Current core sustainability issues for real estate companies
When it comes to sustainability, Ramel sees the following issues topping real estate companies’ agendas:
1. Climate change mitigation
Real estate companies are focused on reducing their environmental footprint. Key focus areas include material selection, energy usage, reuse of materials and waste handling.
A growing number of companies are setting climate targets in line with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which is currently developing SBTi guidelines for buildings.
Nordic real estate companies setting or committing to the Science Based Targets initiative
All companies are based in Sweden except for one committed in Norway in 2020 and one committed and one with targets set in Finland in 2019.
Among Swedish real estate companies, there are currently 14 companies with approved targets and an additional five that have committed to targets (see table below).
Swedish real estate companies with SBTi climate targets
Companies with SBTi-approved targets
Companies with SBTi-committed targets
HSB Riksförbund ekonomisk förening
2. Climate change adaptation
Another core focus of real estate companies is ensuring buildings are resilient to climate change. For physical assets, it’s becoming more important to understand if buildings are at risk for flooding, for example, from higher sea levels.
3. Social issues
More property owners are looking at social issues in the value chain. For example, who are they hiring to build a property? How do they handle social issues, such as working conditions, harassment and safety?
Social factors are also considered by residential real estate companies with properties in underserved areas. One example is Trianon, which has included social categories in its sustainable finance framework, allowing the company to finance employment generation, affordable housing and investments in social environments in socio-economically weak areas.
4. Biodiversity and land use
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many office and commercial buildings sat largely empty or underutilised. That has triggered discussions about whether buildings can be used in a more efficient way, helping biodiversity and protection of land use. Real estate companies are starting to use rebuilding as an alternative to new buildings.
Sustainable finance developments on the horizon for real estate
When it comes to future developments within sustainable finance and real estate, Ramel highlights the following five hot topics:
1. Reporting under the EU Taxonomy
The EU’s new classification system for green investments, the EU Taxonomy, is top-of-mind for many real estate companies, according to Ramel. 2022 is the first year companies will need to report on their eligibility, or whether they are covered by the Taxonomy, while next year they will need to report on their Taxonomy alignment.
“We have seen the first companies reporting now, some on eligibility, some also on alignment,” says Ramel.
She notes that one challenge is that the Taxonomy requires existing buildings to be in the top 15% of most energy-efficient buildings to be green. The question is: What is the top 15%? That varies by country, Ramel notes.
“That’s a challenge many companies are dealing with – finding the definition to be able to say they’re aligned with the Taxonomy,” she says.
2. Updates to frameworks
Many real estate companies produced their green bond frameworks around three years ago. That means it’s time for an update, given that many of the Nordic real estate companies have a second party opinion with a three-year expiration date.
“With many real estate companies now updating their frameworks, that leaves room to expand them to include new formats, such as social and sustainability-linked bonds,” says Ramel.
Nordic companies with a social use-of-proceeds format include SBB, Studentbostäder i Norden, Hemsö Fastigheter, Y-Foundation and Trianon.
3. Opportunities with sustainability-linked bonds
Real estate companies are often already working with climate targets, such as energy performance and emissions reduction goals. Those targets can work well with sustainability-linked bonds, in which the bond characteristics, such as the coupon rate, vary depending on whether the issuer meets set ESG targets.
“The sustainability-linked format can be a good format for companies to show investors their climate ambition, together with setting Science Based Targets,” says Ramel.
Atrium Ljungberg, for example, recently launched its framework for issuing sustainability-linked bonds.
4. Climate adaptation bonds
Given that companies are more focused on adapting to and becoming more resilient to climate change, we could see more climate adaptation bonds from real estate companies, according to Ramel.
“With costs related to climate adaptation likely to increase, we expect the bond category will be included in frameworks going forward,” she says.