Close Up With Cortland’s Global Head of Sustainability

Meet Cassandra McFadden, an inspiring leader who has devoted her career to making an impact on sustainability.

Cassandra McFadden

Cassandra McFadden, Vice President & Global Head of Sustainability, Cortland. Image courtesy of Cortland

Cassandra McFadden, Cortland’s vice president & global head of sustainability since late 2022, has built an extensive career focused on environmental practices. Growing up on the island of Guam sparked her passion for nature and its resources. Subsequently, she aligned her experiences and qualifications with environmental work to “wed passion for the outdoors with driving positive impact,” as she puts it.

Early on, McFadden pursued environmental policy opportunities with the Department of the Interior, EPA, and White House Council on Environmental Quality. She then narrowed her focus to the energy industry, a key participant in the environmental landscape.

“That led me to complete my Master of Science degree in Energy Policy and Climate with Johns Hopkins University, then on to pursue energy-related roles with consulting firms, power producers and utilities,” McFadden introduced herself in a Q&A session with Multi-Housing News.

Prior to Cortland, she acted as vice president of sustainability at Bozzuto, energy management director at AvalonBay Communities, and board director for TruEnergy Federal Credit Union, among others.

How is life in Guam nowadays compared to your childhood years?

McFadden: Candidly, I owe Guam a long-awaited visit. However, I do keep in touch with my friends who live on the island. I love seeing their investment in Guam via their involvement with the island’s businesses, schools and politics. Since the pandemic, Guam’s tourism industry is still on the recovery path. If you have time, visit!

Which chapters of your career had the greatest impact on you as a professional and as a person?

McFadden: I held a regulatory role as the energy sector rapidly transformed to embrace renewables and climate goals. In that role, I read and helped author countless regulatory filings, and translated new rules to my business units to ensure compliance.

I witnessed how local public service commissions began to advance climate objectives based on legislative interpretations. They reviewed and made decisions for energy marketing rules in deregulated markets, grid modernization proceedings, interconnection rules, community solar program configurations, utility data sharing rules, mergers, rate cases, environmental and safety disclosure requirements and more. That experience helped me think through the intersection of legislation, regulation and businesses. I also observed how much decision-makers rely on clear stakeholder communication, innovative solutions, and honest and transparent businesses that will follow through on their commitments.

READ ALSO: Adaptation Villages—An Architect’s Vision for Resilient Communities

On a personal note, I’ve gained the most throughout my career by re-imagining how to serve others. I’ve built and led associate resource groups, which gave me the opportunity to share a unique space with diverse colleagues and create lasting relationships. I’ve led the creation of a mentorship program, connecting associates who were eager to learn and share. I’ve volunteered for local city councils, exchanging insights and offering help with various programs. I’ve spent time out of the office helping others.

In fact, the contact who recommended me for my first multifamily opportunity was someone I’d helped months prior with their resume and interviewing skills. All of these ‘small endeavors’ are the big things to me. The joy and benefits derived from connecting with others are truly understated.

Please expand on your first role in multifamily.   

McFadden: When hired, I became responsible for resident and common-area billing management, utility consumption and financial performance analysis, renewable energy procurement from the buyer side, utility budgeting and re-forecasting, waste and recycling management, and the development and execution of new sustainability initiatives. I’m glad I leaped when I did, robust utility management is a strong foundation for industry-leading sustainability programs.

Is there something you would do differently, career-wise? What do you have on your career bucket list?

McFadden: Being a sustainability leader in real estate already feels very different and inherently generates daily surprises. My goal is to keep evolving my career by remaining a student in the industry and deepening my collaborative skills. There’s so much I hope to do, but my goal is to create a legacy in environmental work through business frameworks.

What attracted you to join Cortland and what are your attributions in your current role?

McFadden: I joined Cortland because of its great culture, innovative outlook, and strong track record for growth. As the firm’s global head of sustainability, I’m guiding Cortland’s integration of sustainability into all departments to accelerate our industry leadership in this space. To do so, I collaborate with and learn from thoughtful leaders across the firm to advance not only our sustainability goals but also our social and governance objectives.

And what are those objectives? How would you summarize Cortland’s ESG strategy?

McFadden: Cortland’s current sustainability strategy prioritizes improving asset-level utilities—energy, water and waste—performance, refining our methods for analyzing climate risk, engaging residents to advance environmental and economic outcomes in each community, and adopting innovative solutions to grow our impact.

Tell us more about Cortland’s “Sustainable Living Addendum” applied to all new and renewed leases.

McFadden: Cortland’s Sustainable Living Addendum is a form added to our residents’ leases outlining requirements and guidelines to help improve the quality of our communities’ social, environmental and economic impact. The addendum covers topics including indoor environment and wellness, energy efficiency, water efficiency and waste and recycling. The form provides an early indication to residents that our communities prioritize sustainable behaviors and seek resident partnership to drive positive impact.

READ ALSO: What the US Can Learn From Europe’s ESG Practices

How different are your responsibilities when working on tasks to be applied in the U.S. market compared to Europe?

McFadden: In the U.S., sustainable investing and disclosure have largely been guided by voluntary, private-sector processes and guidelines. Therefore, compliance is driven by peer pressure and competition. In contrast, EU laws mandate sustainability disclosures and therefore a more centralized approach to climate advancement.

Given that Cortland operates in both environments, it’s my responsibility to understand all relevant requirements and to help the firm execute a roadmap that is thoughtful, consistent with investor expectations, and aligned with advancing global expectations.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming recession and how will it affect Cortland’s ESG strategy?

McFadden: At Cortland, we strive to have sound strategies, operate efficiently and enhance resilience across the board. It’ll be important to uphold these strengths to lessen the potential impacts of a recession and ensure faster recovery where needed.

Regarding sustainability, we’re thinking long term and being cost-sensitive. Accordingly, we plan to leverage our sustainability work for its benefits during and after the downturn.

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