Business & Leadership


March 19, 2024

How to integrate ESG into CRE business goals

How to integrate ESG into CRE business goals

If there’s one thing Walker & Dunlop SVP Kelsey Duffey knows, it’s that business outcomes and success aren’t always black and white. Having started in marketing, Kelsey never predicted her career would lead her to a role in investor relations —and later, to spearhead the company’s ESG efforts and lead senior executives to the finish line. For the last five years, Kelsey has focused on improving ESG communications and, more importantly, illustrating their tangible value across the business.

Here’s a glimpse of her insights and suggestions, as shared on the Impact Podcast with John Shegerian.

Becoming an example of ESG implementation and execution

As one of the largest multifamily and commercial real estate lenders in the country, W&D is used to being in the spotlight.

“W&D isn’t a household name, but people in the industry know who we are, and that means a lot given we’re in such a large industry.”

It also creates a certain amount of pressure when setting, communicating, and achieving ESG goals.

Kelsey shares that it all starts with W&D’s own people. W&D considers its overall operations part of ESG because the company is financing communities, which gives employees a purpose.

“If you looked at what Walker & Dunlop was doing back in 2012 that could be classified as ESG, it was centered around our people, retention, training, leadership opportunities, and wellness benefits — everything that went into creating a happy, healthy, productive employee, so that’s been our focus.”

Supporting women and minorities as part of ESG

W&D balances external communications with internal goal setting, hoping to change the narrative for the industry as a whole.

“When you look at the ownership level of commercial real estate, where the real wealth is, it’s only 4 or 5 percent for women and minorities. [Our] goal is to open doors. It’s an industry that has been around for a long time, and breaking in can be tough.”

To create more opportunities, W&D established CREUnited, which includes some of the biggest players in the industry (think Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, KKR, etc.). This program breaks down barriers to offer networking opportunities and capital access.

“Throughout W&D, we have quantitative goals around bringing up women and minorities in management positions and among the top earners at the company. We’re focused on entry-level roles, with partnerships with historically black colleges and universities and intern programs that start as young as high school. We hope to hire them and help them move up from analysts like I did.”

Learning ESG by doing

Becoming an ESG leader wasn’t part of the original plan, but Kelsey seized the opportunity to help shape what has become a core pillar of Walker & Dunlop’s success.

Hear the full conversion on the Impact Podcast with John Shegerian and read more about Walker & Dunlop’s ESG initiatives.

News & Events

Find out what we’re doing by regularly visiting our news & events page.

Learn more

Walker Webcast

Gain insight on leadership, business, the economy, commercial real estate, and more.

Learn more