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She had a comfortable job with a six-figure salary in a familiar industry, but Taylor Iascone (MS 2017) wasn’t happy with where she was. Her gut told her she needed to do more for herself—and for the environment. So Iascone changed course, moving to Denver to pursue a degree from the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management and a career in sustainability. As the senior ESG manager at Verdani Partners, she works with companies and investors to decarbonize the built environment. On the Voices of Experience podcast, Iascone reflects on the politicization of ESG, the future of sustainable building and finding the courage to change course.

Show Notes

Taylor Iascone headshotTaylor Iascone is the senior ESG manager at Verdani Partners, a consulting firm specializing in sustainability and ESG for real estate. She graduated from the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management in 2017 with a master’s degree in real estate and the built environment.

Table of Contents

1:14 What is ESG?
3:02 Changing careers
7:30 Refusing to settle
10:19 Working at Verdani Partners
11:31 The future of sustainable building
14:10 SEC regulations, preventing greenwashing
18:09 The politicization of ESG
20:45 Advice for starting over
23:13 Finding the right career
27:11 “Follow your instincts”
27:52 Show notes and credits

In this episode:

Related articles and information:

Questions from students

Transcript

Lorne Fultonberg:
This month on the Voices of Experience podcast:

Taylor Iascone:
I had to listen to my gut, my instinct, and that kind of led the path

Lorne Fultonberg:
Leaving a comfortable job, a longtime career and starting over.

Taylor Iascone:
I couldn’t not listen to that feeling. I felt like I would be trapped in my own body if I didn’t plunge forward.

Lorne Fultonberg:
It’s been years now since Taylor Iascone made that decision and she couldn’t be happier. After graduating from Daniels’ Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management in 2017, Iascone landed at Verdani Partners, a consulting firm where she serves as senior ESG manager.

ESG—that’s environmental, social and governance—is the latest way to label socially responsible investing. Iascone helps her clients incorporate those pillars into their buildings and their communities. She told us about the future of sustainable construction, how politics is creeping into the field and the challenges she overcame to succeed in her career—on the Voices of Experience podcast, an extension of the signature speaker series at the Daniels College of Business.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Taylor, thanks for being here.

Taylor Iascone:
Thank you, Lorne. Happy to be here.

Lorne Fultonberg:
I want to start by talking about this concept of ESG. We’ve talked in the business world about businesses working for good. We’ve heard about B corps and corporate social responsibility. At Daniels, we talk about the triple bottom line, which is people, profit and planet. So how, if at all, is ESG different from these terms and how has this idea of ethical business evolved?

Taylor Iascone:
Yeah, great question. ESG is not necessarily different, but is the overarching more robust strategy for these businesses and sectors trying to align with ESG. I see B Corp and CSR and triple bottom line to be a byproduct of ESG. Adopting ESG principles or an ESG program means you as an entity or an institution or company are taking all measures in terms of ESG to improve the world that we live in. And just for some context, for example, E for environmental helps lower pollution, the CO2 output and reduce waste and create energy efficiency buildings. And then S, the social side, incorporating building safety, health and wellbeing and DEI. And then G, governance, accounting practices, board practices, executive pay and making an equitable establishment, being more transparent. So with that being said, you can see how a B Corp I think could be a byproduct of implementing an ESG program and so on. And following suit, I think that this course of action and list of byproducts is in fact the evolution of businesses when talking about ESG.

Lorne Fultonberg:
When did the concept of ESG start to get on your radar? When did you know you were interested in it?

Taylor Iascone:
Oh, man. I was in my previous career at Berklee College of Music in the facilities department managing 42 buildings in downtown Back Bay, leased and owned. And I just felt as though I was restricted in the impact I was having on the environment. I seeked to an expanded mindset, basically a broadened perspective on real estate. And at that time I was still struggling with understanding my why and I knew there was more I could do to help. So I think that was when I realized that in that time, in that era, sustainability was the buzzword. And I think sustainability has now morphed into ESG. So at that time of struggling to find my way and my path and understanding my why, I knew that the environment and the impact real estate had on it locally and globally was what opened my mind to sustainability and now what we call as ESG.

Lorne Fultonberg:
And you started your career I believe in hospitality, right?

Taylor Iascone:
That’s correct.

Lorne Fultonberg:
So you decided to shift your career and give up what I understand was a pretty comfortable position there at Berkeley in terms of responsibility and salary and location. And you came out here to go to grad school at the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. Was that a difficult shift for you?

Taylor Iascone:
Yes. Now that I look back on it and think about where I was to where I’m at now, the process and the time that it took me to conceptualize the idea of starting over to going through the process and making those day to day commitments to then being on the other side of it being comfortable and content, yes, it was very difficult. I guess I can say that time is on our side, but it’s not easy. I had to listen to my gut, my instinct, and that kind of led the path. As I said earlier, I felt just blocked at my current position. And I don’t know when I made that decision final, it felt exciting and invigorating to make that personal choice, that autonomous personal choice. But what came along with that starting over was a breakup, feelings of loneliness, doubt, physical and emotional changes and strain.

