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07/14/2022

5Qs for Brookfield’s Brian McCarthy on social commitment

ESG activities are not charities for mall owners, they’re a duty, says McCarthy.
Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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Brian McCarthy

Brian McCarthy grew up in Columbia, Md., the master-planned community created by James Rouse, who believed a town could be designed in such a way that it could enhance the lives of all residents. It worked that way for McCarthy and his family, and he so admired the Rouse Company’s social ethic that he went to work for them. So he fit right in when he became chief administrative officer at Brookfield Properties, a company that’s supported environmental, social, and governance issues since the 80s.

We got on the phone with BMac, as he’s known by co-workers, to learn more about the company’s commitment to the communities in which they have long maintained presences.

ESG programs have long been part of the corporate culture at Brookfield. Where did they have their start?
It started with the idea that people are important. Marketplaces have been with us forever, places where buyers and sellers get together. In terms of ESG initiatives, it’s not an 'us and them' situation. We are a part of the community. We have 236,000 sales associates working at our centers all living in the community they serve. As a company, our ultimate goal is to build communities that thrive. Our centers are a direct reflection of that.

How has that philosophy changed the way Brookfield operates as a business? What should shoppers know about you that they don’t.
I once sat at the dinner table with my kids and a conversation came up about what’s important to them. We started talking about climate change and they said, “Ah, but you’re a shopping center guy. You’re all about business.”

“Yeah, I’m a shopping center guy,” I said, “and the shopping center company I work for is the seventh largest producer of solar energy in the country.”

Brookfield has hosted local food drives at its centers for decades, so when ESG came into being, we started doing more. We are experimenting with using recycled plastic in our parking lot asphalt. We’re working with Tesla to store solar power. We’re making efforts to get rid of plastic straws in our food courts. ESG has become an incredibly important program for us and it’s only growing.

“We are a part of the community. We have 236,000 sales associates working at our centers all living in the community they serve.”

It seems you’ve ramped up your food distribution efforts in the past year, yes?
We’ve expanded the existing program all across the country and set a goal of donating at least 2.5 million meals this year. All of Brookfield’s 120-plus shopping centers, spanning from Ala Moana Center in Hawaii to Staten Island Mall in New York, will take part in this initiative.

Have you taken greater steps to involve communities in donating food to their needy neighbors?
Absolutely. Cars are lined up at centers for miles to both donate and receive food at some collections. We have big parking lots, so it’s easy to accommodate them. We also have large storage areas and are able to work with local food banks to aid our efforts.

Municipalities benefit greatly from sales taxes at thriving malls. Do you find them interested in partaking in your ESG initiative?
They are our partners in many cases. A mall is often the highest taxpayer in the community, so our general managers have viable relationships with the civic and economic development institutions in their communities. It’s not just us with our ears to the ground. We feel called upon to play leadership roles in our communities.