GRESB 2018: over, not done with!

With GRESB over we talked to a number of staff across our business to get a view on experiences faced, whilst it was still fresh in the team’s mind.


Supporting the team for our busiest ever GRESB season.

Paul Sutcliffe – Director

I’ve lost count of the number of GRESB submissions I have supported over the years. I do know that this year at EVORA we supported around 70 submissions, from a broad array of clients (covering sector Number 1s through to first time participants). Our busiest ever GRESB season!

Whilst we represent a broad array of participants with different fund structures and objectives, we do see some common themes. Our clients universally want to ensure that:

  1. Sustainability policies and practices are effective and appropriate for their organisations
  2. Their GRESB submission correctly and accurately reflects their true sustainability position.

There is a clear recognition and acceptance that GRESB is a one size fits all approach. To use a sloppy analogy – sometimes the shoe fits perfectly, other times it’s a bit loose, sometimes too tight, but everyone can still walk in it.

With the GRESB deadline of 12 noon Eastern US time fast approaching, I prepared myself for some long nights. I needn’t have worried though. Our team and clients mobilised, focused, used SIERA (our sustainability software platform) and worked hard to get everything in on time. Final confirmation, of the last submission (for me) came from the last of my clients early on Saturday morning. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had a weekend to enjoy!

One last thing. GRESB has been able to galvanize the industry and drive forward the sustainability agenda. Our industry should work with this and in particular, reflect when the results come out in September. I am a strong believer that GRESB should be used to inform, not drive individual organisational ESG agendas.


Time flies when it’s your first GRESB year!

Katie Brown – Junior Sustainability Consultant

As this was my first year supporting GRESB, there was a lot to grasp and a lot to learn, fast! The time flew, and on reflection preparation is key. Some elements of the submission would have been extremely challenging and time intensive to complete without the help of our SIERA software. We would not have been able to support so many submissions without it. It was important to plan well and communicate early – time well invested should be reflected in an accurate (and higher) GRESB score.

Some elements of the submission would have been extremely challenging and time intensive to complete without the help of our SIERA software. We would not have been able to support so many submissions without it.

I have been impressed that despite the focus on environmental performance of assets forming a core element of the survey, there is a broad spectrum of the sustainability agenda covered, with attention also on social and governance topics including health and safety, management, policies, and supply chains, just to name a few! Also, the inclusion of the health and wellbeing module, and this year a new module on resilience, brings to the forefront important and emerging ESG trends.

The GRESB survey promotes much needed transparency of the sustainability efforts by businesses in the real estate sector, both as a benchmarking tool and providing greater visibility for investors, but also provides a great opportunity to guide and inform more ambitious and rigorous ESG strategies going forward.


It’s all about the data.

Nick Hogg – Associate Director (SIERA Software)

As those that have participated in the GRESB submission process will know, the amount of information and effort that can be required to provide a seemingly straight forward number in answering a GRESB question can be sometimes underestimated. The Performance Indicators is an aspect where this can challenge participants due to sheer quantum of data that might need to be handled across all the impact areas for an entity, not least with more participants submitting data at asset level.

Across all the submissions we were supporting on this year we found that SIERA handled over half a million datapoints through the Asset level interface alone. We have blogged before that GRESB have allowed the automated transfer of Performance Indicator (PI) data from sustainability management software systems, such as SIERA, directly into the GRESB portal for the last few years. We found this automated transfer of data through SIERA vital, not just in trying to make the complexity of reporting more efficient but essential in establishing a robust and transparent method of reporting asset level data.

Across all the submissions we were supporting on this year we found that SIERA handled over half a million datapoints through the Asset level interface alone.

We introduced additional functionality in SIERA this year to further automate the calculation of energy, GHG and water intensity and have plans to continue expansion of SIERA’s GRESB capability over the coming months.


Submissions are done, but it’s not over!

Louise Russell –  Senior Sustainability Consultant

This will have been my fourth year supporting GRESB clients. I support a variety of clients each at a different stage on their sustainability journey.  Existing clients who are already hot on sustainability continue to maintain leading positions principally due to their wider sustainability programmes which we support during the year. For them, GRESB is useful to benchmark the position of their various funds against peers and internally. However, GRESB is not the driver and broader sustainability as well as responsible investing is something that is taken very seriously.

For my clients that were newcomers to GRESB this was the first time that they as an organisation considered what sustainability means to them. Clients are often surprised by what is already in place within their organisations albeit via an unstructured approach. Where we assist is coordinating the various stakeholders to collate the responses. Whilst we never advise that a sustainability strategy should be GRESB driven it does act as a gateway for those approaching sustainability for the first time.

The key to this is starting early especially for those clients that report in calendar year, waiting until the results come out in September will only allow just over three months to December to make improvements before the GRESB reporting year is over.

Now that we are post-GRESB these same clients are looking to build on their existing processes, formalise their sustainability strategy and put in place a sustainability programme that will deliver an improved score in 2019. The key to this is starting early especially for those clients that report in calendar year, waiting until the results come out in September will only allow just over three months to December to make improvements before the GRESB reporting year is over.

If you have anymore questions about the content of this blog or GRESB in general, get in touch and our team of experts will be happy to help.


