Why sustainability cannot be ignored by the real estate industry

A key motivation when we started this business was for sustainability to be seen and accepted as a valuable asset management tool by the property industry. Seven years on, has our goal been achieved? Read on!


What is sustainability in Real Estate?

Sustainability can mean many different things to many different people so to keep it simple, I see sustainability in Real Estate as delivering enduring value. For the real estate industry, ultimately, for a building to be sustainable it needs to be occupied both now and for the foreseeable future, delivering an acceptable return to the investors.

Delivering value comes down to the key drivers of occupancy, rent, lease length and covenant strength so if a sustainable approach can enhance any of those key elements it will deliver value, in the same way as any other asset management tool. That has been my approach for the last seven years although I hope some of our methodologies have matured!

Sustainability is far more than managing energy, water and waste. Don’t get me wrong, these are important aspects, which can reduce the operating costs of a building and improve its resilience, all of which should be attractive to the occupiers.

Does this deliver quantitative returns?

The answer is not obvious in Europe, although the award-winning study entitled “Decomposing the Value Effects of Sustainable Real Estate Investment: International Evidence” measured the impact of sustainable investment on the value and performance of listed real estate investment firms (REITs) and found that strong sustainability practices are associated with superior investment performance.

More importantly, if you ignore sustainability you marginalise your ability to attract the broadest scope of occupiers, potentially those most likely to have the best covenant strength who often also have the strongest CSR credentials. We have experienced, on a number of occasions, corporates matching this profile, willing to commit to longer leases for buildings which have excellent green credentials. This is of course not a one size fits all.

What does this mean?

At a regulatory level, in the UK it is now unlawful to let a building if it does not have a minimum EPC energy rating of an E. In addition E rated properties may still be at risk from MEES regulations. This is significant. For the first time we have energy efficiency regulation that impacts rental income and value. It will be interesting to see if this transitions into Europe in the future.

Interestingly though, we have seen greater uptake of sustainability through voluntary reporting than enforced regulation. GRESB, the global sustainability benchmark survey has mobilised the real estate industry over the last few years with 850 portfolios participating in 2017, representing more than USD$3.7 trillion in assets under management. GRESB is investor driven, to assess the environmental, social, governance (ESG) performance of their investment managers, where many see ESG as a fiduciary duty to protect and enhance future value of their investments. It is also interesting to note that research in July 2017 by Dirk Brounen and Maarten van der Spek identified a return premium of 3% between the highest and lowest GRESB scoring participants.

What practically should we be thinking about for the future?

So there appears to be some quantitative correlation to performance if enough research is done. But what practically should we be thinking about for the future?

For me, the three big impacts to plan for will be climatic change, technological advances and a generational shift in behaviour. I’m not going to dwell on climate change but the combination of rapidly advancing technology with a changing work culture will see a move away from honest work for honest pay to meaningful work in a meaningful environment. The advent of health and wellbeing to deliver a ‘meaningful environment’ is already upon us and my instinct tells me this will be the new face of sustainability, which will mobilise the industry far more quickly than just measuring energy.


To speak to a member of the team about how we can support you, please contact us.

PropTech: A Real Estate (R)Evolution

Back the 1980’s I was co-founder of a software company, which specialised in creating systems for the (then) new generation of PC’s. Myself and my colleagues had learned our programming skills whilst studying for PhDs using massive mainframe computer systems with clunky user interfaces and torturously slow software development cycles. We seized upon the new generation of “Micro Computers” that had emerged in the 1980s and new software tools that let us develop systems far quicker.

We started to develop software for the commercial real estate market, creating a system that allowed agents to match client requirements against a database of available property. We created a centralised service to compile the database of property and distributed it by electronic bulletin board. Fairly rapidly, we had all of the major agents using our system with over 100 clients.


This was before the internet. In short, we had used technology to disrupt an industry, revolutionised the distribution of information, automated manual processes and consolidated effort. I guess these days we would have beards and drink flat whites in some trendy loft studio near Old Street.

30 years ago PropTech was confined to the primal needs of the commercial real estate world, namely managing the process of finding tenants or a suitable property, managing the process of rent and services charge, and valuing the property. And that was about it.

