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Sustainable housebuilder Greencore Homes has secured a further £30 million ($38.4 million) in equity funding from UK investment manager M&G Investments. 

The housebuilder, which developers low carbon and energy efficient homes, will use the new capital  to drive “significant expansion”, initially by targeting land acquisitions in the South East of England.

M&G invested £15 million ($19.2 million) investment into Greencore in 2022, to help the company meet its aim of  building 10,000 homes in a decade. The £45 million investment came from Catalyst, M&G’s £5 billion “purpose-led” private assets strategy.

Greencore targets net zero carbon balance in operation and better than net zero embodied carbon for its new homes. It assembles timber-frame panels in its factory, which are insulated with natural materials including hemp, lime and wood-fibre. The panels are then assembled onsite. The homes are highly energy efficient and are designed and built to meet Passivhaus thermal performance standards.

Jon Di-Stefano, CEO of Greencore Homes, said: “Our vision is to lead the housebuilding industry in the delivery of climate positive homes and M&G’s further investment reflects their confidence in our potential to take on this role and operate at scale. This investment will enable us to secure the land needed to deliver on our targets whilst supporting local communities, jobs and the environment. We look forward to continuing our strong relationship with M&G while we seek out new partnerships to help bolster our pipeline and support our target of building 10,000 climate-positive homes.”

Thriving Investments has raised £100 million ($126 million) in new equity for its flagship private rented sector (PRS) strategy.

The “socially conscious” fund manager, which focuses on the UK living sector, has secured a further £100 million of equity from Universities Superannuation Scheme for its Picture Living platform.

This latest commitment will support Thriving Investments’ ambition to grow the Picture Living portfolio to more than 2,000 homes by the end of 2024. Picture Living has a mandate to deliver high-quality new or modern, predominantly single family homes for rent across the UK. All homes will have an EPC rating of ‘B’ or better.

Jamie Younger, fund manager for Picture Living, said: “Solving the UK’s rental crisis has become an issue of national importance, and one where it has become increasingly apparent that the solution to delivering homes at the scale and pace required lies with institutional capital and fund managers.”

NREP has announced a final close of €3.65 billion for its fifth value-add real estate fund.

The ESG-focused real estate manager said the new vehicle would invest in underserved real estate segments across the Nordics and selected Northern European markets. “The focus is on residential rental properties, modern logistics facilities, care homes and offices, where the company can create value through customer-centric and decarbonising solutions,” NREP said in a statement.

Rune Kock, CEO, NREP, said:“The significant scale of this fund enables NREP to make a meaningful impact through our focus on customer-centric and decarbonising ­real estate strategies, and set a positive example for the industry to follow and ultimately scale. 

“By focusing on structurally supported sectors and demographically driven trends, we have the proven ability to create value across cycles whilst demonstrating the commercial viability of brown to green real estate transition strategies.”

NREP is now part of Urban Partners, a sustainable investment platform with €20 billion in assets under management, which also houses venture capital firm 2150, credit platform Velo Capital, and private equity investor Luma Equity.

The new fund has made 33 investments to date, including the Vällingby Centrum project in Stockholm, which was acquired for an environmental and social sustainability-focused enhancement strategy.

A new €250 million ($275 million) fund will tackle decarbonisation through a number of avenues, including real estate.

Alternative investment manager Azora is set to launch the Azora European Climate Solutions Fund, which will provide growth capital to lower mid-market businesses based in Europe which provide decarbonisation solutions for the real economy. 

The strategy has three key themes: urban solutions, energy solutions and sustainable agriculture. Azora is targeting €250 million of capital commitments to be invested across 10-12 portfolio companies, with average ticket sizes ranging between €10-40 million.

As well as using its own platform to source investments, Azora will also leverage the services of CBRE’s European platform to expand its pipeline identification and value creation capabilities.

The new fund is labelled as an Article 9 fund under the SFDR classification and thus will have specific decarbonisation targets and reporting obligations. 

Santiago Olivares, managing partner of Azora’s energy, infrastructure and sustainability practice, said: "The fight against climate change has created a historic investment opportunity to provide capital for companies which provide a solution towards decarbonising the real economy. 

“With the launch of this strategy, we want to provide our investors with the opportunity to benefit from a strong and secular tailwind and believe our strategy offers a compelling proposition given our intention is to boost the growth of these businesses through both Azora’s and CBRE’s portfolio.”

French asset manager Amundi has launched a European real estate fund focusing on decarbonisation. 

