LEED Fellow Daniele Horton helps clients achieve sustainability across portfolios

LEED Fellow Daniele Horton helps clients achieve sustainability across portfolios

Fall 2019 | Written by Catherine Shane

When Daniele Horton becomes alarmed about global challenges like fighting climate change, she doesn’t just throw her hands up in despair. Nor does she ever become complacent with people telling her, “Well, that’s just the way it is. Deal with it.” Instead, when this Brazilian-born activist and mother of two wants something to happen, she inspires others to join her and make positive change a reality—and quickly.

As a seven-year-old, Horton started cleaning up a river basin by her hometown during a family vacation. Quickly realizing she could get more done if she had more hands, Horton enlisted other kids to help collect trash. Another example comes early in her career, when she was participating in designing a four-story mall in Brazil—only to find out that her client couldn’t afford HVAC. Rather than pause the project, Horton helped the team incorporate natural ventilation and passive design principles.

When Horton became concerned that people wouldn’t take her seriously as an architect because she was a woman and an immigrant, she decided to prove them wrong, and she went for practically every accreditation out there: a degree in construction management (2003); a LEED AP credential (2003); a master’s in sustainable development from Harvard University (2005); a real estate license (2011); Certified Energy Manager status (2012); LEED Fellow recognition (2015); and an AIA architecture license (2016).

Most important, though, may have been the time, while working for the real estate investment trust Thomas Property Group (TPG), leading their sustainability programs from 2005 to 2012, she helped TPG LEED certify their entire portfolio within eight years and earn the number one rank in the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) for three consecutive years. Even with the big wins she and her colleagues were accomplishing, Horton was frustrated with the slow pace of change in the industry as a whole—particularly when it came to scaling the most impactful sustainable practices at existing buildings in other large real estate portfolios.

Daniele Horton is the founder and principal of Verdani Partners, a full-service sustainability consulting firm. Her experience in sustainable real estate assists national and international commercial real estate clients in promoting and implementing green building practices in a cost-effective way.

“I realized that there were a lot of limitations in what I could do as an individual trying to effect change within a larger organization,” says the 41-year-old. “Many sustainability professionals fought hard for these internal positions, and most companies don’t yet have a budget or capital to invest in a larger team to bring the skill sets needed to successfully manage comprehensive sustainability programs.”

So, Horton founded a sustainability consulting firm, specifically created to help expand sustainability programs for other large real estate portfolios. “I created a business model that would bring a team of experts, tools, and resources to green entire real estate portfolios, quickly and efficiently,” she says.

She founded Verdani Partners, of which she is president, in 2012. Headquartered in Carlsbad, California, the sustainability consulting firm works primarily with real estate organizations and their existing building stock. Their 11 core clients read like a Who’s Who of leading national and international real estate owners and managers: PGIM Real Estate, CommonWealth Partners, Clarion Partners, Jamestown, GID, Parkway Properties (which acquired her former employer, TPG, in 2013)—the list goes on. Collectively, Verdani manages more than 4,300 properties and 800 million square feet of space—100 million of that square footage being Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified across 250 projects.

The Russell Investments Center, Seattle, Washington, was awarded LEED Platinum recertification under Existing Buildings, as well as LEED ID+C certification. Interior Architects transformed the Russell Investments Center both inside and out, creating welcoming, communal space throughout the building.

What makes Verdani Partners such an attractive firm for sustainable real estate, beyond the fact that they understand real estate sustainability challenges from the owner’s perspective? It comes down to three core things: being full-service, cost-effective, and efficient. Leveraging a 30-person team of experts across multiple departments, they’re truly a full-service firm, specializing in corporate sustainability programs, green building certifications, energy audits and benchmarking, GRESB reporting, annual ESG (environmental, social and governance) reports, efficiency projects, utility data management, and stakeholder engagement.

“A client might need someone who knows corporate sustainability, then an engineer, then someone in green building certifications,” says Horton. “And often, that means they have to hire three different consultants for each of those areas.” That’s not the case with Verdani—everyone is in-house, able to be deployed at a moment’s notice depending on a client’s needs, and that means helping clients achieve results faster and more cost-effectively.

