As we head into the New Year, our Corporate Responsibility program continues to expand into new areas. We’re excited about the progress made over the past two years, and are looking forward to many of the efforts that will come to fruition in 2013.

Our efforts to develop this program are driven by a mix of internal and external factors. We’ve established a series of strategic priorities related to our program intended to address the most significant opportunities and risks within our business. But we can’t grow our program in a vacuum -- the current economic climate and shifting stakeholder expectations require that we adapt and re-prioritize as necessary to ensure we continue to hit the mark.

Below is a preview of some of the trends we see emerging or continuing in 2013, and how they relate to our corporate responsibility efforts.

Trend 1: The continuing push for greater transparency, benchmarking, and disclosure

For publicly traded companies, the push for greater transparency into environmental and community impacts is at an all-time high. In the real estate world in particular -- institutional investors and partners continue to seek detailed information from companies through direct interactions and forums such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). These established disclosure forums provide an opportunity for responding companies to report their impacts and explain the proactive steps they are taking to strengthen their business.

Beyond these established efforts, new forums are emerging through which property owners are expected to disclose additional information. In recent years, a number of states and municipalities have passed building benchmarking and reporting laws that require property owners to collect and disclose energy usage information for the entire building (landlord and tenants). And in late 2012, a consortium of organizations led by FTSE announced their intention to launch a first-of-its-kind family of indices of “green” REITs.

These new expectations will, in all likelihood, prove challenging to meet. Whole-building benchmarking in a commercial environment requires landlords to take on the difficult task of collecting tenant energy data -- sometimes with and sometimes without the assistance of local utility companies. Membership in the new FTSE indices will be determined largely on the number of owned buildings with third-party certifications such as LEED and Energy Star -- both of which are not currently well-suited to providing an assessment of the total environmental impact (landlord and tenant) of retail properties.

At Kimco, we support the move toward greater transparency when it comes to environmental and community impacts. We have responded to both the CDP and GRESB for the past several years, and will continue to do so in 2013. Additionally, we have decided as a company to undertake a significant effort to create a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)-based Corporate Responsibility report. This report will provide an even greater level of information about our program efforts, and will be publicly available on our website in 2014. We just redesigned our CR website, as a matter of fact, in case you haven’t seen it yet.

Beyond these efforts, we are working in close partnership with industry peers and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) to develop a sustainability benchmarking tool for retail properties. We believe that accurately assessing performance requires establishing the right measuring stick, and it is our hope that ICSC’s new tool will provide shopping center owners with this much-needed reference point. You can read more about our new CR efforts from my recent blog post, or in the August 2012 edition of Shopping Centers Today.

Trend 2: A new normal for shopping center operations

When the so-called “Great Recession” unfolded in late 2008, the real estate industry was one of the first to experience the fallout. In a matter of months, an industry that had been in high-growth mode came to a virtual standstill -- with new development activities halted and many companies digging in to prepare for a prolonged economic downturn.

As the situation stabilized, owners renewed their focus on preserving and enhancing the value of their existing properties. It was back to basics, with property management focusing on preserving top-line rental income through improved customer service, and improving the bottom line through effective expense management and gains in efficiency.

We’re now heading into 2013, and the Great Recession has technically ended. But we continue to operate with the same mindset, the “new normal,” in the shopping center business. A number of Kimco’s sustainability efforts support our renewed focus on improved operating fundamentals -- including both our Utility Management and Kimco Gateway initiatives.

Through more active management of utility accounts under our control, we have improved the efficiency with which we pay thousands of utility invoices annually, reduced late fees and billing errors, and are taking steps to optimize rates. Through our Gateway program, we’ve deployed a new technology that allows us to more effectively manage parking lot lighting -- significantly reducing energy consumption in the process.

Trend 3: Greater collaboration between landlords and tenants

The current economic climate has proven challenging for both property owners and tenants. Retailers have faced strong headwinds in the form of depressed consumer confidence and spending, and since 2008 we’ve witnessed the bankruptcy or sale of several distressed national retailers. Fortunately, the slow climb out of recession has begun, and both landlords and retailers are again setting their sights on future growth opportunities.

Despite the events of the past several years, the topics of corporate responsibility and sustainability have remained high on the agenda of both retailers and property owners. Growing stakeholder demands, a renewed focus on doing more with less during troubled times, and consumer pressure on retailers to improve the sustainability of their merchandise assortments has ensured that these topics remain high on the agenda despite economic conditions. Both landlords and tenants are recognizing that they can get more done, often with mutual benefit, on issues of sustainability by collaborating on solutions.

Kimco has been pleased over the past two years to help kick-start the dialogue between landlords and tenants on topics of sustainability and corporate responsibility. We have joined a series of landlord-tenant dialogues hosted by ICSC and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) to explore areas for collaboration to reduce environmental impacts and achieve mutual economic benefits. You can read more about one of the recent meetings, ICSC RetailGreen Conference, on our blog.

Outside of these forums, we’ve worked on an individual basis with retailers to identify areas for collaboration -- including providing new value-added services such as solar energy. Starting in 2010, Kimco pioneered a new model of solar development among retail property owners -- financing and developing three megawatts of rooftop solar production capacity on six shopping centers in New Jersey. Each solar project required a partnership between Kimco and one or more retailers at the shopping center -- with Kimco owning and operating the solar generation asset and the retailer agreeing to purchase power from the system for a multi-year period.

This type of collaboration between landlords and tenants yields benefits for both parties, not to mention the environmental benefits associated with improved energy choices. Over the next several years, we intend to continue pursuing opportunities for collaboration to improve the efficiency and lower the impact of shopping center operations -- both inside and outside of the building. To this end, we have signed on as a member of the Program Advisory Committee for University of California Davis’ Multi-Tenant Light Commercial Project, whose objective is to improve the energy efficiency of open-air shopping centers and other similar properties.

There are exciting developments and goals on the horizon, and we’ll be monitoring these trends throughout 2013. What’s your forecast for corporate responsibility this year?

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.