The company raised SPV-level debt of ₹650 crores from Axis Bank which was used to refinance a construction loan for a 100 MW solar project in Bellary, Karnataka
Comprising 3 key pillars like responsible business, resilient planet, and revitalized communities with 19 particular projects focused on a goal to ‘Reimagine Spaces’. Embassy REIT has transitioned to a well-planned ESG approach aiming at incorporating sustainability principles into its business objectives and values. Michael Holland, CEO of Embassy REIT shares insights with Rusen Kumar, Editor, India CSR on how ESG is a top priority for the REIT. Excerpts of an interview:
How has the Indian real estate sector adopted ESG practices, especially in the commercial realty space? How is this emerging as a business priority in the commercial real estate sector and how have you defined the ESG framework/roadmap in your organisation?
The Indian commercial real estate sector is in the nascent stages of adopting structured ESG frameworks and strategies and most players are taking up ad-hoc sustainability initiatives related to energy certifications or disjointed social programs. We believe that Embassy REIT has taken a leadership position in this space and set the tone for redefining ESG best practices in Indian commercial real estate. For some time now, we have adopted a formalized, structured approach to incorporate ESG priorities into our business objectives and values. Our ESG framework comprises 3 key pillars namely Responsible Business, Resilient Planet, and Revitalized Communities. In totality, these 3 pillars comprise 19 distinct programs focused on a vision to ‘Reimagine spaces’ for a sustainable tomorrow for all our stakeholders.
As part of our overall ESG programme, we commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 across our operational portfolio, three decades ahead of India’s 2070 target set at the Glasgow COP26 summit in 2021. We have set out a defined path with a 5-point strategy to achieve this goal. This includes increasing usage of renewable energy, currently at over 30% to a short term objective of 75% by 2025, reducing the energy consumption footprint of existing facilities, by investing to improve energy efficiency, partnering with key occupiers, suppliers, and contractors to develop joint action plans towards reducing emissions, embedding net-zero evaluation in pre-acquisition due diligence and offsetting residual emissions through selected projects.
We consider our ESG focus and commitments to be aligned with the broader goals of our global occupiers as well as investors and consider it a significant competitive advantage in our business. We believe that our ability to build and maintain a sustainable and energy-efficient portfolio is a strong differentiator and competitive advantage.
What is your target for sustainable financing projects? How has the company progressed on those plans?
We had set a target of achieving sustainable financing of ₹1000 crores by FY2024 and we have already delivered over and above this figure by April 2022.
In October 2021, we raised SPV-level debt of ₹650 crores from Axis Bank which was used to refinance a construction loan for a 100 MW solar project in Bellary, Karnataka. In February 2022, an additional loan of ₹80 crores was secured for the ongoing construction of one of Asia’s largest solar rooftop projects of over 20 MW scale across our pan-India properties. Both loans, cumulatively worth ₹730 crores, have received a green loan certification from the Climate Bonds Initiative, an investor-focused international not-for-profit organization – a first for any organization in the Indian real estate sector.
With this, we have successfully secured cumulative sustainable financing of over ₹2,170 crores, well ahead of our FY2024 target, with 50% of our SPV-level debt now certified as ‘green’.
Post the pandemic, has there been a greater focus on health & wellness in commercial office spaces? How has Embassy REIT incorporated the health, safety, and wellbeing aspect into its portfolio?
We are committed to providing health and well-being-focused workplaces for our occupiers, and employees, while adhering to globally recognized sustainable and wellness standards.
In 2021, Embassy REIT joined the International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI) WELL Portfolio program to reinforce our commitment to creating healthier and safer office environments, especially as health and wellness took center stage since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2022, we were awarded a WELL Portfolio Score by IWBI, making us the first organization in India to receive this accolade for the implementation of health and wellbeing strategies through a portfolio-wide approach. Embassy REIT scored above the global average in 6 of the 10 wellness parameters assessed.