“We’re not just greening one building at a time for our clients,” says Horton. “We’re developing an effective ESG strategy, then scaling up—across the whole portfolio—so that we are helping our clients make a bigger impact on greening our existing buildings stock while adding value to our client’s organizations.” And that’s not just attractive to Horton’s clients, but also to Horton herself.

“Sure, as an architect, it’s exciting to work on a net-zero project from the ground up,” notes Horton. “But with more than 98 percent of our building stock being already-existing structures, and 75 percent of that number being buildings that are more than 20 years old and in need of efficiency improvements, that is where we need to focus our attention to make a bigger impact.”

Horton references how, currently, existing buildings are responsible for 40 percent of carbon emissions and how, in order to prevent irreversible damage, carbon emissions must be cut by 80 percent by 2050. “We have to target these existing buildings—much of which are owned by large real estate portfolios—in order to make the biggest impact across the board. This is how we move the needle. We don’t have much time left, so we need to think big.”

City National Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles received LEED Platinum certification and LEED Gold recertification in 2018.

She’s certainly making a big splash, too, when it comes to her clients’ sustainability success stories. For example, CommonWealth Partners has worked with Verdani Partners since 2013. In 2018, the Los Angeles–based REIT ranked first in the GRESB Health and Well-being Module and third in the GRESB U.S. office sector; they were 2018 and 2019 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year; and, for the sixth year in a row, are a GRESB Green Stars award winner.

The array of awards is owed to the fact that their building portfolio, thanks to Verdani Partners, is 100 percent LEED-certified (54 percent of that being LEED Platinum). Plus, since starting work with Verdani, they have reduced their energy use by 22.8 percent and their CO2 emissions by 44.3 percent—meaning they met their 2020 energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction target three years early.

However, CommonWealth is hardly a unique example: Since beginning reporting to GRESB in 2011, Verdani’s clients ranked among the top 10 performers in their respective categories, with many of the portfolios ranking in the top five places.

But Verdani Partners is hardly Horton’s only example of dedication to this industry. She’s been involved with USGBC since becoming a LEED AP in 2003 (she was the first Brazilian to do so). On a community level, that means she has served on local USGBC boards, including USGBC Los Angeles and San Diego Green Building Council from 2009 to 2015.

While serving the Los Angeles chapter, Horton founded (and co-chaired for seven years) the first national USGBC Existing Buildings Committee in the country. She’s also been an active participant in the evolution of the LEED rating system for the last 12 years, including serving on the LEED Advisory Committee, and she currently serves on USGBC’s Advisory Council, as a sounding board for the LEED Steering Committee.

Beyond USGBC, she’s sat on boards for the Performance Committee for the ULI Greenprint Foundation, BOMA Sustainability Committee, the California Sustainability Alliance, Journal of Sustainable Real Estate, GRESB’s Benchmark Committee, and the Sustainable Policy Advisory Committee of The Real Estate Roundtable.

“Being involved at a leadership level within these leading industry organizations and nonprofits allows me to collaborate with the best experts in the field and stay up to date on the latest trends,” notes Horton. “Not to mention, it provides an opportunity to influence decision-makers.”

It’s no surprise that her latest project, Verdani Institute for the Built Environment (VIBE), a nonprofit founded in 2017, was born of, yet again, another situation that she feels she must take action on.

“When the current administration decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, I became concerned about the lack of federal action on environmental issues,” says Horton. “But individuals, cities, and communities must remain committed to taking action in the building sector.”

VIBE is her answer to that, providing resources for green building and resilience practices, education, and collaboration to those in the global building sector. Because that’s just Horton’s M.O.: If someone else isn’t going to do it, she will. And she’ll do it in a big way.