GRESB Premier PartnerAs a GRESB Real Estate Premier Partner, we are perfectly positioned to provide GRESB support. View our official Premier Partner profile.

We can work with you to complete the submission and understand your scoring, as well as develop a sustainability plan that will improve your future GRESB performance and align with your organisation’s key environmental objectives.

Sustainable cities: innovative “hubs” and battlefields against negative change

Only ten years ago, knowing about sustainability meant that you might have accidentally read a piece of avant-garde research, speculating about harmful changes in our climate. In the blink of an eye, sustainability has gained wider momentum, and today has established itself as a global goal for our future and that of our planet.

However, years have passed but we still have a long way to go: threats to our environment and humankind haven’t disappeared as quickly as we’d hoped, and industrial production has largely been favouring short-term interests over environmentally-sound long-term benefits. Hence, the war against negative environmental impact is still on. What better battlefield than cities today?


Cities are expected to be home to over 70% of the world’s population by 2050[1]. In Europe, urban areas account for 75% of the population already. It is anticipated that US350 trillion are to be spent on urban infrastructure over the next 30 years[2]. How can we use those monetary resources effectively and sustainably?

Real Estate is a sector with one of the most comprehensive sets of tools and practical standards aiming to improve sustainability and resilience in cities. And thankfully so, as buildings account for almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions globally, and in bigger cities up to 80%[3]. Ensuring that buildings are sustainable means finding ways to use resources efficiently, without compromising their overall purpose. Buildings should be designed with the best solutions and ideas at stake and should be a grounding element of future-proofed cities.

Great theory, great lesson, but what has been done so far?


Practical learning n 1: Business for sustainability, or sustainability for business?

A lot of initiatives and developments have taken place in the real estate sector to advance sustainability holistically. More and more, environmental standards and certifications such as BREEAM, LEED and many more have set out criteria to measure buildings’ sustainability and determine which actions can contribute to better results. Along this line, the GRESB sustainability survey has become a turning point for real estate investors’ business-wide future decisions. The speculative market environment can therefore easily be influenced by what investors believe to be future risks. This means that sustainable cities and structures are at the core of the international agenda, and they have the power to steadily shape what is next.

Practical learning n 2: All that glitters today is not gold tomorrow

Industries such as Real Estate, which deal with infrastructures that need sustainable (re)development, have started rewriting their founding lessons, with an eye for long-lasting value, rather than short-term benefit. Why is business, often the enemy to our environment, suddenly turning towards more sustainable solutions?

Industries such as Real Estate, which deal with infrastructures that need sustainable (re)development, have started rewriting their founding lessons, with an eye for long-lasting value, rather than short-term benefit.

Sustainable cities mean resilience, hence resistance to future risks and challenges. This means better stability and reward for the years to come as well as a greater understanding of how to peacefully live within our environment, rather than harming it or feeling threatened by it.  More in cities than anywhere else, where consumption patterns are the direct cause of environmental degradation, there is a need for enduring value, which can only go hand in hand with an increasing respect and understanding of how to treat our urban surroundings. What glitters today is not going to be the gold of tomorrow, if it cannot last until tomorrow!

Practical learning n 3: The happier, the better

Cities are a hub of production, which means innovation, creativity, financial reward, increasing services and ambitious professional, social and cultural opportunities. As a result, however, cities can also be stressful environments, filled with people, vehicles, infrastructure, but with little space and resources to support them. This does not only affect the resilience of businesses and infrastructures, but also of the people contributing to them, who increasingly suffer from psychological distress, anxiety and hence lower productivity. Sustainable cities and their infrastructures can only achieve enduring value if they become healthier environments for their people.

The Real Estate sector has recently made advancements in establishing health and wellbeing as a part of the sustainability agenda. Not only do sustainable buildings mean good management of resources, which inevitably meet future human needs, but research has shown that proximity to more natural elements within our urban spaces is fundamental to advancing our well-being, and as a result our productivity[4][5]. Standards such as the WELL, RESET and Fitwel have taken health and wellbeing as their main focus to aspire to resilient and thriving communities within urban spaces. Similarly, GRESB recently introduced a health and well-being module in their annual survey and it will likely gain wider coverage in future years. It seems that if you feel great within your environment, you will be happier, healthier and will reach your full potential. Isn’t this what we are all looking for?

If you agree, then you have reason to believe that because our current cities are the major obstacle to improving sustainability and finding enduring value, they are also the inherent solution.

This blog post was originally written for and published on GRESB Insights.


[1] Neij, L., Bulkeley, H. & McCormick, K. (2015) Cities and climate change: The great decarbonisation challenge, Climate in Focus, 1-4.

[2] WWF (2012) Reinventing the City: Three Prerequisites for Greening Urban Infrastructures, p. 6

[3] WF (2012) Urban Solutions for a Living Planet. P.10

[4] WF (2012) Urban Solutions for a Living Planet. P.9

[5] Ryan, C., Gaziulusoy, I., McCormick, K & Trudgeon, M. (to be published) Virtual City Experimentation: A Critical Role for Design Visioning. In: Evans, J., Karvonen A. & Raven, R (eds) The Experimental City. London: Routledge.