All posts by quinnp789541

GRI REPORTING

The Quinn & Partners team has advanced knowledge and experience of the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Standards. This reporting framework is used by thousands of reporters in over 90 countries, making GRI the world’s most widely used standard on sustainability disclosure. We believe that alignment with GRI Standards indicates best-in-class sustainability reporting.

The foundation of GRI-reporting is a comprehensive stakeholder engagement process (also known as materiality assessment), which is used to determine what sustainability issues are most important for a particular organization.

We have supported clients with materiality assessments and compliance with GRI G4 Guidelines and the most recent GRI Standards.

 

THE CADILLAC FAIRVIEW CORPORATION

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Quinn & Partners team members have supported the Cadillac Fairview Corporation with its GRI reporting strategy since inception and collaborated on its Corporate Responsibility Reporting for multiple consecutive years. Its first GRI G4 2015 Corporate Responsibility Report was one of the most thorough and transparent reports published in Canada. In 2016, Cadillac Fairview came out among the first Canadian GRI Standards reporters.

 

TRIOVEST REALTY ADVISORS

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Our team has provided sustainability reporting advisory services to Triovest Realty Advisors on its reporting process and report content since their inaugural report. This has enabled Triovest to develop one of the first GRI G4-aligned reports published in the Canadian real estate industry in 2015 and one of the first GRI Standards-aligned reports in 2017.

Triovest’s reports have been recognized as industry best practice. The Global Compact Network Canada recognized Triovest’s 2016 Sustainability Report as a 2017 Best Peer Reviewed Sustainability Report. Triovest’s stakeholder research was featured in BOMA Canada’s 2015 BOMA BEST National Green Building Report. The inaugural sustainability report was a runner up in the international Corporate Register 2017 CR Reporting Awards.

 

INTER PIPELINE

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In 2017, Quinn & Partner team members supported Inter Pipeline with their inaugural Sustainability Report. The report makes GRI-referenced claims to help stakeholders compare the company’s performance with industry peers.

SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING

Organizations do not benefit from keeping sustainability achievements “their best kept secret”. Quinn & Partners provides sustainability reporting advisory and production services. For public disclosures, we follow global standards, such as GRI, and support adherence to other leading frameworks such as PRI, SASB, CDP, DJSI, GRESB and the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

 

TORONTO-DOMINION CENTRE

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In 2012, the Cadillac Fairview flagship office complex, the Toronto-Dominion Centre (TDC), became the first individual North American property to produce a stand-alone sustainability report. Our team has supported TDC with its sustainability communications since its start.

TDC sustainability reporting centres on how the company creates value for its tenants’ financial, human, real and brand capital and it has been recognized at industry conferences and in the media.

Quinn & Partners is proud to be a trusted advisor in TDC’s pursuit of sustainability leadership and innovation.

“The Quinn & Partners team understands what sustainability leadership means.” – David Hoffman, General Manager Toronto-Dominion Centre, The Cadillac Fairview Corporation

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HEALTHCARE OF ONTARIO PENSION PLAN

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As a sustainability advisor to the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), our team has played a leading role in its sustainability strategy development, program execution and performance reporting.

HOOPP Real Estate publishes an annual sustainability report. Its 2016 report, “Our Evolving Approach to Sustainability”, examines the maturation of HOOPP’s sustainability program and the evolution of sustainability in real estate.

 

DREAM REIT

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Dream Unlimited is the parent company of three large real estate investment trusts, land and development companies and a renewable energy trust. The company’s inaugural sustainability report, Building Better Communities, details Dream’s achievements in the areas of the environment, employee engagement, community building and sustainability governance.

 

Building a trusted investor brand

If you do not include sustainability in your investor reporting, you may be missing out on a powerful opportunity to strengthen your investor brand. Investors are becoming more attuned to the value of a well-executed sustainability strategy and they are seeking evidence that companies are taking action.

That was the message driven home in December by institutional investors speaking at two landmark conferences – the inaugural Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Summit in New York and the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) Report Launch in London.

Here’s why sustainability reporting matters and how you can use it to satisfy investor demands, prepare for regulatory compliance, and differentiate your brand.