Current Issue

Kim Roy
The Health of Our BuildingsRead more
Green Women
Women Leading in Green Around the World Read more
Langford Park Orlando
Orlando: A Model for Urban SustainabilityRead more
Education CornerRead more
Colgate LEED
The Colgate-Palmolive Manufacturing Facility in New Jersey Achieves LEED Zero WasteRead more
The Armory
Heritage Assets: Portland Center Stage at The ArmoryRead more
rachelle schoessler lynn
LEED Fellow: Rachelle Schoessler LynnRead more
Barbara Lawrence
Teaching Sustainability in PrisonsRead more
Modern Office
10 Green Jobs with High Growth Potential Read more
advocacy group photo
Advocacy and Policy UpdateRead more
crane and workers
Sponsored: Construction ContractsRead more

Previous Issues

Ashley Fowler
USGBC's Ashley Fowler on Keeping the Conversation GoingRead more
Seattle Public Market
Baltimore, Seattle and Oakland put environmental and economic justice at the center of their green...Read more
Tiadaghton
Through public and private leadership, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have made significant leaps in LEED certifications...Read more
EV charging station
Top 10 Green Building products for a changing climateRead more
Discovery Elementary School
First three LEED zero energy projects show the market what’s possibleRead more
Little Rock Station 23
First Responder buildings become leaders in sustainable design across the United StatesRead more
The latest report from C40 Cities is one part call to action and one part...Read more
Sarah Talkington
The manager of Austin Energy Green Building’s commercial team leads the way to provide...Read more
bob berkebilen
Q&A with Bob Berkebile, Chairman of the American Institute of Architects' National Committee on...Read more
Creating a living standardRead more
Living Standard research shows storytelling advances the sustainability conversationRead more
atlanta kids painting wall
Atlanta finds new ways to create a greener, more equitable futureRead more
Jamie Margolin featured image
Jamie Margolin’s climate action movement gathers momentumRead more
Around and Around featured image
Manufacturers use Cradle to Cradle principles to achieve a circular economyRead more
Native American Connections’ LEED Platinum housing supports recoveryRead more
LEED Fellow Daniele Horton helps clients achieve sustainability across portfoliosRead more
Kandeda Building Featured Image
The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable DesignRead more
San Diego County’s energy-saving strategies led to LEED PlatinumRead more
Stargazing featured image
Interface makes rapid progress toward net zero goalsRead more
Nadav Malin
Get to know Nadav Malin of BuildingGreenRead more
Introducing a new way to test your knowledge of the stories and strategies presented in...Read more
From USGBC: Exploring the benefits of green buildings near and farRead more
LEED in your backyard: Sustainable summer vacation destinations in the U.S.Read more
Hawaii: A model state for a sustainable and independent economyRead more
From high-performance buildings to AI technology, California is a hotbed for emerging resilience strategiesRead more
Marriott’s sustainability and social impact program aims for large-scale changeRead more
Chris Ladner, LEED Fellow, puts Arkansas on the sustainability mapRead more
Interface calls for industry collaboration to address embodied carbonRead more
Taipei 101 Tower pushes new heights for super-tall buildings and sustainable artRead more
In conversation with Skanska USA’s Chief Sustainability Officer Elizabeth HeiderRead more
Introducing a new way to test your knowledge of the stories and strategies presented in...Read more
USGBC’s Taryn Holowka on the changing state of the green building industryRead more
Building a sustainability-fluent workforce for Tennessee’s construction sectorRead more
Unveiling RELi 2.0: piloting a new standard for sustainability, resilienceRead more
Advancing healthy interiors with LEED v4.1Read more
Solving for the first/last mile: micro-mobility looks to bridge city transportation gapsRead more
Embracing disruptive design with Leyla AcarogluRead more
The rise of distributed energy: what it means for utilities, consumers and green infrastructureRead more
How LEED Fellow Dana Kose got her unexpected startRead more
Austin storage facility becomes first of its kind to achieve LEED PlatinumRead more
Interview with Bill Browning, partner at Terrapin Bright GreenRead more
Introducing a new way to test your knowledge of the stories and strategies presented in...Read more
