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.