Sustainability matters because it is a proxy for good management

A recent study by the American CFA Institute reveals that 73% of surveyed investors consider ESG integration – or how a company manages issues relating to the environment, company stakeholder groups and governance – when researching and analyzing potential investments.

Investors increasingly view companies that take a proactive approach to sustainability as well-managed. That’s because many sustainability-related issues are tied to future trends that can significantly impact markets, inputs, economics and business models.

Take climate change, for example. The global 2015 Paris Agreement and new Canadian federal and provincial legislation aimed at addressing our radically warming planet are altering the business landscape in far-reaching ways. All industries will be affected in some way: the need to manage energy cost risk, deal with carbon constraints, market new services or access innovation subsidies are just a few of the foreseeable impacts.

Of course, climate change is only one sustainability issue. Business ethics. Workplace safety. Child labour. Pollution. They’re all part of the emerging agenda. Failing to address these in company disclosures looks odd through the investor’s lens and can negatively impact the management’s reputation and brand – not only among investors, but also among employees, customers and other important stakeholders, all of whom see value in a sustainable enterprise.

Act now – ahead of investor regulations

Your disclosure strategy also positions you to comply with any future regulatory disclosure requirements. In a recent landmark report, the Financial Stability Board, chaired by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, highlighted the need for better corporate climate change management information to support the financial services sector’s lending and insurance underwriting decisions. In fact, select sustainability reporting in financial disclosures is already mandatory in some jurisdictions, including the European Union, Norway, South Africa and parts of Asia.

It’s about disclosing pertinent information – not best performance

Investors are not expecting companies to be a star in all areas of sustainability. They are seeking affirmation that that the companies in their portfolios have started to elevate sustainability to C-Suite and board room discussions. They want assurance that management teams are addressing the broader environmental and societal issues affecting their businesses, and they want to know that companies are managing these as they would any other business issue. “Transparency trumps performance.”

Report on the most important issues

Disclosure should incorporate topics that are most material to the company and its industry, and it should tie into a general discussion about the company’s broad strategic challenges and opportunities, including the management of current and future risks.

At a minimum, reporters should provide a qualitative discussion about the company’s management approach and support the narrative with quantitative performance data. To prove that sustainability is managed as a business issue, it is valuable to discuss future objectives and progress to targets. It is also valuable to name those in senior management or at the board level who are responsible for strategy oversight and performance improvement.

Sustainability reporting should start with financial reporting

Historically, companies have published sustainability information separate from other core investor disclosures. In our opinion, this is unwise: it subjects the reporter to undue litigation risk as financial reporting guidelines clearly state that companies need to disclose factors that “would reasonably be expected to have a significant effect on the market price or value of a security” (Ontario Securities Commission).

Sustainability opportunities and risks can have material implications on company cash flow and asset valuation. For example, how is climate change affecting product demand, supply chain and physical infrastructure? What are the investment returns from water and energy efficiency programs? How is the company creating strategic opportunities through stakeholder partnerships?

The largest companies in the world include sustainability information in their annual financial reports. According to a 2016 KPMG study, three of five of the 250 largest companies in the world follow this practice, and this number is expected to grow. Most also independently assure the information.

Incorporate voluntary reporting to deepen brand building

Progressive companies recognize that voluntarily disclosing detailed sustainability information generates profound reputational benefits among their broader stakeholder groups. This can be done through supplementary channels, such as a stand-alone sustainability or corporate responsibility report and through your company website and social media.

Don’t be daunted – just get started

Formulating your company’s response to sustainability risks and opportunities takes commitment, time and effort. But do not wait until you have the best possible message because it will likely never happen. Start with a few key messages: What is at stake for your company? What is your overall plan? Which executives are in charge? Complement this with a simple scorecard and report on emerging performance indicators.

Whether you are incorporating sustainability information disclosures into financial disclosure or reporting voluntarily, help is at hand. Reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) provide cross-industry guidance, while the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures supply checklists tailored to specific industry sectors.

