The real estate industry needs more common thinking if it is to tackle the issue of sustainability.
The sector’s approach to sustainability is far from uniform, delegates heard at this year’s 40 Percent Symposium event this week – alongside warnings of the impact extreme weather could have on the asset class.
Held in Frankfurt, the conference was attended by around 60 asset managers, fund managers and consultants, as well as European and UK investors.
Alex Edds, acting head of sustainability and responsible property investment at TIAA-Henderson Real Estate, presented the growing disconnect between the concept of sustainability and ESG (environmental, social and governance).
Edds said, with strong appetite among clients for improved reporting, the real estate industry needed to decide how to define sustainability, while at the same time overcoming the conflict between long and short-term approaches.
“Sustainability requires long-term thinking, but companies are still very much focused on annual and quarterly returns and incentives,” Edds said, citing Unilever as an example of a company taking the step to abolish quarterly reporting as part of a long-term approach.
“We’re not maximising the sector’s capabilities.”
Real estate investment decisions, he added, were typically led more by sentiment than science.
“More support is needed from agents, valuers and architects,” Edds added.
“There are very few opportunities to align understandings of ESG and integrate into the mainstream.”
Edds said the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) – launched in 2009 by European pension funds to assess the sustainability performance of real estate funds – was a step in the right direction.
GRESB found energy consumption last year fell by around 0.8%.
“It’s way off what’s needed,” Edds said. “If that’s the result of energy and carbon being the focus for the last 20 or so years, then something’s not right.”
The conference also saw various sustainability reporting methods brought into question.
The amount of time spent administrating the many sustainability reporting methods currently in use – such as BREEAM, LEED, GRESB or PRI – was raised as an issue by Deka Immobilien’s Albrecht Reihlen.
Ratings, delegates heard, are both a marketing tool and a measure.
Both the German and UK governments need to increase their understanding of the real estate industry, as well as offer greater incentives, delegates heard.
Prologis UK sustainability officer Simon Cox said his company was using energy consumption-cutting strategies to incentivise tenants signing pre-let agreements.
Tenant satisfaction was key, Cox said.
The opportunities for both landlord and tenant that a sustainable approach to the property management can bring were also discussed.
Maria Hill, ECE Projektmanagement’s director of corporate relations and sustainability, said engagement with tenants was crucial as it helped foster good client relationships.
The way tenants use space was also discussed in a panel moderated by Union Investment’s sustainable real estate project manager, Ingemar Hunold.
The ‘Mobility and the Office’ session saw Berlin Hyp’s Wolfgang Rips predict more variety in office working environments in the future.
In the UK, 25% of UK workers are encouraged to work remotely, according to co-panellist and sustainability associate at GVA, Jess Stevens.
More consideration should be given to the working behavioural patterns of employees, with remote working becoming increasingly commonplace, Stevens said.