Taylor Iascone:
But I did also feel as though the change that I was trying to make and that I eventually made was inevitable and undeniable. I couldn’t not listen to that feeling. I felt like I would be trapped in my own body if I didn’t plunge forward. And I think it wasn’t after until I graduated grad school at University of Denver and actually had to file for unemployment and Medicaid that I realized then what I had done. And that spanned about two years. And in total, this whole process was about five years from beginning to end. But I think what saved me during this starting over concept was understanding that a, “career transition,” is a long term commitment, but it is also temporary. So having that insight helped me. So I guess I would say if anyone is contemplating embarking on this journey, being committed will ultimately pave your way forward. And the grass isn’t always greener, which we know. But eventually you have that aha moment of just contentment. And for me, that’s when I started at Verdani Partners.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Taylor, we spoke earlier before this interview and I remember you told me that you had your sights set on an ESG job out of college or out of grad school I should say. And I think you told me that you weren’t willing to settle for anything less. Was it hard to be patient and wait for that and not settle?

Taylor Iascone:
I went through a process after graduation. I took a class called CityCraft, which I can explain further that pretty much opened my eyes to that understanding of a global perspective on real estate and what actually is happening in terms of local municipalities and communities. So that CityCraft class basically painted a picture of an expectation to me of what a company’s expectations were, what their morals, what their values, what their mission, what their vision was. So I took the CityCraft notion and approach and applied it to my next career. And I was willing to be patient because I was not wanting to then again have another 15 years of a career that wasn’t fitting to the needs of my personality, the needs of my soul, just what I believe in.

Taylor Iascone:
So I did an exercise and I analyzed about 200 to 250 companies. And of those 200, 250 companies, I identified the top five choices that then aligned with this city craft class. So I committed to the next steps of applying for another job based on this career transition. And with that being said, I was patient and committed to the patience behind it. I did not want to just take on a job because it was fitting to my financial needs or not. I wanted to be thoughtful about it because this took time, this took now debt. It’s important to take it slow. And for me, that was just going through the process step by step.

Lorne Fultonberg:
And if any of our listeners are curious about that CityCraft class, there’s an article on the Daniels blog that we’ll put in the show notes here that actually I think interviewed you, Taylor, talking about what the experience is like. So go to our show notes if you want to read that.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Let’s talk a little bit about your current position now. Tell us a little bit about what you do, and as I understand it, how you work with companies to create sustainable buildings and communities.

Taylor Iascone:
Yeah. Verdani Partners is a full-service sustainability and ESG consulting firm in the commercial real estate sector. What that means is we develop, implement, and maintain a portfolio-wide ESG program. The ESG program scope of work consists of an annual sustainability report, ESG regulatory and reporting framework, tracking and submissions, green building certifications, creating and implementing ESG policies, tenant engagement programs, setting metrics and targets for different energy efficiency measures, the list goes on. And our mission as an ESG consultant is to decarbonize the economy by empowering organizations with cost effective strategies that ultimately create sustainable buildings and communities.

Lorne Fultonberg:
What are some of the trends that you’re seeing in sustainable building today and what do you think our future buildings and communities look like?

Taylor Iascone:
Renewable energy, onsite and offsite. Onsite renewable energy generation would be solar with battery storage and EV charging infrastructure. And then offsite you have solar power purchase agreements or virtual power purchase agreements. Another renewable energy sources are hydro, geothermal and even tidal. But another aspect that we’re seeing in sustainable buildings is electrification. So you can make the most immediate change and see results in existing buildings or new developments even by sourcing electricity as the main power source.

Taylor Iascone:
But maybe just to go a bit lower to explain to the audience what that actually means in terms of like granularity, when we say electrification and existing buildings, we look at the utility source in the building targeting the HVAC systems and equipment. So take for instance a heating element. You can convert from natural gas to electric, and we can do this by swapping out a gas water heater for a heat pump. So we want to move heat, not create it. And that is what natural gas is doing. It’s creating it, whereas a heat pump powered by electricity is moving heat.

Taylor Iascone:
So the natural gas, which is a fossil fuel, emits methane into the atmosphere, which is heating our atmosphere and depleting the ozone layer. Another element that is attributed to heating and cooling are refrigerants. So these more efficient HVAC systems reduce refrigerant usage, which in turn supports the building’s decarbonization strategy. if you look back a hundred years, you don’t see the need for technology baked into a building. You need the basics, the infrastructure, utility source and building envelope. Back then it was about shelter. What we are seeing now is the link to the need for technology in buildings’ longevity. So renewable energies, electrification and technology is what we’re seeing. In a lot of ways, building design and construction can align with the fundamentals of the human anatomy. Healthy choices makes for a living and breathing human. Same goes for a building. And we want to live along in prosperous life. Same goes for buildings. We want to create or enhance hundred year plus buildings.