It is important to realize that even publishing sustainability “work in progress” information is beneficial to your reputation and your risk management strategy. It signals to the investor community that your company has a prudent and insightful approach to managing emerging, macro-type risks. And it puts you on a path to developing a robust sustainability disclosure strategy that will drive company action and clearly differentiate you amongst your capital market competitors.

 

To learn how Quinn & Partners can help you map out your sustainability reporting strategy please contact Francisca Quinn at 416-300-8068 or francisca@quinnandpartners.com.

New GRI Standards Released

Some of you who follow sustainability news may have seen last week’s news about the “new” GRI Standards. For all current GRI reporters, all is well – no cause for concern. For other, non-GRI sustainability reporters, there is now an exciting opportunity to gradually adapt to the well-recognized standards and declare “GRI-referenced” for partial report sections. In this short email, we’ll explain what you need to know.

In our view, the GRI Standards are a reorganization of existing G4 guidance. It does not provide anything new. However, the new format makes guidance more easy to navigate and comprehend and there is more direction on challenging areas such as “boundaries” and “context”.

GRI – the global sustainability reporting authority

Since 2000, the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines have been used by thousands of organizations in more than 90 countries to guide sustainability reporting. On October 19, 2016, GRI released the “GRI Standards”, which modify the current “GRI G4” guidelines (launched May 2013) to a set of more flexible and modular Sustainability Reporting Standards.

Moving from a de facto standard to a formal standard will allow GRI to be referenced more broadly by governments and market regulators around the world. Becoming an official standard also means there is greater clarity in language and better distinctions between “requirements”, “recommendations” and “guidance” – good news for those in charge of developing GRI reports.

New modular structure provides flexibility

The GRI Standards incorporate all key concepts and disclosures from the G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, but they clarify requirements, recommendations and guidance in shorter pieces that can be applied selectively. Companies which follow the GRI Standards will continue to state “In accordance with GRI”.

The modular approach will also be helpful for the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), GRI’s newly-formed standard-setting body, as it updates the reporting guidance over time. Instead of issuing new versions of the (200-page or so) guidelines and implementation manual, only select pieces need updates. 

Implication for reporters

The GRI Standards are required for all GRI sustainability reporters publishing as of July 1, 2018.

Reporters transitioning from G4

For organizations already reporting in accordance with G4 Guidelines, the impacts on the reporting process are minor. No new topics have been added, key concepts such as Reporting Principles, Management Approach remain and most disclosures from G4 carry over.

Reporters transitioning from G3 or G3.1

If your organization is transitioning from G3.1, you have two options. You can either align select sections of your sustainability report and declare “GRI-referenced” OR if you desire to report “in accordance” with GRI, you need to go through the same step as you would have in moving to G4 – consult with internal and external stakeholders to define material topics and provide information about management approach and performance for each of these. For information on the evolution from G3.1 to the content used in G4/GRI Standards, we suggest consulting this article.

Your pathway to GRI Standards reporting

Current reporting status      Steps to GRI Standards
In accordance with G4
  1. Identify the (minor) changes in disclosures using GRI “transition document”
  2. Report on required organizational and business information
  3. Relabel and rearrange overlapping disclosures; re-organize GRI table
G3.1 compliant report
  1. Engage stakeholders and conduct materiality analysis
  2. Win internal support for more comprehensive disclosures (G3.1 versus GRI Standards)
  3. Report on required organizational and business information
  4. Relabel and rearrange overlapping disclosures; construct GRI table
Non-GRI report
  1. Adopt select GRI Standards modules OR
  2. Engage stakeholders and conduct materiality analysis
  3. Report on required organizational and business information outlined by the Standards

The team at Quinn & Partners is well versed in sustainability reporting, GRI Standards and integrated reporting. For current clients, we will raise the new sustainability reporting opportunities with you in our ongoing advisory services. For new clients, please get in touch to discuss sustainability reporting and the GRI Standards.

Results from GRESB Infra are out! First global assessment of the state of sustainability in infrastructure

Assessment results from the first GRESB Infrastructure survey were released Tuesday at a New York event hosted by JP Morgan Asset Management.

