As it goes, the end of the year always puts us into a mode of reflection. As I look back on GRESB’s history, I think about 2009, when we released the first ESG assessment for real estate companies and funds, backed by a handful of engaged institutional investors and leading industry associations. That year, 198 companies and funds reported on their ESG policies and performance, with less than 20% disclosing energy consumption data. Over the past seven years, much has happened – GRESB has established itself as the leading ESG benchmark in the real estate space, and branched out to real estate debt and infrastructure, to truly reflect its ambition to assess the global built environment for the world’s largest capital providers – from buildings to cities, from water utilities to renewables. Membership now stands at 62 Investor and Bank members, 120 Fund Manager & Company members and 70 Partners, including many of the leading industry associations, service providers, and solution providers.
With GRESB now solidly established in the market for institutional real asset investments, the time has come hand over the reins – GRESB is in a new phase, and it is ready for new leadership. Over the last 12 months, the team doubled in size, now standing at 20 people strong, prepared to take on what’s ahead. With the support of Mahesh Ramanujam, president & CEO of GRESB’s parent Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), and the appointment of my co-founder and long-term colleague Sander Paul van Tongeren as the new Managing Director, I’m confident that GRESB will remain the only industry-driven organization committed to assessing the ESG performance of real assets globally – with sustainable real assets as the end goal. (Also see the press release that went out late December.)
I’m leaving GRESB, looking back on the year 2016 that has been very successful indeed: The inaugural GRESB Infrastructure assessment, operating both at the fund and at the asset level, has answered a growing need in the marketplace, as reflected in the large number of reporting funds and assets: 185 in total, of which more than 50 are funds. At the same time, GRESB Real Estate and GRESB Real Estate Debt continue to see increased market coverage, with 759 property companies and funds], and 18 banks and alternative lenders reporting. The 759 companies and funds alone represent some 66,000 individual assets, housing hundreds of thousands of corporate tenants with millions of employees. The health and satisfaction of those employees is critical to what GRESB attempts to achieve: more efficient, more sustainable buildings, with healthier, more productive employees, and ultimately, better performing assets for investors.
To reflect the increasing importance of health and well-being and the role of buildings therein, we added a Health and Well-being Module to the GRESB Real Estate assessment. Nearly 200 companies and funds completed this new module, showing the attention that developers, owners and managers increasingly pay to this new megatrend. The GRESB Events on Health and Well-being, held in 6 cities, attracted more than 400 engaged attendees. The GRESB Results events, held recently in 12 markets, attracted an audience of nearly 1,100 people. In addition, we trained almost 200 leading real estate professionals in 2016 on the topic of ESG in real estate.
Our vision of “Sustainable Real Assets” can only be reached with true market transformation. We are therefore pleased to see so many initiatives in the market supporting this vision, and GRESB continues to seek alignment and collaboration where possible. This includes close relationships with building certification schemes, including BREEAM, Green Star and LEED, alignment with DJSI, GRI, PRI, and SASB, and alignment with many of our data partners that work with the real estate industry on a daily basis. And of course alignment with best practice reporting standards as promoted by ANREV, EPRA and INREV and other industry bodies.
Our mission “Enhance and protect shareholder value by assessing and empowering sustainably practices in the real asset sector” echoes the need for reliable data and insights. GRESB remains unique as a benchmark for ESG performance of real assets on a relative and absolute level for both investors and managers. The quality and granularity of GRESB data continues to improve, as more and more reporting companies and funds provide information on individual assets within portfolios. In addition, many companies are seeking external assurance of data.
Deeper understanding of the GRESB data increasingly allows the market to understand what is really needed to improve ESG performance. We recently introduced a new series of Sustainability Insights, which will present snapshots of GRESB data, providing a deep dive into trends and key topics around ESG in real asset investments. The series also includes additional resources – blogs, innovation case studies and interviews – all of which can be found on the GRESB website.
I know that 2017 will continue to see prolonged success for GRESB. The trajectory we are on is impressive – with Sander Paul and Mahesh at the helm, the organization will continue to expand and globalize the GRESB Real Estate, Debt and Infrastructure assessments, providing high quality, insightful ESG data, engagement and services, from asset to portfolio performance.
Have a great holiday and a productive and healthy new year – I’m looking forward to seeing the continued advancement and transformation of the ESG performance of real estate portfolios and infrastructure assets globally.