These processes remain core to the PropTech offerings that are currently on the market and over the years they have been augmented by new technologies, but we have not necessarily seen disruptive change. The advent of the Internet in the 90s bought about huge changes in the way that property could be marketed, but, did this really shake the residential and commercial agency markets? New technological developments are bringing new products to the market but will we see further ‘disruption’?

Let’s examine the potential for change.

EVORA Global Proptech in Real Estate


Virtual and augmented reality

This technology certainly has the potential to enhance and quicken the design process, allowing the client to get closer to what their space will could look and feel like. Certainly, this technology will impact the way that architects and designers work with their clients, reducing the cycle time from concept to finished product.

However, in reality, is this tech making an existing process more efficient rather that creating a new model?

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT has the potential to enhance the way that we monitor and control space. It’s noticeable that some BMS vendors are now rebranding as IoT vendors. Closer control and monitoring will enable more cost efficient and environmentally sustainable use of our workspaces. As suggested this technology is already disrupting the BMS market, causing established vendors to shift their stance as new players start to infiltrate their market with new platforms that allow monitoring and control of workspace use, CO2 levels, basic energy use and focussing on a ‘Wellbeing’ agenda.

IoT has the potential to also produce lots of Big Data, but what does that mean?

Big Data

The potential for Big Data within real estate is enormous. At a micro scale, looking at data from IoT sensors and BMS and meter data and also on a macro scale, analysing value trends etc.

But, as Dan Areley of Duke University said:
Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…

There is the potential for Big Data to extract nuance and understanding from complex systems. In real estate terms, to be able to identify how factors such as weather, occupancy and footfall can impact on cost and environmental impact.

The issue with Big Data is that by its very nature, it is big. So big that conventional Business Intelligence tools cannot really cope with the sheer volumes that are in play and the complexity of the relationships between the data. The potential for disruption through enhanced insight is always possible but, with current tech, unlikely.

But there is hope, in the form of AI/Machine Learning, how would this look for the Real Estate industry?

Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning

AI/Machine Learning is the new kid on the analytics block and is the key to unlocking the value of the Big Data that could disrupt many aspects of the real estate world, such as valuations, sustainability, planning and market analysis.

The driver behind AI/Machine Learning is Data Science, a whole different approach to analytics. It is not so much about the evolution of Business Intelligence (BI), but more of a completely new approach, a new species.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Data Science offers the opportunity for discovering new questions to be answered and takes the approach of statistically analysing the data, so that the relationships between the different data types can be articulated as a model.” quote=”Data Science offers the opportunity for discovering new questions to be answered and takes the approach of statistically analysing the data, so that the relationships between the different data types can be articulated as a model.”]

BI is about KPIs, charts and answering questions that we knew – in very crude terms – sorting, grouping, charting and comparing data that exists in regular structures. Data Science offers the opportunity for discovering new questions to be answered and takes the approach of statistically analysing the data, so that the relationships between the different data types can be articulated as a model. As that model becomes refined and perfected that gives us the intriguing possibility of prediction.

DAaaS – Data Analytics As A Service

Data Science isn’t new, it has been around for around 30 years and arguably, has been driven forward more recently by faster processing, high capacity storage. This is now manifesting itself as DAaaS – Data Analytics as a Service. Cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are offering storage, data handling and modeling tools to provide the possibility of creating predictive analysis opportunities based on our own data. However, these tools require new skills in our teams, Data Scientists to create the models that we need.

So don’t be surprised to see service providers and end users on the real estate market recruiting and training Data Scientists, which will lead to the creation of value from Big Data. This value, in terms of strategic and operations advice will in turn reveal The Big Answers and also The Big Questions.

Blockchain

Whereas Big Data is a fairly easily understood concept, Blockchain causes a few difficulties. Firstly, what is Blockchain and, secondly, how could impact the real estate world and, in particular, the sustainability agenda?

Blockchain originated back in 2008 as a digital ledger that provides a way of encrypting and providing transparency for cryptocurrency transactions. More recently, it being seen as a way of encrypting transactions between parties in such a way as to provide total transparency and auditability. In the real estate world, this could be used to encapsulate lease transactions, rent payments and rent review agreements. If we extend our crystal ball into the sustainability world then we could see Blockchains between utility companies and consumers, providing investment strength data with regards to energy consumption.


EVORA can help you capture your building data with SIERA Sustainability Software. Contact Us for a demo.