REITs of all types own more than $3 trillion in gross real estate assets across the U.S.
U.S. listed REITs have an equity market capitalization of more than $1.3 trillion and own and operate between 10% and 20% of U.S. commercial real estate. The U.S. REIT industry plays a meaningful role and looks to play an even greater role in moving the needle forward for ESG best practices. Nareit’s REIT ESG Dashboard helps quantify that impact.
Nareit’s REIT ESG Dashboard reflects publicly reported data from 2016 through 2018 as reported in 2017 through 2019, respectively, for the 100 largest U.S. equity REITs by equity market capitalization, representing more than 93% of the listed equity REIT equity market capitalization. The REITs included in this dashboard own 486,380 assets including 44,284 buildings totaling around 5.0 billion square feet of real estate in the U.S., as of year-end 2018.
Charts within the Dashboard either reflect REITs by number or the percentage of the REIT industry by equity market cap.
Many REITs are now reporting their sustainability efforts publicly, with the percentage growing year-over-year. In 2019, 84 of the top 100 REITs (representing 89% of the total equity market capitalization) reported publicly on their ESG efforts, including on their company websites, annual reports, and/or stand-alone sustainability reports.
An increasing number of REITs are producing stand-alone sustainability reports.
ESG reporting continues to be more common for larger REITs, with 92% of REITs with an equity market capitalization greater than $10 billion reporting and 93% of REITs with equity market capitalization between $5 and $10 billion. While not as many smaller REITs are reporting on ESG, the share jumped considerably between 2018 and 2019. Nareit helps member companies of all sizes looking to advance their ESG initiatives through its JumpStart Program and REITWorks Conference.
There are several reporting frameworks through which REITs can report their ESG data, including GRESB, CDP, and GRI. In 2019, GRESB had the highest participation rate by number of companies, with 39 of the top 100 REITs participating representing 53% by equity market cap. CDP had the greatest participation by equity market cap representation, with 37 REITs reporting to CDP in 2019 accounting for 67% by equity market cap. GRI was not too far behind with 30 REITs utilizing the guidelines for stand-alone sustainability reporting, representing 52% by equity market cap. REITs may utilize more than one ESG reporting framework. For example, 18 of the top 100 REITs participating reported to all three frameworks (GRESB, CDP, and GRI).
The 2019 Nareit Guide to ESG Reporting Frameworks provides an overview of the most relevant ESG frameworks in the marketplace and their most commonly used metrics in a single, user-friendly document.
In addition to reporting sustainability performance, an increasing number of REITs publicly disclose short- or long-term sustainability goals. In 2019, 26 REITs, representing 44% by equity market cap, disclosed carbon targets, and 27 REITs publicly disclosed sustainability goals, representing 39% by equity market cap. Twenty-two REITs reported both a carbon target and a sustainability goal while others only opted to disclose one.
As REITs expand their ESG initiatives, more companies are hiring staff dedicated to ESG. Between 2017 and 2019, 14 of the top 100 REITs added a full-time dedicated ESG staff position for the first time. The 36 REITs with dedicated ESG staff account for more than half of the equity market capitalization of the top 100 REITs. In addition, many of those without dedicated ESG staff implement ESG initiatives through sustainability committees as well as guidance from outside consultants.
From retrofitting existing buildings to implementing new sustainability and energy conservation standards, the REIT industry is moving to reduce resource consumption.
Consistent with 2018, more than three quarters of the REITs included in the Dashboard are building and operating green certified buildings. Over 2,000 REIT-owned buildings have a green certification. This covers around 606 million square feet, up from 569 million last year. In fact, REIT-owned properties are often at the forefront of sustainable building innovations.
REITs are reducing carbon emissions, generating energy savings, reducing water consumption and increasing usage of renewable energy, and they’re increasingly reporting on those efforts. The two most commonly reported metrics relate to carbon emissions and energy usage. The percentage of the REIT industry by equity market capitalization reporting on tracked environmental metrics increased from 2018 to 2019 for each metric. In 2019, 31 REITs reported on carbon emissions, up from 25 in 2018. REITs disclosing energy usage increased from 25 in 2018 to 31 in 2019, representing 51% of the sample by equity market cap. REITs disclosing water usage increased from 22 in 2018 to 29 in 2019, representing 47% of the sample by equity market cap. A significant increase in waste management reporting is also apparent from 19 REITs in 2018 to 27 REITs in 2019, representing 39% by equity market cap.
From wind to solar to hydropower, REITs are increasingly integrating renewable energy into their operations.
REITs have a history of incorporating social initiatives into their business models not only to improve their financial performance but to positively impact their employees, their communities, their tenants, and other stakeholders. This may include providing human resources training or revitalizing neighborhoods within their communities and supporting tenant needs. Social programs are inherently more difficult to track than other components of ESG initiatives. What one company does to contribute to the specific needs of its surrounding community may not be easily compared to the efforts of another company, where the needs are entirely different.
An increasing number of REITs are reporting on social initiatives. Tenant engagement and community development are some of the social initiatives REITs most frequently report on. In 2019, 62 out of the top 100 REITs publicly disclosed data on their community development programs, representing 72% by equity market cap.
An increasing number of REITs are reporting on a variety of workforce metrics. In 2019, disclosure on Health and Wellness Programs had the highest increase among the tracked workforce metrics, jumping from 54% to 69% by equity market cap.
Social policies related to supplier/vendor screening, diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity initiatives, and health and safety practices are increasingly disclosed by REITs. In 2019, 51 of the top 100 REITs publicly disclosed their diversity, inclusion, and/or equal opportunity initiatives, representing 62% by equity market cap.
Governance policies reflect an organization’s processes, policies, practices, and impact regarding its formalized governing infrastructure, transparency, roles and responsibilities, and accountability.
Diversity and inclusion are important objectives for all public companies. REITs are showing progress in reporting in this area, particularly as it relates to gender diversity on boards of directors.
Fifty-eight of the top 100 REITs disclose the existence of a formal ethics compliance program.
Advancing REIT ESG Reporting
Data show that the REIT industry is increasingly committed to implementing and disclosing its ESG-related initiatives and practices.
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REITs and Publicly Traded Real Estate Companies
If you’re looking to start a sustainability program or advance an existing one, check out Nareit’s JumpStart Program and annual REITWorks Conference. Contact Fulya Kocak, Nareit Senior Vice President, ESG Issues to learn more about these programs.
Data collection was performed by GeoPhy,