Insights

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August 12, 2022

How digital tour books can drive sustainability goals

A CRE deal platform like LeaseUp helps firms cut down on carbon emissions (and unnecessary spend)

Green line drawing illustration of two rows of trees on a gray background, with some of the trees replaced with large tour books.
Green line drawing illustration of two rows of trees on a gray background, with some of the trees replaced with large tour books.

Printing sometimes seems like a necessary step in the deal flow process. After putting your survey together as data tables, maps, photos, and floor plans, you package that into a PowerPoint and/or export a PDF that can be printed and presented to higher-up decision-makers on the client side ahead of a meeting or tour.

That’s the way it’s been done historically, but digital tour books are an increasingly attractive alternative to the old-school printed books, and come with major upsides. A big one that often gets overlooked is how digital tour books help with brokerage firms' sustainability and ESG goals.

The case against paper

If you’re at a big firm, you’re probably no stranger to regularly printing and binding tour books and surveys. You might have an in-house print department, or a marketing team that designs and produces high-touch printed materials for use throughout the transaction process.

But printing comes with some obvious downsides. For one thing, printing and binding cost money. Printed materials come with hard deadlines. It’s difficult to correct mistakes after the fact, and a paper tour book is not easily edited without updating a design file and reprinting.

Another net negative of printing that might not come immediately to mind is the environmental impact. What are the sustainability implications of paper tour books?

The carbon footprint of printed tour books: a rough estimate

As an industry that still heavily relies on printed-out PDFs and PowerPoints, CRE is a relatively eco-unfriendly space compared to other industries that have made the switch to paperless. Banking did it over a decade ago. Going paperless not only saves businesses money, it’s also better for the environment.

Collectively, pulp and paper are considered to be the fourth most energy-intensive industry1. A study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cleaner Production estimates2 that the carbon footprint of a single sheet of office paper ranges from 4.29 to 4.74 grams of CO2 equivalent (or CO2eq). We’ll call it 4.5 grams for our purposes.

What does that mean in everyday terms?

Obviously, every deal is different, and your mileage will vary on the print needs associated with any given client. But for the purpose of making a rough, conservative estimate, we're considering a typical tour book to run 15 pages, including cover page, map, and building details for 4-5 buildings.

If a broker averages four tours a month, with each tour coming with a 15-page book, that multiplies out to 720 pages per broker per year. In CO2 equivalent terms, that's 8 miles driven by an average gas-powered passenger vehicle, or 400 smartphone charges.3

What does that look like at scale?

That may not look like much on the individual level, but a single firm with 25 brokers uses more than a tree’s worth of paper on tour books each year.4

There are around 200,000 brokers in the US and Canada. Accounting for brokers who only do landlord representation, or a mix of landlord and tenant rep, we'll call it 150,000 brokers conducting tours. Based on the numbers we were using before, that comes out to 486 metric tons of CO2 equivalent across the industry per year, just from the paper in printed tour books. That's equivalent to half a million pounds of coal burned, or 1,000 barrels of oil. Going paperless in this scenario would save the same amount of carbon sequestered by 575 acres of US forests in a year.5

Sustainability is an industry-agnostic goal

We’re hearing from customers that LeaseUp is helping to cut down on carbon emissions in other, unexpected ways. Tour books often have a laminate cover for binding, around 3 ounces of plastic. Using the same number of tours above, that factors out to 1.35 million pounds of plastic per year, industry-wide. Our platform streamlines the process of collecting feedback from client-side decision-makers, cutting down on the number of people that need to travel for a tour, and the number of sites that need to be visited in person. LeaseUp means fewer meetings and more efficient correspondence across the board — both offline and on.

Our customers use LeaseUp because it’s a sophisticated product with a professional end user experience. Brokers love it because the digital experience makes their lives easier (and they can pocket some print costs). Their clients love LeaseUp because it makes the whole transaction process faster and more convenient.

Sustainability gains are an added bonus for both sides.

Within CRE, big firms like JLL devote significant resources to sustainability initiatives, including reducing the industry’s carbon emissions. Many of the businesses renting commercial real estate have their own corporate sustainability goals and are seeking to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt greener practices wherever possible.

Going paperless with LeaseUp means brokerages of all sizes can contribute to universal sustainability goals.

1. Santos, Mónica P.S.; Manovic, Vasilije; Hanak, Dawid P. “Unlocking the potential of pulp and paper industry to achieve carbon-negative emissions via calcium looping retrofit.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 20 Jan. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652620344759.
2. Dias, Ana Cláudia; Arroja, Luís. “Comparison of methodologies for estimating the carbon footprint – case study of office paper.” Journal of Cleaner Production, Mar. 2012, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652611004409.
3. Source: US EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator.
4. Schildgen, Bob. “How Much Paper Does One Tree Produce?” Sierra. 7 Jul. 2014, https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-4-july-august/ask-mr-green/how-much-paper-does-one-tree-produce.
5. Source: US EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator.