The Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) is a dynamic benchmark used by institutional investors to assess the sustainability performance of real estate portfolios around the globe. Completing the survey takes some effort, but with each passing year, the GRESB benchmark is becoming increasingly essential work for any REIT that wants to be seriously considered by investors.
The 2015 GRESB deadline was June 30. But it’s never too early to start preparing for 2016. Here are six smart strategies to streamline the GRESB submission process and help ensure the best possible score.
Focus on what’s most critical
The two most important pieces of building data to report are “stakeholder engagement” (25.5 percent of the total score) and “performance indicators” (23.6 percent of total score). Any stakeholder engagement (e.g., tenant engagement, investor engagement, community engagement) or key performance indicator (e.g., energy, water consumption, GHG emissions and waste) data you can provide will help deliver the maximum lift to your score. But keep in mind this data will be validated and checked for regularity of engagement and measurement, so be precise. There will be no difference to your overall GRESB score whether you supply a lot of data about a few buildings or minimal data on many more buildings; your score is focused on how much data you can provide.
Take advantage of the easiest data sources
Look for the easiest sources from which to glean data. These are typically either buildings in which you have high ownership, have built yourself or are already reporting through ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. The building managers at those properties are the most likely people in your portfolio to provide building data.
To ensure data is readily supplied, it’s important to make reporting as easy as possible. Ask building managers to scan or fax copies of the specific documents you need (e.g., utility, water, and waste hauling bills; building certifications; and audits or commissions). Don’t simply ask for “all of the data” on the building; you’ll end up with too much—or not enough.
Keep in mind that trying to collect data from buildings that you own only a small stake in doesn’t deliver much bang for your buck. In many cases, REITs may not even know who the property managers are, let alone where bills and building certifications are kept.
Take a realistic view of your sustainability policy
Skip the temptation to quickly create a lofty sustainability policy for your portfolio if you’re not ready to make good on it. That policy is binding in GRESB’s view, and the board will hold you to it year after year, expecting you to provide verifiable data showing progress against the goals you’ve established.
A realistic but well-executed sustainability policy will prevent you from ending up in the “Green Talk” quadrant—GRESB’s recognition for REITs with solid sustainability policies but loose enforcement. Begin with realistic goals so you’re able to show progress over time and position your organization for future success.
Create a central data collection system
Harvest building data in a central system the day you submit your GRESB survey. You need access to energy and water data on one central platform, whether it’s through energy intelligence software (EIS) from a vendor such as EnerNOC or something you create yourself. EIS will help you dramatically cut the time you spend on the GRESB submission.
If you’re not using EIS, insist that your property managers automatically send you copies of bills each month so you’re able to log in the data centrally. Go first to the building managers at properties you either built or in which you have a high stake, preferably both. You have the most leverage with those property managers.
Designate your “GRESB czar”
Make one person responsible for GRESB, year-round. The survey often becomes a headache because it’s technically no one’s job. People pitch in where they can, and then at the last minute it becomes all hands on deck. GRESB’s too important for that; someone must own GRESB reporting and be thinking year-round about improving your score.
Create a smart sustainability policy… and get buy-in
Develop a sustainability policy that’s well researched, feasible and agreed upon by the people who’ll actually be implementing it. The management and policy side of your GRESB survey cannot be neglected. Not only does it comprise 30 percent of your total score, it also determines how your quantitative results are measured.
All GRESB Green Stars (the highest award bestowed by GRESB) have portfolio-wide sustainability policies in place and are meeting the goals of those policies year after year. Your policy doesn’t need to be about having the highest-efficiency buildings in the world; it simply needs to demonstrate major improvements from where you are today.
With these six strategies, your REIT will be in a strong position to complete the 2016 GRESB audit with few headaches. You’ll also position your portfolio for the strongest possible GRESB score this year, and for years to come.
Brinda Sen is an account manager for energy intelligence software company EnerNOC (www.enernoc.com) and former senior director ddvisory for the research and consulting organization Sustainability Roundtable Inc.