Manulife is raising standards in real estate

Enhancing cleaning, disinfection, and communication is critically important within real estate at a time when health and safety is top of mind.
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
By Tom Nightingale

Attaining and maintaining higher standards of cleanliness and disinfection remains the priority for facility managers. So, too, does communicating those standards.

During these challenging times, residents, tenants, visitors, and the general public want visual and certifiable affirmation that landlords and facility operators are taking the required measures to safeguard the health of anyone entering or leaving a building. Prior to COVID-19, much of the cleaning and maintenance happened silently. Now, tenants, visitors, and employees increasingly want that work to be quantifiable and certifiable.

Facility operators are taking on this duty, and they’re being recognized for the intensification of their cleaning and maintenance through ISSA’s GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation, which has seen vast uptake across Canada and the globe since launching a year ago in spring 2020. Everything from commercial real estate to convention centres, theatres, stadia, and airports have pursued and achieved accreditation.

In the real estate field in Canada, Manulife Investment Management (“Manulife”) has led the way.

In February, Manulife became the first Canadian real estate landlord to achieve the accreditation by attaining the certification for seven of its Montreal properties. Its GBAC STAR accredited facilities include office and retail buildings at Centre Manuvie – 2000 Mansfield St., 1001 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West, 2000 Peel St., 420 Notre-Dame St. West, 465 and 485 McGill St., and 715 Square Victoria St.

To say Manulife has a significant presence across Canada would be an understatement: in addition to real estate, the company also has a diverse portfolio in the areas of private markets. Manulife’s real estate portfolio is certainly extensive – it develops and manages commercial real estate for thousands of customers around the globe. As of March 31, 2021, it totals 63 million square feet of office, industrial, and retail space and over 6,500 multifamily units across Canada, the U.S., and Asia.

It’s fair to say that pursuing and achieving GBAC STAR accreditation was a logical step for Manulife. The high standards of these buildings have already been recognized through other notable certifications. On the environmental side, all seven of its GBAC-accredited properties are also BOMA BEST certified, a national green building certification program from Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Canada, aimed at setting realistic standards for the energy and environmental performance of existing buildings.

The commitment to environmental sustainability in the group’s real estate properties was also recently recognized when Céline Laforce, property director for Manulife, was honoured with ISSA Canada’s Environmental Stewardship Award for 2020. In addition, the GBAC STAR-accredited building at 1001 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West was among 15 prize recipients in the energy performance improvement component of BOMA Quebec’s Défi Énergie en immobilier (DÉI), a four-year competition aimed at reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of commercial, institutional, and multi-residential buildings in Quebec.

Putting people first

The desire to help set the pace when it comes to cleaning, maintenance, and infection control is indicative of Manulife’s standing and its aspirations in Canadian real estate. Focusing on people – tenants, residents, employees, or visitors – is nothing new for the company. The real estate group consistently emphasizes that its teams are committed to establishing and implementing comprehensive practices to ensure health and safety at its buildings.

There is also a great focus on what Manulife terms “preventive maintenance” of its buildings. Proactive measures have been key throughout the first 12 months of the pandemic and are sure to continue, to some extent, for the foreseeable future. Stephen Nicoletti, Managing Director, Real Estate Asset Management, Eastern Canada at Manulife Investment Management, and his team stress that high tenant retention is a core part of Manulife Investment Management’s main goals. Tenants are surveyed every second year with the aim of assessing and improving customer service.

One of the key ways of building customer relationships is ensuring fluid communication is maintained at all times. This is vital, particularly in response to the pandemic, with preventative maintenance communications being a constant priority. The company also holds several programs and events for its tenants throughout the year, focusing on various topics and initiatives including health and wellness.

Combatting COVID-19 with ValkarTech

Montreal-based firm ValkarTech supports Manulife in the operation of the seven GBAC STAR-accredited real estate properties. The consulting firm guides, supports, and advises on ways to optimize the operational performance of facilities in terms of building hygiene and sanitation.

Manulife became the firm’s first property partner in July 2019, eight months before the COVID-19 pandemic escalated to a Canadian emergency. While Manulife had cleaning protocols and processes in place already, ValkarTech assists with the management of the janitorial work including cleaning and maintenance and managed the application/registration process for Manulife’s GBAC STAR accreditation for the seven facilities.

RELATED: Experience ValkarTech’s expertise

ValkarTech senior director, Derek Oliveira, notes his company strongly believes that the environment in which people operate directly affects their quality of life, health, and families. “This is what motivates us to transmit good work methods related to housekeeping operations at all levels,” Oliveira said. “Proof of this is the performance of Manulife’s buildings in Montreal.” He adds that by collaborating with ValkarTech on the management of housekeeping operations, “Manulife confirms that it places as much importance on the health of the building occupants as it does on its operating budget.”

Oliveira adds ValkarTech is “extremely grateful for the privilege” of working with Manulife to amplify the facilities’ cleaning and maintenance protocols and standards. “In doing so,” he says, “Manulife actively participates in the evolution of the industry and sets an example of sound management.”

Setting the new standard

That “sound management” is demonstrated by the fact Manulife has summarized recommended measures within six key categories, each of which are designed to ensure the safe and ongoing return of tenants, visitors, and contractors. Many of these recommendations follow the pattern of what has been seen across the industry in the last year – use of PPE, social distancing, signage and communication, enhanced cleaning, and disinfecting.

Other, more specific measures have included revamping HVAC operations, including installation of air filtration units with double HEPA filters in elevators at three of the GBAC STAR-accredited facilities, the Manulife Centre at 2000 Mansfield St., 2000 Peel St. and 715 Square Victoria St. These high-performance filtration units, specifically designed for the shared-space considerations of elevators, have been proven to eliminate 99.9 per cent of airborne virus and bacterial particles.

COVID-19 has magnified the need for real estate operators like Manulife to not only bolster their cleaning, maintenance, and health and safety measures, but also to communicate those measures to tenants, visitors, and employees. At a time when standards and expectations are being raised, companies like Manulife and ValkarTech are setting an example for real estate operators across Canada. Others can and should follow suit as the industry looks to safeguard against infectious disease.

A full overview of Manulife Investment Management’s recommendations can be found in the company’s return to office: tenant guidebook. Manulife Investment Management’s property management services are engaged in real estate property management and are not authorized to provide, and do not provide, investment advice or investment advisory services. Additionally, the content of this site is not intended nor should be construed as an offer to buy or sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security or to participate in an investment strategy. Additional information about the company, its properties, and its operations can be found at

More information on GBAC STAR accreditation can be found at For additional program details and information, please email or contact him at (416) 803-4653.

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