Membership Interview with Wendy Neu, Chairman and CEO at Hugo Neu
Why is sustainability important to your business?
According to the most recent IPCC report, we’re out of time - limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach. The report stresses the urgency for accelerated and equitable climate actions to address the UN’s sustainable development goals. However, at Hugo Neu we’ve recognized that urgency for some years now. The report underscores and we agree – climate change is the result of more than a century of inequitable and unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption, production and economic drivers.
It’s time to expedite both adaptation and mitigation measures. Time to take the risks to demonstrate what may or may not work. Time to retreat where necessary to avoid irreversible losses and irresponsible investments of public dollars – it’s time to learn how to live with this climate crisis as we hasten adaptation and mitigation – fairly and inclusively to give EVERYONE a fighting chance. Time to make our communities and ecosystems more resilient.
For example, in cities, networks of parks and open spaces, wetlands and urban agriculture can reduce flood risk and reduce heat-island effects. Electrification with renewables and shifts in public transport can enhance health, employment, and equity.
- As a leader, business owner, and humanitarian, I have always believed in the importance of setting and demonstrating the moral and ethical courage necessary to successfully carry out our Hugo Neu mission with purpose, clarity and importantly, passion.
- For Hugo Neu, our passion for achieving smart, green, inclusive and socially equitable sustainable development – as demonstrated by Kearny Point – is less about Leadership and more about Stewardship. Or perhaps I see them as one and the same.
- That’s because our work is as much about mindfully restoring communities, ecosystems and lives – as it is about running a profitable business.
- For us, economic development is only as successful and the community in which it happens. It is about linked prosperity. We truly believe in the saying “doing well by doing good.” Or as we say at Hugo Neu – “Private Assets for Public Good”.
- And today, in this “new normal” of climate change impacts – rising GHG’s, rising temperatures, rising seas, extreme weather-related disasters, and resultant perils for public health and environment – we can no longer do business the same way. To do so puts us squarely in a race to the bottom!
- For those of us in real estate development, where we’ve come from is certainly not where we’re going. But it did get us to where we are. Drastic changes are already affecting us. And we need to do all we can to reverse the impacts, properties and beyond! That means policies, practice and service! Our responsibilities must go beyond our property lines if we are to be successful.
- Real estate and other risks are rising exponentially in this age of climate change.
- Kearny Point has been our (Hugo Neu’s) pivotal model for achieving a more resilient, sustainable footprint through integrated practices and approaches that not only achieve cross-media improvements to water, land, and air, but also target greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions, among other beneficial outcomes, including local/regional jobs & economic growth around clean, green and diverse minority-owned businesses and training for disadvantaged community residents and returning citizens.
- The Kearny Point master plan which continues to be revisited (“pivoted”) with regards to the latest sea level rise projections and related impacts & opportunities – calls for a mix of green infrastructure that marries the best of human and nature. The blueprint calls for more than 25 acres of open space with restored native habitat, a continuous raised waterfront promenade that will serve as a buffer against future flooding, and a living shoreline — bald eagles are already nesting on the property. Buildings are being retreated from the river’s edge, and basements are being designated for parking, a “wet proofing” strategy that should minimize damages from future floods by allowing basements to fill up first.
- The $ billion-dollar property and plans have already adaptively redeveloped many of the historic shipbuilding facilities, most recently used as warehouses and distribution hubs, as spaces for cleantech businesses such as vertical farming, using significantly less water and energy with zero harmful pesticides (Bowery Farms and Oishi Farms are already tenants) or circular economy enterprises such as Babo International Trade, which specializes in unbleached bamboo paper goods. There’s even a commercial laundry on site that uses 20 percent of the water of conventional methods.
- Innovative Vertical Farming on Hugo Neu’s Kearny Point Adaptive Reuse Campus In Heart of the NJ/NY Metro Area- Revolutionizing Year-Round Access to Healthy Delicious Food Through Clean, Green Technologies!
- With vertical farming, produce is grown without pesticides, with less water and in farms that are only a short drive from consumers. That means fewer hours on a truck, which decreases the fuel used and increases odds of consumers eating fresher food and throwing less away. Advocates see vertical farming as a more sustainable way to expand food supply for growing global population, particularly as climate change transforms weather patterns.
- Kearny Point is also using technology from AdTech Industries for stormwater management. The filtration system acts as a “smart sponge” to remove hydrocarbons and other contaminants such as heavy metals and pathogens that are typically associated with older, urban industrial sites.
