UK – Real estate investment managers are caught between the growing sustainability demands of investors and a proliferation of reporting initiatives, delegates heard at the 40 Percent Symposium in London.
A number of fund managers at the sustainability conference said investors were becoming more demanding in general but that there was also an agreement that not all investors were requesting information for the same reasons.
Neil Harris, senior director at Invesco Real Estate, said investors fell into two camps: those that simply "ticked boxes" and those that were "more informed" and fully engaged with the issue.
Andrew Creighton, head of business space at M&G Real Estate, agreed that "we do have investors that want to tick boxes", but he said there was a "full spectrum", including those that wanted detailed analyses.
Paul McNamara, former head of research of Prupim (now M&G Real Estate) and independent consultant, posed the question of whether investors were "concerned about the 'greenness' of their buildings and therefore only vicariously interested in the implications for prospective risk and returns", or were they "directly interested in understanding how the condition of their buildings exposes them to risk?"
Creighton said the other problem fund managers faced was the proliferation of sustainability initiatives that did not lend itself to an industry standard.
"The challenge we have as an investment management company, sitting between the investors and the tenants [is] we need something that is accountable, measurable and auditable to be able to give consistency," he said.
"Various organisations [are] all trying to get us to join for lots of money, and we've got to choose. We've got to bang some heads together and come up with something that is benchmark-able, so we can give the investors what they really want."
Harris also raised the issue of fund managers only submitting their best performing funds to benchmarks.
He cited as an example the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), an investor-led initiative that tracks the sustainable performance of individual funds and companies.
"Whilst a lot of these benchmarks are voluntary, there is a certain amount of cherry picking and selective [participation]," he said.
When asked by Miles Keeping, partner of Deloitte Real Estate, whether he was suggesting there was a "gaming of the system" taking place, Harris replied: "There is gaming of the system – I'm not even suggesting it."
Philippa Shire, operations manager at GRESB, admitted it was "a risk", but she said the investors leading the initiative were engaged with the process and would raise such issues.
Louise Ellison, head of sustainability at Hammerson, said the "cherry-picking issues will gradually disappear" as "investors increasingly ask, 'well, how many of your funds are in and why aren't all of them?'"