How ESG Objectives Strengthen Blackstone Portfolio Company Link Logistics
The rise of e-commerce has driven an explosion in demand for logistics—an area at the heart of the modern global economy. As a result of the industry’s massive scale, logistics businesses have the capacity to make significant improvements on lowering emissions and energy usage to drive business value. That’s one reason why Link Logistics Real Estate, a Blackstone portfolio company, has been investing in decarbonization and setting ambitious ESG business goals, such as reducing utility costs and aligning with tenant and local community priorities.
Blackstone formed Link in 2019 after identifying a gap in the industry: the need for last-mile facilities, which help enable rapid delivery to major urban centers, at a nationwide scale. Today, Link is the owner and operator of the largest U.S.-only portfolio of logistics real estate. Recently, Link made a new commitment to the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Family Forest Carbon Program, contracting for nearly $5 million of high quality forest carbon credits, which support improved forest management projects that remove carbon from the environment and support family forest owners.
We sat down with Sam Stockdale, Head of Sustainability at Link; Eric Duchon, Global Head of ESG for Blackstone Real Estate; and Elizabeth Lewis, Deputy Head of ESG for Blackstone, to discuss the new commitment and the larger theme of sustainability within the logistics industry.
Sustainability is a top priority for many corporations today. What makes it critical for the logistics industry in particular?
Sam Stockdale: The built environment—the man-made environment of buildings and structures—and the transportation sector each accounted for nearly 30% of total U.S. 2020 emissions as reported by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Our business sits at the intersection of these two areas, which means we have a big opportunity to catalyze change. Not only can we provide solutions that help contribute to decarbonization within the built environment, but also in the freight sector more broadly through vehicle electrification.
Eric Duchon: From the Blackstone perspective, it’s about expertise. We apply the same ESG and decarbonization efforts across property sectors in our global real estate portfolio, but given that logistics is our largest sector, we can make significant progress in this space. We believe that we have the opportunity to implement a thoughtful and comprehensive ESG program to drive value within certain areas of our portfolio.
What are some ways that sustainability can drive business value in the logistics industry?
ED: One great example is more predictable energy expenses, given the volatility in energy prices right now. When looking at initiatives that might be higher capital but also have a higher return on investment, like rolling out LED lighting, you can see a direct benefit to companies in the form of reduced operating expenses.
SS: Price volatility can have material impacts on our customers’ businesses. And that’s why at Link, we believe energy and utility management are core competencies of sound sustainability practices. It means being a good steward of our customers’ operating expenses, specific to energy and utilities.
One example is the winter storm in Texas during February of 2021. The energy prices at some major utilities over the course of those two weeks went up to around $9,000 per megawatt hour—which, for context, would typically be around $30 per megawatt hour. At Link, we were able to insulate people from that energy rate spike because we had hedges in place with our retail energy provider.
Link just announced its new commitment to AFF and TNC’s Family Forest Carbon Program, contracting for nearly $5 million of high-quality forest carbon credits. What excites you about this initiative?
SS: This is just one of many instruments that Link is using to help decarbonize our operations over time. But I think one of the more impactful things about this initiative is that it’s forward-looking. It’s not just about buying rights to existing projects that offset carbon emissions; through AFF and TNC’s Family Forest Carbon Program (FFCP), you can support the program and local landowners who participate to create a carbon credit that you take delivery of in the future and retire against your carbon footprint. I think that’s where the market is headed, directing funding to actually create an environmentally additive product. We’re thrilled to be the first real estate company to plug into this program.
Elizabeth Lewis: What I love about this initiative is the value creation through individual benefit. A lot of climate solutions out there don’t have any link to communities, so ultimately they feel very removed and theoretical. Through this commitment, Link is supporting a program in the communities where it operates, which enables individuals and families to generate revenue from their land—I think this model has a lot of potential for scaling carbon credits in the future.
Link has made a commitment to achieving carbon neutral operations by 2025. What are some other sustainability initiatives Link has rolled out across its portfolio to meet that goal?
SS: Our goal is to be 100% reliant on renewable energy by 2024. So far, we have 62 megawatts of solar capacity installed or under contract, and we have a goal of 300 megawatts of solar energy by 2025. We are also targeting 100% of our portfolio to be retrofitted with LED or high-efficiency lighting by 2025.
As a U.S. EPA ENERGY STAR Partner, we have an annual goal for 100% of our properties benchmarked in Portfolio Manager® every year, which is a big accomplishment when working within this asset class.
How does Blackstone support sustainability initiatives across our portfolio at large? What opportunities does Blackstone’s experience provide?
EL: I think our partnership with Link is a case study for how we work with our portfolio companies to support them in their decarbonization goals and make them stronger as a result. We can have a big impact because of the nature of our model. We’ve been able to build out a deep bench of ESG expertise across Blackstone, including a team with deep knowledge of real estate sustainability topics. When we bring these capabilities to our companies and in partnership with them, we can identify macro trends across industries and build capabilities that respond to these trends to drive value. In that way, we’re helping our companies see around the next corner.
ED: This is not to say we have all the answers. We learn a lot from our portfolio companies, and Link is a perfect example of this. We’ve supported Link in its innovation and learned from it. Our model allows us to take what we learn and turn it into a flywheel through which we can support other portfolio companies and build out the ecosystem in a powerful way.
The views expressed in this commentary are the personal views of Sam Stockdale, Eric Duchon and Elizabeth Lewis and do not necessarily reflect the views of Blackstone Inc. (together with its affiliates, “Blackstone”). The views expressed reflect the current views of Sam Stockdale, Eric Duchon and Elizabeth Lewis as of the date hereof, and none of Sam Stockdale, Eric Duchon and Elizabeth Lewis or Blackstone undertake any responsibility to advise you of any changes in the views expressed herein.
While Blackstone believes ESG factors can enhance long-term value, Blackstone does not pursue an ESG-based investment strategy or limit its investments to those that meet specific ESG criteria or standards, except with respect to products or strategies that are explicitly designated as doing so in their offering documents or other applicable governing documents. Such factors do not qualify Blackstone’s objectives to seek to maximize risk adjusted returns.
Certain of the information contained in this article has been obtained from portfolio companies and/or sources outside Blackstone, and could prove to be incomplete or inaccurate and is current only as of any specific date(s) noted therein. Blackstone makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of the information obtained from such portfolio companies and/or sources and neither Blackstone nor any of its affiliates takes any responsibility for, and has not independently verified, any of such information. Unless otherwise stated, references to ESG initiatives, priorities or practices at portfolio companies are not intended to indicate that Blackstone has materially contributed to such actions and such initiatives, priorities, or practices are subject to change, even materially, over time. Further, neither Blackstone’s provision of this article, nor any information contained therein, is to be construed as an offer to sell, or the solicitation of an offer to purchase, any security. This content is provided for informational purposes only and there is no guarantee that Blackstone will invest in similar opportunities in the future.