- Several years ago, Kearny Point announced a partnership with the Northeast Clean Energy Council’s Cleantech Open Northeast program to provide four months of free shared office space and other business development benefits to six startups. The initiative builds upon Wendy Neu’s policy that Kearny Point prioritize tenants that have sustainability considerations — both from an environmental and job-creation standpoint — at the heart of their business plans.
- According to Wendy Neu, these sorts of demonstrations can give you a better sense of how it works or how it doesn’t work.
- Kearny Point currently houses over 200 businesses supporting more than 2000 jobs are already on the campus, in the 160,000-square-foot, proof-of-concept building affectionately known as Building 78, along with its recent addition – The Annex. In the future, the company hopes to support at least 5,000 jobs, offering a mix of amenities and capacity that enable it to become somewhat like a 21st century resilient city – a re-make of its important functionality when it housed over 35,000 workers with diverse skillsets focused on the mission of winning wars while enabling the livelihoods of thousands of businesses and families in the region.
How do you realize your vision for sustainability/what successes can you point to?
Below are priority examples of our (Hugo Neu’s) demonstrated commitments to regional & community-based resilience & sustainability – The private sector, in my opinion, has to start stepping up. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve here.
Hugo Neu/Kearny Point’s Partnership & Support to Redevelop Hackensack Avenue as a “Complete Green Street.”
- Hugo Neu has been actively partnering with state, civic and federal agencies on plans for redeveloping Hackensack Avenue as a Complete Green Street, including assisting the Town of Kearny in gaining access to public grant dollars for this purpose. Several years ago, the town received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Public Work program, along with additional $$ from the NJ DOT to redevelop Hackensack Avenue, the primary access road that leads into the Kearny Point site. Hugo Neu partnered with the town by providing matching dollars and technical resource support to develop the proposed project as a greener, safer pedestrian road, given the predominance of heavy diesel truck traffic that utilizes Hackensack Ave.
- Today, the surface is riddled with potholes, prone to flooding and offers limited pedestrian access, which makes it difficult to get in and out of the facility. The “green street” will widen the roadway to include a 12-foot sidewalk and a 28-foot promenade with bicycle lanes. It will also manage and treat the first 1.25 inches of rain and stormwater through integrated green infrastructure – addressing a 24-27-acre drainage area. Recent reports indicate that flooding due to climate change could shut down a quarter of all critical infrastructure in the US.
- It won’t just serve Kearny Point: The county emergency services, a local correctional facility and a memorial for the fallen navy ship USS Juneau (fittingly built on the original site) will all benefit from the improved transportation access.
Innovative Water Resilience Studies—Urban Stormwater -Water Quality Issues and Flooding in Communities – Fastest Rising Area of Threat to Water Resources on East Coast & NJ
- Kearny Point is adjacent to the confluence of Passaic and Hackensack Rivers and has experienced flooding due to significant tidal surges during past hurricane events including the Superstorm Sandy in 2012. With a significant flooding risk, Hugo Neu has an innovative and sustainable vision to assess the flooding risk at this site and undertake interventions with collaboration/potential funding from the state and local agencies to mitigate this risk and develop the site for economic prosperity in the local region.
- Our Sustainability SVP Dominique Lueckenhoff, a former career USEPA environmental regulator and scientist with significant water expertise has been leading a series of studies to better assess, characterize and address water flooding and improved resilience for the site and surrounding area. Dominique also worked with ASBN to feature our first Kearny Point water case study – asbc-cleanwater-kearnypoint.
- Subsequently, we’ve now completed and shared with our Kearny and Hudson County community partners the results and findings of a comprehensive, two-step water hydraulics and hydrology study evaluating the degree and impacts of both storm and tidal surge for our site and surrounding areas. Our location in a highly impervious urban industrial zone between the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers makes us and our neighbors – public and private highly vulnerable to the increasing effects of climate change. Importantly, through this first-of-its-kind study, we’ve identified both short and long-term solutions to addressing the impacts for the Kearny Point peninsula and related public and private assets.
- The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has
released two studies by the Northeast Regional Climate Center, a
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) partner,
confirming increases in precipitation across New Jersey over the
last 20 years, and projecting further increases in precipitation
intensity through the end of this century due to climate change.
The studies show:
- Precipitation is already 2.5% to 10% higher. The precipitation expectations that presently guide state policy, planning and development criteria, and which rely upon data obtained through 1999, do not accurately reflect current precipitation intensity conditions. Extreme precipitation amounts are 2.5% higher now than the 1999 data suggests, and some parts of the state have seen a 10% increase above the outdated data.