Fifty-one infrastructure funds representing around 140 energy, transportation, telecom, waste and water management and social purpose assets responded to the 2016 questionnaire. The largest single infrastructure fund/asset type was Renewable Energy with 16 funds participating.

The GRESB Infrastructure survey is an independent, third party tool that objectively assesses how well an infrastructure fund or operating company integrates ESG considerations into its governance and investing practices. It also measures the fund’s success in driving overall ESG performance.

Asset owners and asset managers agree: GRESB is a valuable management tool

The Infrastructure survey builds on the ‘Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark’ (GRESB). One year in, the infrastructure version appears to have achieved similar uptake as the original real estate survey.

At a launch panel, representatives from Dutch pension giant APG and JP Morgan Asset Management spoke to the business case for seeking environmental, social and governance (ESG) information associated with the infrastructure assets they are planning to buy or hold.

They strongly agreed that ESG integration responds to three important investor drivers:

  • ESG beliefs of clients and beneficiaries
  • Fiduciary duty to invest responsibly – “with changing regulation and macro trends one cannot afford to have stranded, illiquid assets”
  • Correlation between ESG and returns.

Ignoring GRESB “not an option”

“Only standardized tools give us the ability to measure performance and understand who is doing better and worse,” said Steven Hason, APG Asset Management co-head Americas Real Estate and Head Americas Infrastructure.

“Through the score and feedback reports, we can engage with our partners in a more knowledgeable way. Ignoring tools such as GRESB is not an option – we are seeking to double the funds we earmark for responsible investing from US$ 30 to 60 billion,” Steven stated.

Amanda Wallace, Executive Director of JP Morgan Asset Management’s equity infrastructure investment group (current investments in 16 operational companies), added that in addition to being good governance and a value enhancing practice, collecting ESG information allows portfolio managers to track continuous improvement and identify best practices across its portfolio of global assets. Operational practices can be shared to drive improved performance among all assets.

Early days for measuring ESG integration results

The average GRESB fund score was 54 out of 100. This score primarily speaks to integration of ESG considerations in the investment process.

The GRESB asset score which evaluates how sustainability is implemented in asset operations was significantly lower at 33/100. This means that there is lots of work to be done at the asset level in measuring ESG performance indicators, obtaining certifications and engaging stakeholders, all information fund managers like to see to make effective decisions.

“You cannot manage what you cannot measure” management guru Peter Drucker famously wrote, and all investor sponsors agreed that being able to prove that ESG is happening at the asset level through quantifiable data is a serious issue for fund managers.

As one panellist said, “If our policies say we are integrating ESG, we need evidence to prove what we are doing. Many asset operators are just starting to track sustainability performance, but there needs to be some hand-holding and encouragement to get us where we need to be.”

GRESB Infrastructure tool likely to become industry standard

The GRESB Infrastructure assessment is filling an ESG information void among privately held infrastructure assets. Furthermore, it is creating a long sought-after infrastructure industry standardisation of ESG management practices and performance measurement. This is relevant for all infrastructure companies, including publicly listed entities.

We suspect the framework will catch on in the same way that the GRESB Real Estate assessment has become the sustainability reporting and performance norm for almost 800 real estate funds and companies across the globe.

A number of other fundamental drivers support predicted growth in GRESB Infrastructure. The world needs green infrastructure, and it will increasingly be financed through private channels. With institutional investors increasing their portfolio weightings in infrastructure and embedding responsibility principles in investment policies, fund managers need to prove they use ESG in their processes.

The GRESB toolkit will likely be the way to go in this maturing investment class. It will be used as guidance for good sustainability governance during the first couple of years and thereafter converge into a tool that can correlate risk/return profiles with ESG performance. For maximum benefit, it’s best to get on board early.

Quinn & Partners has supported leading institutional investor clients with ESG integration and GRESB audits/survey services since 2013. In the 2016 Real Estate assessment, our team submitted responses for a total asset value of nearly CAD $130 billion – equivalent to 10% of all North American responses. For more information, please reach out to Francisca Quinn, Managing Partner Quinn & Partners, at +1 416 300 8068.

Read more about the GRESB assessment report here.

Mandatory energy & water disclosure to start in 2017

As Ontario is starting to tackle climate change in a significant way, it needs to address emissions from all industry sectors. For real estate owners and managers, the most significant regulation is the Energy Statute Law Amendment Act, which became law on June 9, 2016.

The act requires Ontario properties to report annual energy and water consumption to the Ministry of Energy using the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. This legislation builds on similar obligations present in EU and the US, where sometimes buildings are ranked in league tables to inform the public.

The act covers actions by properties, utilities and regulators

Through amendments to Ontario’s Green Energy Act (2015), the Energy Statute Law Amendment Act establishes the province’s authority to make new rules:

  1. Properties must disclose whole building energy and water consumption and ratings
  2. Utility distributors are required to provide property owners with utility information
  3. The Ministry of Energy has the authority to publicly disclose certain submitted information

It will provide full transparency of energy and water use to landlord and tenant

The rules, also known as the Energy and Water Reporting and Benchmarking (EWRB) regulatory requirement, is likely to be approved sometime this year and should be viewed as a performance management tool. It allows beginners to see opportunities for efficiency improvements and cost savings and encourages a more experienced company to outperform benchmarks. The Ministry of Energy will likely publish the information, allowing companies and properties to benchmark their performance against their peers. Disclosure of building data will also allow the market to price in resource efficiency in purchasing, leasing and lending decisions.

  1. It can help property managers:
  • Manage energy and water costs
  • Obtain a full picture of the energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions footprint of a building
  • Respond to tenant sustainability information demands
  • Identify energy and water-saving opportunities
  • Set goals by providing a relevant performance benchmark
  • Drive results by comparing similar facilities across the province and learn from the best
  • Correlate energy and water efficiency investments with returns over time
  1. It will also help property owners:
  • Improve sustainability information availability
  • Inform investment decisions and allocate capital to efficiency upgrades
  • Protect asset value by having increased knowledge about ill-performing assets
  • Evaluate sustainability performance of current and potential investments

Start now by using free ENERGY STAR

Since the deadline for the first reporting period is fast approaching, we encourage you to sign up for the free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and begin to populate the system with energy, water and property information to get into the habit of doing so. Prioritize buildings larger than 250,000 square feet (located in Ontario).

Take advantage of the regulation as an opportunity to use the Portfolio Manager for all of your properties as there are numerous benefits. The Portfolio Manager is widely used to:

  • Track portfolio energy and water data and costs
  • Calculate greenhouse gas emissions
  • Generate property ENERGY STAR rating and ranking
  • Assist green building certification
  • Sync and consolidate data with other sustainability information systems

Detailed regulation specifies that most building types are mandated to report, but verification not yet required

A proposal notice for the EWRB requirement spells out what is involved in complying with the Energy Law Amendment Statute Act.

Content Description
Building types
  • Office, retail, multi-unit residential and some industrial properties over 50,000 square feet
Reporting system
  • ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager (free) to be used to report monthly energy and water consumption and building characteristics once per year
  • Portfolio Manager calculates greenhouse gas emissions.
Data verification
  • Building owners must confirm that the reported data is accurate
  • Verification by a third party is not required (at this point)
Annual disclosure
  • Ontario’s Open Data website will publicly disclose the information one year after the initial reporting period
  • Greenhouse gas emissions and floor areas will not be disclosed publicly
Temporary exemptions
  • Properties experiencing low occupancy, financial hardship or new construction are exempt until those matters are resolved
Exemptions
  • Manufacturing facilities, small multi-unit residential buildings, data centres, communication towers and buildings currently reporting under “Energy Conservation and Demand Plans (O.Reg 397/11) and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting (O.Reg 452/09) are exempt

Regulation timeline is phased over 3 years, starting next summer for largest buildings

Furthermore, the Ministry of Energy proposes a phase-in of the EWRB over a three-year period.

Year Period Deadline to report Property size threshold
Year 1 Jan 2016 – Dec 2016 July 1, 2017 >250,000 sf
Year 2 Jan 2017 – Dec 2017 July 1, 2018 >100,000 sf
Year 3 Jan 2018 – Dec 2018 July 1, 2019 >50,000 sf

2016 Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) results

With a record 759 participating real estate companies and funds in its seventh year, the GRESB survey is here to stay. It is the global standard for assessing sustainability in real estate. It will gradually be adopted by sophisticated investors and tenants as a tool to select assets that are resilient and cater to market demands. If you did not participate in the 2016 survey, consider this as a 2017 objective. Companies reporting to GRESB improve significantly over time.

In Canada, GRESB participation was up 45% from 11 to 16 participating entities. We saw the first REIT participate together with 5 pension plans, 8 private funds and 2 privately owned companies. The average Canadian score was 66 points, which is higher than both the global average of 60 and the North American score of 59. However, the gap between Canada and North America is decreasing, which suggests that GRESB is now mainstream in the Canadian market. In the past, only the premier pension funds participated in GRESB. In 2016, we see many private funds catering to third party investors and a publicly listed REIT using the GRESB survey. For example, in the U.S. close to 25% of participants are publicly listed companies. GRESB helps them to strengthen reputation and identifies value-add opportunities.

Looking at the Canadian results, we can see that sustainability is paying off. Over the last year only, participants on average reduced energy by a staggering 5.6%, water by 1% and greenhouse gas emissions by 6.1%. Data also reveals an increased focus on carbon management and climate change practices, as well as increased on-site renewable power.

Canadian properties also score highly in engaging tenants and employees on sustainability, while lagging somewhat in supplier and community engagement. Addressing these areas will help drive future improvements. New this year was the Health and Well-being survey module. Although there is a strong demand for assets focused on human health, the survey results indicate that Canadian real estate companies have some way to go. Stay tuned for a Health & Wellbeing results update from GRESB in October.

The team at Quinn & Partners supports a large share of the North American GRESB reporters. We provide a suite of advisory services from strategy and program implementation to measurement and reporting. In 2016, our team project-managed GRESB disclosure on behalf of investors representing 130 billion in assets under management. That is almost 10% of the $1.3 trillion which participated in North America.

Please contact tony@quinnandpartners.com or francisca@quinnandpartners.com for more information.

See the GRESB Canada snapshot here

For Global and North American results, click here

Clean50 support for Canadian leadership at Paris climate talks

The COP21 Conference begins in Paris in just 6 days. It is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from governments, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society. Over 11 days, countries that want action on climate change will convene to discuss the issues we face, the solutions we need and the timeline we need to act within.

In advance of COP21, a group of recognized Canadian sustainability leaders, the Clean50, has drafted an open letter to our political leaders attending the conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and our Premiers. The message, penned at the Clean50 Summit this past September, sends a clear message to Canada’s COP21 delegation that encourages them to take significant steps to raise Canada’s commitment to fighting climate change, and then work together to create an action plan to meet those targets.

  • Please act now: Set appropriate national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Canada can again be a leader.
  • Create a national sustainable development plan. Put in place strong policies that ensure we meet those targets, including a price on pollution, and incentives that accelerate adoption of cleaner choices.

Francisca Quinn, Founder of Quinn & Partners, is a Clean50 honouree that has endorsed this important message to Canada’s COP21 delegation. We also congratulate our clients Lisa Lafave at Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan and Philippe Bernier of Triovest Realty Advisors, as well as our strategic partners Coro Strandberg and Lisa DeMarco, in supporting this message.

You can read the full letter here and find it in a special section of the November 24 Globe and Mail newspaper.

 

 

Infrastructure investors seek win-win-win with new GRESB survey

Eight global institutional investor giants with US$1.5 trillion in assets under management have kicked off a ground-breaking initiative to standardize and advance the assessment of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in infrastructure investments. The founding investors have recruited GRESB, the organization that developed the global real estate benchmark now used by over 700 real estate funds, to manage and administer the survey. Together with Canadian supporters Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), Quinn & Partners had the privilege of attending the official launch of GRESB Infrastructure in London on September 7 and we provide a summary below of the key take-aways.

Founding members of GRESB Infrastructure
The winners: GRESB Infrastructure brings benefits to investors, investees and larger society

“With [infrastructure] asset lives spanning several decades, understanding ESG factors is critical to mitigating risk and maximizing returns,” explained Patrick Kanters, Managing Director of Real Estate and Infrastructure at APG Asset Management (Dutch pension plan with US$470 billion AUM). A standardized ESG benchmark allows investors to systematically assess risks, compare relative performance among current and prospective infrastructure holdings and engage fund managers and asset operators to improve performance. This is increasingly relevant because many long-term investors see infrastructure as an attractive asset class matching value appreciation with long-term liabilities, serving as a hedge against inflation and often providing predictable cash flows.

Identifying ESG risks or poor performance does not mean an investment will not be undertaken or withdrawn. Rather, the benchmark enables investors to have an informed conversation with managers and operators and mitigate, price or manage risks and opportunities. The end result is increased performance. “I am a believer in market forces,” says Nils Kok, CEO of GRESB, pointing to studies demonstrating links between financial performance and ESG performance in real estate. The GRESB real estate survey has been a very important tool in facilitating this analysis which in turn has been key to the benchmark’s success.

The GRESB survey benefits infrastructure fund managers, operators and assets as well. Having one standard will reduce the work of investees who often respond to different ESG questionnaires from multiple investors. One of the largest benefits will be the sharing of best practices within the same sector and portfolios. This is something that the founding members already have experienced success with and expect more of with increased scale.

Finally, this initiative seeks to increase investments in infrastructure while improving efficiency, social performance, and climate resiliency. As noted by one attendee, infrastructure is one asset class where increased sustainable investments almost certainly leads to significant societal benefits. This is reflected by the fact that increasing resilient infrastructure is one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

How it works: The best of GRESB, tailored to infrastructure sectors 
The infrastructure benchmark covers 8 aspects (shown below) and builds on the key strengths and learnings from 5 years of GRESB real estate progress. Similar to the GRESB real estate survey, the infrastructure tool assesses ESG at the organizational level using questions relating to management, due diligence practices, policy and disclosure and stakeholder engagement. It also addresses ESG at the sector and asset levels by looking at practices relating to sustainability benchmarking, monitoring, performance and engagement. The methodology enables an investor to compare portfolios comprised of different types of infrastructure assets.

GRESB Infrastructure – 8 survey aspects

The GRESB Infrastructure standard is aligned with and complements existing sustainability standards that are used by investors and asset operators such as PRI and GRI. Together, the instruments focus on a core set of questions that enables informed discussions and provides actionable benchmarking information, not just stand-alone reporting.

The survey is designed to be used by all types of infrastructure investors. Founding members include Aviva, which focuses on debt investment, PGGM and APG, which primarily invest in infrastructure funds as well as direct investors like OTPP and AIMCo. For each situation, the survey can be utilized to provide a benchmark of how ESG is being managed in the portfolio.

Next steps: Early mover advantage for infrastructure investors and operators coming on board in 2016

The GRESB Infrastructure survey will be open to submissions from global infrastructure investor and investee companies and funds in 2016, following a consultation period.

As with the GRESB real estate survey, it is expected that the infrastructure survey will evolve over time. Investors and investment managers who participate in the first year benefit from being able to influence the survey development and improve ESG practices ahead of GRESB standards becoming the basic expectation for investors.

As an example, APG, which seeks to increase its infrastructure portfolio by about 2% (US$9 billion) in the coming years, has made GRESB Infrastructure participation a requirement for all investments moving forward.

If you would like to know more about how to get involved in GRESB Infrastructure please contact Francisca Quinn francisca@quinnandpartners.com (416.300.8068) or Tony Pringle tony@quinnandpartners.com (647.972.2377).

Carbon Bubble

Diversify beats divest

pic for carbon bubble

As investors are integrating climate change impacts in investment decisions, fossil fuel-reliant companies should diversify their energy sources. This will sustain company valuations and manage future cost of capital.

Carbon bubble. Divest movement. Unburnable carbon. Stranded assets. These are recent additions to the Bay Street executive’s vocabulary as well as any company board director whose company is involved in the extraction, processing and distribution of coal, petroleum and natural gas. From having been a term previously used by fringe climate change activists, the mainstream investor is now taking note. With climate change awareness on the rise, companies in all industries need to seriously test the robustness of their business models to ensure future shareholder value.