Lorne Fultonberg:
So the ESG field seems to be getting more and more crowded. There are a lot of companies that are climate and sustainability focused—or at least claim to be. And actually one of our students here at Daniels had a question for you about that, about practicing ESG authentically. Here’s Camden Boardman.

Camden Boardman:
Hi Taylor. As you probably know, the SEC has created a new task force that is focusing on climate related issues as well as ESG related issues. And I believe this task force is aimed at companies that are kind of greenwashing and saying they are taking steps to meet these goals, but they’re really not. And my question to you is, what do you think this new task force… what do you think is going to change in the ESG sector of a lot of these real estate companies? Because almost all the companies I look at nowadays, bigger ones, I find they have the ESG sector on their website. And I always find myself wondering, what steps are they actually taking? How much is it just pandering to a certain audience?

Taylor Iascone:
Yeah, that’s a great question. Thank you for asking. The proposed and existing regulations that the SEC is exploring right now are a response to how we can battle against this greenwashing with ESG. It is very much investor demand and investor driven seeking transparency and data. So I am happy to see that the SEC is taking the initiative to respond to this investor demand. So I think with that being said, it’s a great shift for companies. If this were to align, it would be a lot of financial statement and legal compliance. It would take a lot of work in that front. But it would publicly disclose a lot of these ESG metrics that companies are or are not committing to. So that’s the greenwashing, right? So are they practicing what they’re preaching?

Taylor Iascone:
As a company, as an ESG consulting firm, we support these initiatives that is being brought forth in terms of regulations. We make sure that a lot of the programs that we offer are also aligned with different ESG initiatives like TCFD. But things like third party frameworks are a way to provide authenticity, but also understanding the implications of the regulations. We want to be prepared to speak to investors, and as an investor driven company, companies should feel the same, the same as we do protecting our clients.

Taylor Iascone:
So there’s not a lot of vertically integrated ESG consultants that are dedicated to the successes of the built environment out there. That’s why I appreciate working for Verdani Partners. And as a company, I think we’ve been molding ourselves to be inclusive of all of these ESG practices. So we’re alongside the evolution of ESG, which is a challenging place to be. So at the end of the day, for a company to align with ESG in following regulations and different frameworks, that will create its own authenticity. And in turn it will eliminate greenwashing because we will all be guided by metrics and targets and align with these frameworks. So it’s setting the pace for success.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Thanks for answering that, Taylor. And we’re going to have another student question for you in a second. But first I wanted to ask you, you mentioned the evolution of ESG, and I feel like part of the evolution of any issue these days is it becoming a political issue. And ESG is political now I guess because just recently the state of Louisiana pulled its money from BlackRock, which is an investment company because as they say, “The anti-fossil fuel policies would destroy the state’s economy.” So I’m curious what your take is on just the political landscape in general. And do you feel it creeping into your work at all?

Taylor Iascone:
Yeah, that’s extremely relevant. I did see that. And not too long ago I read through BlackRock’s response to the Attorney General’s ESG letter about boycotting energy companies. So unfortunately, ESG trending topics like power sources and clean energy is becoming more of an issue in the market. And we are hearing more about this in the media. So yes, I notice politics creeping into ESG, which again is unfortunate because our ultimate goal is to just simply be better and be better for humanity. But because this topic involves regulations, governing bodies and funding, this is now about reducing risks and creating returns for our investors. So that’s where I think that ruffles feathers.

Taylor Iascone:
And our investors are asking for ESG disclosures and ESG adherence to regulation and performance. And not only do we not have exclusionary investment, we have a diverse investment portfolio that still includes energy companies and in no way is really boycotting energy companies. So we’re being responsible investment managers by putting money in the best place to give the best possible return. I guess we are investing in our clients and helping them guide the money and where they apply it and helping them understand where that will create risk-adjusted returns. So it’s not about exclusionary investing except we’re embracing a diversified portfolio globally across all markets, which is what the state of Louisiana I think failed to understand.

Lorne Fultonberg:
And if you want some more information about that, we’ve got links to some relevant articles also in our show notes. Taylor, I wanted to have some students ask you some questions. We got a couple here on the show, and then we’re going to put a few more exclusively online on the show notes here. Here is one of those questions from a grad student, Camryn McMillan.

Camryn McMillan:
Hi Taylor, my name is Camryn. Thank you for sharing your story. I know you mentioned one day you knew it was time and quit your job, you and your boyfriend broke up, et cetera. How were you able to muster this strength. Personally right now as a fifth year student athlete, I am really worried about the unknown future. Looking for some advice, especially now knowing your story and how quickly you had changed your plans.