Our entire portfolio is also ISO/IMS certified for quality management (ISO 9001), environmental management (ISO14001), and occupational health and safety management (ISO45001). Recently, we also received the ISO27001 certification for data security across our portfolio and became the first Indian real estate entity to achieve this, again underscoring our aim to take a leadership position in the sustainability arena in India.
Over 70% of Embassy REIT’s properties are already LEED USGBC / IGBC certified, with all new buildings designed to be Gold / Platinum certified. To improve the air quality across the portfolio, Photo Hydro Ionization (PHI) air filtration systems have been installed. Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have been added as a standard amenity to the business parks, ensuring medical readiness for heart-related emergencies, and over 200 people in our parks have been trained in the use of such equipment.
These milestones demonstrate our progress in the company’s sustainability journey to create and maintain green, wellness-oriented spaces and reduce our carbon footprint as we move towards our 2040 net-zero commitment.
On the CSR front, what are some of the recent initiatives undertaken to support the development of local communities?
At Embassy REIT, we nurture and contribute to the economic, social, and environmental development of our communities. Underpinned by the philosophy ‘together we can do more, we champion collective action for increased social impact through partnerships with other corporates, NGOs and regulatory bodies, mainly in areas of health, education and public infrastructure.
We have adopted over 50 government schools and 100 tribal schools which we support with multi-year education projects to enable sustained support for student development. We also support an Alumni Program which provides mentorship for students to pursue higher education as well as employment. Besides this, we have designed a holistic health programme covering preventive and detective measures to tackle common health issues for government school students across 5 cities.
On the environment front, Embassy REIT is working closely with NGOs to catalyze communities to develop infrastructure to benefit our environment. We are a proud partner of The Anonymous Indian Charitable Trust’s EcoGram Solid Waste Management Project, which aims to propagate sustainable waste, water and soil management. Also, we are a founding supporter of their recently launched ‘Namma Jalamarga’ campaign for water and waste management in Bangalore.
We also run a ‘Corporate Connect’ programme which aims to bring together the 200 corporate occupiers of our business parks with a shared vision for our communities. A key example would be our partnership with our corporate occupier ANZ for the construction of a third Government school in Bengaluru. To date, we have collaborated with over 30 partners or 60+ projects with a combined spend of over Rs30Cr in the last financial year alone.
Besides this, we have also been actively investing in community infrastructure upgrades around our properties to benefit the public at large. We recently announced the opening of a 3-lane flyover at Embassy Manyata business park wherein we have invested over Rs. 180 crores to improve the connectivity in North Bangalore. We also constructed a public skywalk at Embassy TechVillage last year helping over 20,000 pedestrians daily to safely cross the road. We are always looking for such opportunities to contribute towards improving the city infrastructure and simultaneously enhancing our ‘total business ecosystem’ offering.
What are some of the steps undertaken by the company to improve resource efficiency?
As part of our overall ESG vision of ‘Re-imagining spaces’, we are focused on improving resource efficiencies across our asset lifecycles and developing a sustainable supply chain by integrating ESG aspects across the value chain. We are committed to achieving net-zero carbon operations by 2040 by increasing the share of renewable energy and reducing energy intensity across our properties.
In October 2021, we announced our 75/25 Renewable Programme – a commitment to achieve 75% renewable energy usage across our properties by FY 2025. An existing 100 MW solar plant supplying electricity to our Bengaluru properties as well as an ongoing project to install solar rooftop panels with a capacity of over 20 MW across our pan-India asset base are central to achieving this target. We have embarked on an ambitious programme to reduce energy and water consumption in our parks by upgrading lighting and cooling systems as well as installing water-efficient fixtures.
We also aim to improve biodiversity and achieve a net-zero state for water and waste through our principles of reducing, reusing, and recycling. We follow rainwater harvesting, on-premises recycling of organic waste, and safe disposal of hazardous waste.