipates that as more projects go through this certification, the results will themselves become part of the solution to that issue.“


As more projects go through this, we will start to develop a body of research that starts to give us facts on what activities and what outputs truly correlate to outcomes that we're trying to achieve,” Shane said. “And I think that's where some social impact initiatives have fallen short, is that they're measuring outputs that sometimes those outputs are proxies. They don't truly tell you if you're making a significant impact or if you're making an impact at all.” 


Shane said a platinum-level approach to the social impact category has to be sustainable to the level that even if a building is sold, “the solution that they implemented outlives them and delivers long-term impact for all the stakeholders on the project.” 


SEAM’s first certification will be for a Seattle office and retail project called The Jack, for which the process is still ongoing. For their approach to the community involvement in development category, developer Urban Visions is looking at adjusting the retail offerings in their ground-floor spaces to meet what the surrounding low-income community “is wanting and asking for,” Shane said. The development is tracking to receive a platinum level in that category. 


“We're meeting the real estate community where they are today, and just like other certifications, we intend to move the bar as more join on to this initiative,” Demestihas said.


SEAM’s business also includes accreditation for professionals, with the idea that these people will eventually be able to guide projects through the process of getting SEAM-certified. There are 16 people working through the beta version of that program now.


Contact Bianca Barragán at bianca.barragan@bisnow.com