Companies in the fossil fuel industry may face serious limitations in how much of their carbon-based resources they can monetize as climate change regulation forces governments to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and that has major investors concerned. With stock market valuations based on reserves of coal, petroleum and gas deposits, investors may hold portfolios that will significantly decrease in value as 1) restrictions make extraction unprofitable or 2) alternative energy sources become more economically viable.

Many significant investors, including the national Norwegian and Swedish pension funds and the university endowments of Harvard and Stanford University, have recently adopted restrictions in their portfolios’ exposure to coal and other fossil fuel assets. In November 2013, Goldman Sachs divested its equity share of a new coal terminal to be built in Washington state. Moreover, the global investment giant BlackRock teamed with the FTSE Index Group in May to create a fossil-fuel-free index to track the performance of non-carbon exposed portfolios. Serious investors are taking action and managing their exposure to the carbon bubble. This leads us to pose the question – “What are the implications for companies that are dependent on capital markets?” Will investors move away from companies which are heavily reliant on carbon-based fuels or weight portfolios towards the ones that are most “carbon lean” or that diversify into low-carbon energy?

According to the Financial Times, there is currently $670 billion invested in the fossil fuel industry, of which a large share of value could be at risk. There is no exact figure of the total capitalization of companies whose value chains rely on access to inexpensive fossil fuels, but it is presumably in the tens of trillions. Producers of steel, cement, paper, glass and metals are heavy users of coal and natural gas. Most North American rail and truck operators use diesel as their primary energy source. Diesel and gasoline power most agriculture equipment. In many parts of the world, real estate is dependent on natural gas for space and water heating. And a large share of electricity producers are heavily weighted towards coal and gas in their generation mix.

How will these sectors be exposed to carbon restrictions? Even if companies will still be able to access fossil-based fuels, the expectation is that energy costs will increase significantly compared to alternative energy sources that continue to fall in price. Will these companies be able to compete with peers investing in more efficient technologies and alternative energy sources? Will investors discount these companies’ share prices or increase the risk premium in financing and lending decisions? Or will investors simply restrict investments to top-sector performers?

With so many unknown parameters, what strategies should you consider to evaluate more sustainable business models and hence minimize future risk of increased cost of capital? The following suggestions ensure that you and your management team have done the strategic research and analysis that will equip you to make better decisions and answer questions from board members and stock analysts:

  • Incorporate climate change and carbon restrictions in your risk matrix and integrate in your strategic plan
  • Map your company’s dependency on fossil fuels both in internal operations and in the supply chain
  • Benchmark your carbon intensity – carbon emissions per production output or revenue – relative to a set of your competitors
  • Perform a scenario analysis of your exposure to both fuel supply limitations and changes in input costs
  • Consider where you can decrease dependency of finite energy resources by energy efficiency investments and use of renewable energy
  • Incorporate a carbon “shadow price” in investment decisions to consider higher future energy costs

In conclusion, stranded assets are being seen as a realistic scenario and investors will evaluate risks relating to carbon exposure. How can your company take steps to mitigate this risk and contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy?

Sustainability Qncepts

This is the first note in our series Sustainability Qncepts Explained. For further insights on managing the risk of stranded assets or effectively responding to requests from investors concerned about the carbon bubble, please contact us.

 

Carbon Bubble by the Numbers

Annual global greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels (2010) 30 Giga tonnes
Total greenhouse gas emissions from current reserves of all public and private companies (excludes potential reserves) 2,900 Giga tonnes
Total greenhouse gas emissions from current reserves of TSX -listed companies 33 Giga tonnes
Capital invested in fossil fuel industry in 2013 $ 670 billion
Capital invested in the Alberta Oil Sands in 2013 $ 33 billion
Price of one barrel of oil 1964 vs 2014 (inflation adjusted) $ 20 vs $106
Cost to produce one watt of solar electricity 1974 vs 2012 7667 vs 74 cents