EUROPE - A consortium containing four of Europe's largest property investors has developed what it claims is the first standard to measure the sustainability of existing buildings.

AXA REIM, GE Real Estate Europe, ING Real Estate and AEW Europe claim an initiative is currently being piloted by 15 buildings across Europe which will enable investors to measure individual assets and portfolios according to EU-agreed criteria.

"The approach is comparable to [US standard] LEED or [UK standard] BREEAM, but these are national standards that apply to new buildings," said Leo Weidenaar, ING Reim's fund director.

"We've tried to develop a rating that would apply to 90% of buildings that already exist," he said.

Describing the metric as "more pragmatic" than existing standards for development projects, Weidenaar also said: "Sustainability ratings have left a gap, and we tried to fill it."

The rating will initially apply to commercial buildings, although Weidenaar said it could subsequently expand to retail and logistics.

That said, its contours have yet to be drawn so Gilles Bouteloup, global head of compliance at AXA REIM, speculated the standard could focus on "core" issues of energy, carbon, water and waste.

"We're discussing transport, but it's more tricky. We could have four ‘cores', and two ‘optionals'," said Bouteloup.

Although sustainability criteria have emerged from a European Directive, the Commission has struggled to create a measure that all EU member states would be willing to adopt.

It is therefore significant that the new demand-driven measure has come from the private sector, and its creators claim it will have widespread industry support.

"We've had interest from other investors who want to join. We want the platform to be as big as possible," said Weidenaar.

"All four investors want the same thing," added Bouteloup.

"Sustainability is more and more a key issue for investors, including pension funds. We want to have objective indicators to demonstrate we're progressing and show we are sustainable players."

Weidenaar said the partners expected the standard to launch by the end of 2008 but an exact date will depend on the results of the 15-building European pilot currently underway.

"There could be a second round [of testing], then we'll apply it to our own portfolios," he said.

That said, there are no plans for a global roll-out of the initiative at present, according to Bouteloup.

"I'm not quite sure whether it will succeed as a global initiative but I hope so. The first stage will be [a pan-European [launch]. Later, we'll see whether it can work as a global approach," said Bouteloup.

In a separate development, Union Investment has thrown its weight behind yet another market-specific German sustainability certificate, announced by the German Sustainable Building Council (GeSBC) and the Federal Building Ministry.

The German fund manager said it would factor sustainability into its investment decisions.