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GRESB Data Automation – Ensuring Seamless Does Not Result in Senseless


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Sacha van Tuijn, an Analyst at GRESB, recently posted a blog highlighting the anger and frustration that completion of the GRESB Performance Indicators evokes. I don’t think many will argue with that!

The complexity in pulling together the varied data elements every which way can be enough to want to make you pull your hair out. But there is no doubt GRESB is mobilising many organisations to take action to collate and better understand their environmental data, which should lead to performance improvement. That can only be a good thing… despite the pain!

So what is being done to save us all from pulling our hair out and keep our blood pressure at sensible levels?

Well, quite a lot. As Nils Kok, CEO of GRESB says in his blog, ESG, Real Estate and the Six Stages of Grief, “One of the exciting developments is that GRESB is slowly moving from manual entry of information to seamless data flows between many different data management platforms and our Portal”.

Well our proprietary software, SIERA, is one of those sustainability data platforms he refers to, so what’s our take on this?

The original – and still widely used – approach is where participants manually aggregate their consumption data and then enter it per sector, line-by-line, in the standard GRESB Portal. This is time consuming, requires a lot of manual calculations and is subject to human error.

For the last couple of years, a semi-automated approach has been made available, the GRESB Asset Spreadsheet, which provides an Excel template of 159 columns – yes, 159 columns – of required data by asset, which once completed, can be uploaded directly into the GRESB portal saving manual data input. Now this is obviously not for the faint hearted but it does give a good indication of the data collection and analysis requirements to meet the GRESB reporting requirements and achieve a good score. But let’s not write this method off just yet, we’ll come back to it later.

The third option is the latest development from GRESB to achieve seamless transition of data direct from data management software systems such as SIERA, directly into the GRESB portal using clever mapping tools, known as an API or Application Programme Interface. This sounds great, and of course, in many ways it is. But as with any system, dodgy data in means dodgy information out. So the big risk is to make sure ‘Seamless’ does not equate to ‘Senseless’ through lack of visibility of data flowing directly into GRESB.

As soon as data automation gets involved, audit trail clarity can be lost and this is the potential risk here.

Which brings me back to the second option of the 159 column Asset Spreadsheet. The beauty of this approach is that the spreadsheet model can actually be auto-generated in software platforms, an approach SIERA has taken, and swiftly interfaced into the GRESB portal through an uploader. This process takes less than a minute and populates the Performance Indicator questions for all sectors reported by a portfolio. Although a hefty spreadsheet, it is clearly structured and provides a great audit trail and visual clarity of all the data before it heads off into the GRESB machine. And it certainly didn’t reduce EVORA’s efficiency in delivering GRESB for our clients, with SIERA processing more than 40 submissions in 2016.

We’re happy to implement the clever mapping tools into SIERA but, as both professional sustainability consultants and software providers, visibility and clear audit trails to ensure quality of data is our number one priority for our clients. We have even replicated the full GRESB Performance Indicator report at fund and sector level to provide additional visibility, SIERA being the only software platform to do this according to Luc van de Boom, Analyst at GRESB.

Call me belt and braces, but although I run a professional sustainability consultancy I am a chartered accountant by profession and old habits die hard!

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