The Amundi Real Estate European Net Zero Ambition Strategy aims to maintain the carbon footprint of the portfolio below the CRREM 1.5°C trajectory model at all times and to target a reduction of 40% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

It will mainly invest in more mature markets in Western Europe as well as some European peripheral markets and will predominantly target offices in prime locations as well as sectors such as logistics, residential, retail, and hotels.

The new real estate strategy forms part of a suite of “net-zero ambition funds” launched across several asset classes to help Amundi reach a global objective of net zero by 2050.

Vincent Mortier, group CIO at Amundi, said: “Trillions of euros of capital will be needed to speed the path to decarbonisation, which cannot be done by governments alone. The global asset management industry – which is expected to be managing over $145trn by 2025 – has the scale to make things happen and trigger the momentum required to get the world to net zero.

“This is why, as a European asset management leader, we are launching the net-zero ambitions range across active, passive, and real assets, so investors can fuel the transition and put their savings to work, while earning investment returns. It is also critical to provide investors with a wide range of choices in order to help them align their investments to a net zero decarbonisation pathway.”

More than nine out of ten (93%) of global institutional investors actively consider ESG and sustainability in their real assets investment decisions, according to new research from Aviva Investors.

A further 17% consider ESG and sustainability to be critical factors in investment decision-making, the UK investment manager’s Real Assets Study found. The report canvassed views from 500 institutional investors around the world, representing more than $3.5 trillion in assets.

With half of institutional investors having a net zero commitment in place, the study found 28% of respondents allocate to real assets to capture its positive ESG impacts, compared with 17% three years ago.

Daniel McHugh, chief investment officer, real assets, at Aviva Investors, said: “Whilst concerns about high valuations feature prominently in this year’s responses, just 22 per cent of institutional investors see climate-related obsolescence as the most material risk. 

“Currently, capital pricing models do not adequately capture new factors such as this in their numbers, which carry material risk for investors. That has to change. As the market looks at assets through a net-zero lens, even prime assets could become vulnerable. Investors must be alive to how quickly – and to what extent – obsolescence could accelerate and the potential impact it could have on portfolios.”

Aviva Investors found 67% of institutional investors feel they have a responsibility to invest sustainably. However, more than three-quarters (79%) favour a fund or strategy that prioritises financial returns whilst integrating ESG factors. 

Respondents consider greenwashing the biggest material risk (52%) to investment in sustainable real assets, ahead of concerns over valuations (44%).

Nuveen has launched a new timber investment strategy.

The investment manager said the Nuveen Global Timberland strategy would provide investors with targeted exposure to sustainable timberland investments in markets such as the US, Chile, Uruguay, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

According to the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, global demand for timber is expected to grow by up to 200% by 2050. It is increasingly becoming a favoured material for real estate developments. 

Nuveen said the strategy will target a net total return of 5-7% p.a. from the sale of timber, land sales, carbon offsets, conservation easements and the natural appreciation of the assets, with a targeted 2-3% p.a. cash yield. 

 Martin Davies, head of Nuveen Natural Capital, said: “As economies transition to low carbon, sustainable timber is a crucial material in replacing carbon intensive steel and concrete in building construction. We believe this is one of the many factors that position timberland to deliver both attractive returns and climate solutions for clients.”

Investor interest in environmentally sustainable real estate assets is soaring. According to one source at a large global property consultancy, his business has recently witnessed an 800% uptick in enquiries for ESG real estate investment opportunities.

The problem is that as things stand there are not many real estate funds that are being marketed as environmentally sustainable. Given the pent-up investor appetite for this type of product, why is there such a disconnect between supply and demand?

In Europe, funds are classified using EU Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), which was introduced in 2021 to improve transparency in the sustainable investment market. Article 9 funds – also known as ‘dark green’ funds – have sustainable investment or a reduction in carbon emissions as an objective. Article 9 funds also have to assess their portfolio against the principle of ‘do no significant harm’ by considering principal adverse impact (PAI) indicators. These indicators are defined as “negative, material or likely to be material effects on sustainability factors”.

As things stand, there are only a handful of real estate funds in Europe that qualify as Article 9. Bridges Fund Management recently raised £350m – £50m more than its original target – for an Article 9 fund focused on assets in alternative and needs-driven sectors, such as low-carbon logistics, healthcare and lower-cost housing. There is also an Article 9 fund set up by a global investment manager focused purely on the living sector in Germany.

The latest fund badged environmentally sustainable was launched by Fiera Real Estate in June. Although the fund does not technically qualify under Article 9 because its structure was created before the SFDR legislation came into being, its criteria is aligned with Article 9.