LEED’s broad applicability in Europe: from Sweden, to Italy to GermanyRead more
UN Young Leader Karan Jerath on climate changeRead more
LEED Cities shun a one-size-fits all approach to sustainabilityRead more
Schools worldwide achieve sustainability goals through data, experiential learningRead more
What’s next for LEED: v4.1, recertification and LEED ZeroRead more
The four commandments of sustainable co-working spacesRead more
We are still in: USGBC reports back on progress toward Paris commitmentsRead more
LEED’s broad applicability in Europe: from Sweden, to Italy to GermanyRead more
Moving the needle with longtime sustainability leader and LEED Fellow Mary Ann LazarusRead more
The Space Needle completes first phase of Century ProjectRead more
Interview with Dave Witek, COO of Arc Skoru, IncRead more
USGBC’s Mahesh Ramanujam: The future of the human race is intertwined with the planetRead more
The Windy City embraces its environmental legacy ahead of Greenbuild 2018Read more
Interface’s Climate Take Back Initiative Aims to Reverse Global Warming, One Tile at a...Read more
EPA grants millions in funding to research green building impacts on health, performance in schoolsRead more
Survey says: Employees are happier, healthier and more productive in LEED buildings Read more
Eternally green: Bala Cynwyd cemetery achieves SITES certification for sustainable landscape design Read more
A look at how McDonald’s, Bank of America, and Colgate-Palmolive are advancing UN SDGs...Read more
New York native Harry Gordon: Architect, advocate and green building legendRead more
New USGBC-commissioned case study examines Boston’s resilience, emergency preparednessRead more
Chicago’s theMART leverages the Arc platform as it eyes a new LEED certificationRead more
Interview with Wight and Company’s chief sustainability officer Lois Vitt SaleRead more
NYC chief sustainability officer talks energy innovation in the Big AppleRead more
Costa Rica’s LEED-certified Olas Verdes surf hotel gives local community an economic boostRead more
As South Africa’s water crisis continues, the nation’s building industry pushes for conservation...Read more
A new wave of activists and businesses is tackling food waste worldwideRead more
The tiny house movement goes mobile in Florida with help from volunteers Read more
NYU Langone Health overhauls its power system, emphasizing resilience using PEERRead more
Intel, Autodesk making inroads in industry, innovation and infrastructure Read more
LEED pilot credit for building materials helps clarify potential health, safety and environmental impacts Read more
Kath Williams: A self-proclaimed 'old-fashioned' Montana girl’s journey into sustainabilityRead more
Go inside the LEED Platinum home of actor and activist Ed Begley Jr.Read more
Interview with Lance Hosey, architect and LEED FellowRead more
Mayor Bowser’s vision for a green D.C.Read more
Industry leaders sound off on the trajectory of the U.S. green building marketRead more
New streamlining for building code makes it easier to achieve green projectsRead more
Designing for human health is the next frontier in sustainable buildingRead more
Educators eye green building strategies to enhance K-12 curriculum, career preparationRead more
Saint Paul is on the cutting edge of decarbonizationRead more
MARS tackles quality of life challenges for farmers in alignment with U.N. Sustainable Development...Read more
For schools, net zero energy design provides more than cost-saving benefitsRead more
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been in existence for 25 years, and Leadership...Read more
High-performing, energy-efficient homes dominate millennial real estate marketRead more
Interview with Emily Pilloton, Founder and Executive Director, Project H Design/Girls GarageRead more
USGBC’s certification programs encourage innovation in sustainability on a much broader scale than ever...Read more
In coastal Vina del Mar, the fuel and energy company COPEC SA is working with...Read more
Mirabella, a new community in Florida, creates 158 sustainable houses specified to USGBC’s highest standards.Read more
LEED On letter from Rep. Chris LeeRead more
HP creates a breathtaking and sustainable landscape for its Boise campusRead more
Toyota’s new Lone Star State headquarters showcases the company’s singular vision of sustainabilityRead more
Rhode Island takes another huge step toward expanding its green infrastructureRead more
Q & A with Andy To, managing director of GBCI North AsiaRead more