When deciding to file a GRESB report (or, really any other non-financial report), first-time reporters have a lot to resolve. Luckily, many companies have been in your place before you embarked on your journey and have garnered important insights into best practices for GRESB Reporting.
Two webinars with our clients, Jamestown and AvalonBay Communities, highlighted 4 key takeaways for first-time reporters:
1. You can’t “not” report sustainability data anymore
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data, also known as non-financial data, is no longer a set of nice-to-have metrics. These data points are essential to assessing the health and resilience of a company, and more investors are asking for reports.
“You can’t not report in ESG data – those days are gone, if not quickly disappearing, in this industry and has already rolled through many other industries,” said Mark Delisi, Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility at AvalonBay Properties.
Likewise, the momentum for disclosure and benchmarking building performance is on the rise. Over the 6 reporting years since GRESB was founded, the number of reporting companies has increased nearly 4x as larger reporting companies and investors have participated.
“You are being rated [on sustainability performance] whether you intentionally report or not,” said Delisi, by both investors and consumers. By releasing accurate, up-to-date information about your company, you have the power to craft your message and how people understand your sustainability programs and data.
2. Reports are a mirror for your own ESG operations
Sustainability reporting is not simply a checkbox that you fill in once a year. The reports have real value; the market would not have adopted this process if there was no value.
Non-financial reports showcase how outsiders view your company’s performance, but, these reports also act as a mirror: with the data aggregated in a standard format, you can easily identify where your portfolio excels and where you fall short. By pinpointing the gaps, you can make necessary changes to your company’s sustainability program in order to increase efficiency and make targeted improvements.
Jamestown ranked “dead last” in its peer group the first year it reported, according to Rebecca Rushin, Vice President – Sustainability at Jamestown. This report was a shock to the leadership team and instigated an overhaul of its ESG program. The reporting process shed light on a number of areas where the company’s portfolio fell short, so the sustainability team was able to make targeted changes to improve performance. Now, Jamestown is in the top 25% of its overall portfolio and leads its buildings’ individual peer groups.
3. Have intent before you file
“Don’t report for reporting’s sake,” advises Delisi. “The reporting should never be seen as the end or the point; it is a means” to achieving your company’s larger sustainability goals. Thus, make sure you have a purpose in filing a sustainability report before submitting. What is the intent of the report? Where does your company stand in ESG Initiatives? These are questions you need to ask before you file.
The sage advice of Delisi is that you should file because your company will be ranked on the information it puts out, even if you don’t report. However, you also need to know why you are reporting and have goals in place before you begin. Once you commit to ESG reporting, you need to commit.
4. Know your options before you report for the first time
First time reporters, in particular, have many options when it comes to filing non-financial reports. While some reports, like GRESB, CDP, and GRI Standards, have been widely adopted by the market, many others choose to file other types of reports, or create their own in-house sustainability report.
Download the GRESB Guidance before you decide to file GRESB. Other surveys have guidelines that help you understand the scope of work and information necessary for each report. You need to know what you’re signing up for before the decision to file is even made.
Surveys like GRESB understand that not every company is running at highest efficiency the first time it decides to file. Thus, there are a number of options for restricting certain information while companies sort through the ESG process. For example, the first year that a company reports to GRESB, there is a “grace period” where the report does not have to be made public while a company better understands the reporting process.
With these key points should help new reporters determine key areas required before beginning a reporting process and, even more importantly, a sustainability performance program.