It makes great business sense to go beyond “checking a box” with ESG best practices
BY PAUL BERGERON
Globest Real Estate Forum
Environment Social & Governance (ESG) leads with the environment, and from that, much of it focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, something that commercial real estate is striving to do as reports show buildings emit 40 percent of carbon, according to the US Green Building Council.
Apartment operator Veritas, based in San Francisco, has been ahead of the curve in planning and executing strategies that not only cut emissions but attract residents and investors.
The company has grown its portfolio of apartments and mixed-use multi-family considerably in recent years.
Jeff Jerden, COO, Veritas tells GlobeSt.com that it’s taken a while for commercial real estate companies such as apartment owners to focus greatly on ESG for their operations. He said a report from 2021 on ‘Why ESG?’ points to institutional investors initiating the trend, which is trickling down to the real estate operators with whom they invest.
An excerpt from that report read, “The era of companies being able to sweep bad behavior under the rug is soon to be over. For too long, companies have been allowed to look profitable when the cost of using public assets – such as clean air and water — has not been properly accounted for in determining profits.”
At First, Tracking Seems ‘Cumbersome’
For investors focused on ESG, improving environmental sustainability generally comes with an attractive return on investment. Many institutions are going beyond “checking a box” with ESG and want partners who embrace these issues and have long-term abilities to perform to these shared goals.
“When you first start tracking progress toward ESG principles it will probably seem cumbersome, even elusive,” Jerden said. “Not everyone will agree on what should be measured or how. But part of the progress is having those conversations and agreeing to start somewhere.”
Jerden said Veritas didn’t wait for widely-accepted or mandated standards. “We’ve jumped ahead in the past couple of years by heeding signposts on metrics that were becoming widely accepted, but investors and operators still on the fence shouldn’t wait for one to become the ‘gold standard,’ he said. “They can and should instead be moving in the direction of implementing a measurement and reporting methodology – now.
Escaping the ‘Wild, Wild, West’ of Reporting
Jerden said the biggest challenge that real estate firms have faced to get through initial due diligence on greenhouse gas/climate reporting compliance such as the Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) and GRESB is that ESG was in the “wild, wild west” of metrics and reporting.
“That ‘wild west’ mindset has made it difficult for real estate operators to anticipate what institutions want, but the conversation is rapidly fixing on CRREM, GRESB and the US SEC’s reporting requirements for Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
- Scope 1 emissions are those that come directly from an organization’s owned or controlled source.
- Scope 2 emissions, also known as indirect emissions, are emissions from purchased electricity, heat, steam, or cooling consumed by the company, but generated elsewhere.
- Scope 3 emissions refer to carbon impacts across a company’s value chain, outside of its direct control.
“Operators who more deeply understand and begin to echo ESG strategies will be in the best position to align with institutions,” Jerden said.
“Industry consultants and investors themselves tell us that, soon enough, operators won’t even get to the initial due diligence stage of institutions pre-qualifying a partner, unless the operator can show a strong track record, a deep understanding of ESG issues, and robust reporting capabilities to back up the performance. All of the above is dependent upon data-driven, well-designed information systems.”
Achieving ‘Early-Mover’ Status
Jerden said that Veritas has had the benefit of an early-mover status thanks to ESG having been an important component of our LP’s investment criteria since the beginning of our partnerships.
“For us, the upfront investment of time in overcoming compliance issues has meant that our focus now is instead on working with existing investors first to understand what’s important to them and why. From there, we can align their goals into our own environmental programs.”
Veritas’ portfolio primarily is made up of smaller-scale assets with 20-50 units per building – a segment that is known for being difficult to operate at scale.
But thanks to the Veritas:DRIVE backbone, he said the company is able to instill in its portfolio a level of efficiency more commonly seen at properties with 300 units or more.
“This allows us to deliver better, cheaper and faster service to our residents, and to our investors,” Jerden said.
“For example, we instituted centralized leasing operations (CLO) and centralized maintenance operations (CMO) that are unusual if not unique for a firm of our size. We use artificial intelligence to efficiently route technicians in the field and have implemented thoughtful automation to streamline complex internal workflows, making scale possible for buildings that often average fewer than two dozen units each.
To read the full report, click here.