- Precipitation is likely to increase by more than 20% from the 1999 baseline by 2100, and projected changes will be greater in the northern part of the state than in the southern and coastal areas, with projections for some northwestern counties seeing the greatest increase, some by as much as 50%.
- Among other storm types studied, what is often referred to as the 100-year, 24-hour storm is included. A 100-year storm is one that has a 1 percent chance of occurring based on past historical records and represents the total amount of rainfall likely to fall within a 24-hour period.
- It is important to note that despite the name, it is a mistake to assume such a rainfall occurs once every 100 years. Rather, it means that there is a 1 percent chance in any given year that this type of storm will hit any given area. In fact, the remnants of Tropical Storms Henri and Ida, though considered 100-year-storms, hit the same areas less than two week apart last summer.
- According to DEP studies, the Kearny Point region is projected see upwards towards a 37% increase in rainfall during a 24-hour period of a 100-year storm under a moderate warming scenario towards the end of the century.
- The study found that at more than half of the stations reviewed, extreme precipitation amounts are 2.5% higher now than those published in 2000. In some places, the additional 20 years of data reflects a more than 10% increase above the outdated data.
Indoor Air Quality and Healthy Building
- At Kearny Point, Hugo Neu’s adaptive sustainable redevelopment campus, we’ve taken health and safety in this new normal very seriously. The pandemic led us to execute a healthy workplace program supporting our employees and over 200 businesses housed in our buildings.
- Our comprehensive “Safe, Healthy & Protected Program” incorporates multilayered, state-of-the-art technologies providing continuous clean air and neutralization of 99%+ microbial pathogens and air contaminants, lowering risk of transmission to under 1%. Also, robust cleaning, electrostatic disinfection, health screening, PPE, physical distancing, training and mandatory HN employee vaccinations are now our norm.
Renewable Energy and Reduced Harmful GHG and Toxic Air Emissions for Overburdened Communities
- Tailpipe emissions are among the largest contributors to climate change. The transition to electric cars and more accessible EV charging infrastructure supported by renewable energy will improve air quality while enabling better environmental public health protection.
- We’ve recently partnered with developer and provider of utility-scale mobile energy storage solutions, Power Edison in a new joint venture, EV Edison, to deploy the largest electric vehicle (EV) charging hub in the United States through our Kearny Point site.
- The project will consist of more than 200 high-power fast chargers and will be located at Kearny Point Industrial Park, 10 minutes from the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, and 10 minutes from New York City. It is anticipated that this EV charging hub, serving the high-traffic Tri-State region, will power thousands of light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles daily in addition to charging electric marine vessels.
- Additionally, we are in the process of installing solar panels on a number of our buildings.
Partnering with the Governor’s Re-Entry Program on Jobs Training & Placement “ Private Assets for Public Good”
- The Governor’s Training, Reentry & Employment Center held its grand opening this morning in Kearny. The mission of the three-story, 25,000-square-foot facility is to provide the formerly incarcerated with the industry credentials they need to obtain a career in high-demand fields.
- Wendy Neu, CEO of Hugo Neu Corporation donated the center’s building, which is located within Hugo Neu’s 130-acre Kearny Point business center.
- Operated by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation (NJRC), a nonprofit agency dedicated to removing all barriers to employment for citizens returning from jail or prison, the center houses nine classrooms and conference spaces where NJRC participants will receive training in six major certification skill sets: 1) Solar Technology, 2) Construction Industry, 3) CISCO Certification Networking Technician Certification, 4) Automobile Mechanics Training, 5) SEIU/Health Care Maintenance, and 6) GED/high school diploma, as well as, providing private access to Telemedicine and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).
What public policy priorities are of greatest importance to you at this time and why?
Incentives and disincentives for developers to reduce footprints and negative environmental impacts that exacerbate flooding, poor water and air quality, as well as ecosystem destruction. As our water studies have demonstrated, Improvement measures, such as those we are planning at Kearny Point will be costly and non-sustainable if those upstream in the watershed do not do their part to reduce impacts.
More investments and accountability for actions that address inequality and social justice – disincentives for those that don’t – particularly for businesses located in Opportunity Zones – financially benefitting by being located in disadvantaged areas, but not truly contributing to diverse local community livability.
How does being part of ASBN help you fulfill your goals?
ASBN allows us a greater network of support and activism through like-minded businesses and leadership. We’re all only stronger working together. ASBN enables greater coalition building, support and influence of key decision makers. Greater opportunities to demonstrate greener practices and reduce impact and support fair and inclusive circular economies. Greater collective opportunities to ensure for the health, welfare and sustainability of our communities and ecosystems.