Taylor Iascone:
Wow, that’s a hard question to articulate. “Muster the strength” really took me back. I would say the support of my family and friends is really what got me through, not realizing at the time what I was going through. So listening well is really what helped me, whoever it really was. It could have been anyone I could have met. I could have walked by someone on the street, I could have met someone in CVS, I could have spoken to someone at an event that I was at. My ears and eyes were wide open.

Taylor Iascone:
And even though it’s difficult and you’re worried and doubting and not seeing the end of the rainbow and thinking this will last forever, subconsciously listening to all of the people and all of the things around you will get you through that because you’ll sit down and you’ll doubt something. And you’ll think, “Yeah. But last week I ran into someone and they opened my eyes to this particular situation.” And it teaches you elements about yourself and the trajectory of your life. So just keeping an open mind and being alert and listening well will do you a lot of good. And it sounds like that you’re very self-aware, so I would imagine that your future is very bright.

Lorne Fultonberg:
And Taylor, here’s a question from Randall Lindsay.

Randall Lindsay:
Taylor, I truly loved your story and found a lot of relation to it. What strategy did you use to find a company actively addressing your new found beliefs in real estate? Also, did your time in facilities management complement your work today?

Taylor Iascone:
Yeah, to answer that first part. Thank you for the question. I created a list of companies and compared them to my newly found mission and vision and why and morals and values. And I went through a process to identify what was important to me, the priorities. What were those priorities to me in making that decision? And once I finished that process, it ultimately helped me determine where my next step was. What companies were I going to give the attention to, and was it a two-way street? I think it’s important to go through a process to identify what your priorities are, because that’s one piece that’s a gap in our professional development and our career paths is, are we doing this because the society tells us to? Or are we doing this because we want to be doing these things, because we need to be doing these things, because we understand that these things are making us better as humans.

Taylor Iascone:
And that can be different for anyone out there. It can be different for someone that’s an executive leader now that maybe wakes up one day and wants to start a DIY company or it can happen to me again. But I think it’s very important to listen to yourself and take the time to process everything around you so that you make the right decision for yourself. And then when I started in my first career in facilities management, did I know where that would take me? No. Did it help me? Yes, because I look at my resume and my experience as a professional to be well rounded and I can take different experiences and different mindsets and shuffle that experience and apply it to different situations and experiences that I experience in the present day.

Taylor Iascone:
So it doesn’t mean that if you take a position or a job with a company that you don’t necessarily align with, because we all make those choices and ultimately figure out what’s best for us, it doesn’t mean that that’s the wrong place to be. It just means that you need to carry those with you and understand that your brain is a sponge and that it will help you no matter where you go. So yeah, it all links. A job of mine that I had growing up, I worked at a marina and I was a dock attendant and I pumped fuel oddly enough into boats. And even those situations with interpersonal skills taught me then, okay, what to expect when I go to interviews or, how do I speak to someone at when I’m in an actual job? It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s what you take from it.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Thanks for answering that, Taylor. And thank you to so many students who submitted questions. We’ve got a bunch more on our show notes page. Taylor, to bring things home here as a voice of experience, our guest today, what is something that you’d like to pass on to listeners?

Taylor Iascone:
I would say follow your instincts. It’s the one and only truth we all have. It may not always lead us down the path we had envisioned. But eventually it always comes full circle. Just be gentle with yourself and know that balance is key to a plentiful life.

Lorne Fultonberg:
That’s Taylor Iascone, senior ESG manager of Verdani Partners and a graduate of the Daniels College of Business, the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. Taylor, thank you so much for joining us and for your honesty answering those questions.

Taylor Iascone:
Thank you for having me. I hope it helps everyone.

Lorne Fultonberg:
At the beginning of our interview there, Taylor mentions CityCraft, a course that changed the way she viewed her career. It’s been life changing for a lot of other students too. Class is in session on our show notes. You can learn more about that transformational course at daniels.du.edu/voe-podcast.

And speaking of good education, if you’re looking for a good explainer of how companies currently report their ESG activities, how the SEC is trying to change that and why it’s such a challenge to create regulations, you’ll want to check out the research that Tony Holder is doing in the Daniels School of Accountancy. You can find the Q&A, on—you guessed it—our show notes. Plus, Taylor answers a couple more questions from students, including her keys to networking and transitioning to the “real world.”

The VOE podcast is an extension of Voices of Experience, the signature speaker series at the Daniels College of Business, sponsored by U.S. Bank. Patrick Orr and Chloe Smith are our sound engineers. Alumnus Joshua Metzel wrote our theme. I’m Lorne Fultonberg. Until we meet again, click subscribe, leave us a rating, write  a review. We’ll see you next time.

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