“In our recently launched logistics sector-focused fund, we will be targeting net-zero construction for all projects,as well as market-leading ESG credentials within the design,” says Charles Allen, head of UK real estate at Fiera. “This not only satisfies growing expectations from the investment community and our internal net-zero carbon ambitions, but it also serves as an indication as to where we believe the market is headed.”

The market may well be heading in that direction, but the problem is that while the SFDR system was introduced to give greater clarity and transparency to investors seeking sustainable investment opportunities, it only appears to have muddied the water.

“In attempting to clarify matters, more confusion has actually been created over the definition of a ‘sustainable private real estate fund’ as it is open to interpretation,” says Jane Boyle, sustainability director at JLL. “Article 8 funds are those that have an E or S characteristic. Whilst this is quite vague, it could include things like a year-on-year energy or carbon target, that is not aligned to SBTis [Science Based Targets initiative], or non- specific targets.

“In contrast, article 9 funds have sustainable investment objectives (SIO), which could include aligning with the Paris Agreement, such as net zero carbon funds with a social objective. It’s open to interpretation whether some funds being marketed as Article 9 adhere to the definitions.” Another issue is that to qualify as an Article 9 fund, undercthe wording of the regulatory technical standard 100% of the fund’s assets must be sustainable from the outset.

Transition funds

“That means that those funds that are transition funds and aren’t sustainable at the moment, but their purpose is to transition assets to be sustainable, don’t qualify as Article 9, which given the vast majority of assets in places like the European Union, and obviously the UK, are old and energy inefficient, is problematic,” says Robbie Epsom, EMEA head of ESG at CBRE Investment Management.

Ali Ingram, head of sustainability, capital markets, EMEA, at JLL, agrees with Epsom’s assessment that better definitions are needed globally that can be understood by everyone as this will encourage asset owners – and particularly those who own existing assets – to improve the sustainability of their portfolios and at the same time eradicate any possibility of greenwashing.

“Ultimately, we need a clear and defined global and legal definition of a transition fund/brown-to- green if we are going to help LPs and therefore capital flows identify the real players in the space and encourage more of these types of funds,” says Ingram. “I believe that the greenest fund out there is in fact a transition fund looking to acquire assets not yet on net-zero carbon pathway and implement net-zero carbon strategies, versus a fund which invests in existing green assets.”

The industry is collectively trying to address the challenges highlighted by Epsom and Ingram, with property investors and investment bodies such as INREV meeting with organisations including the FCA and the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures to discuss what environmental metrics and regulatory framework the real estate sector should work towards.

As John Forbes from John Forbes Consulting, which advises real estate investment managers, investors and others in the real estate industry, puts it: “I guess the big question for investors is does the future lie with specialist funds with an ESG focus building the swankiest, greenest, exemplar new buildings, or does it rest with the majority of the funds who will own the majority of the [existing] assets raising their ESG bar to cope with the pathway to net zero?”

Sustainable fund definitions

The EU’s Sustainable Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) is so far the only regulatory regime to define different levels of sustainability within investment funds. The regulation aims to create a more transparent playing field, partly to prevent greenwashing – where some financial firms claim that their products are sustainable when they are not.

Patrizia has announced a first close for its €100 million ($105 million) venture capital fund targeting sustainable real estate technology.

The German real estate investment manager said the fund “will target investments in technology companies that enable a more sustainable built environment and will focus on late Seed to Series B technology companies globally, with a strong focus on Europe”.  

So far, two investments have been made: GBuilder and Liftango. The first is a Finnish platform for customer management in the residential development sector and the second provides software to shared transport systems, for example public transport or carpooling.  

Wolfgang Egger, CEO and founder of Patrizia, said: “We are delighted to see the successful first close of our new VC fund product which will play an important role in real asset’s journey to net-zero. Reducing our carbon footprint in construction and real estate is the biggest challenge of our time, so funding the companies who are at the cutting edge of sustainable innovation is absolutely essential. 

“Besides real estate and infrastructure, venture capital as a product offers our clients the potential for attractive investment returns and strategic advantages, particularly for investors with real estate portfolios.”

Asoka Wöhrmann, chief executive of German investment manager DWS, has resigned after a raid by German police on the company's offices.

Around 50 police officers raided DWS's Frankfurt headquarters on Tuesday as part of an investigation into prospectus fraud.

The manager, which is 80% owned by Deutsche Bank, has been under investigation by the German regulator BaFin since last year, after former head of sustainability Desiree Fixler alleged the company had made misleading statements in its 2020 annual report, which claimed €459 billion of its $900 billion assets under management were invested using ESG criteria.

In 2021, DWS stated that it stood by its annual report disclosures and said: "We firmly reject the allegations being made by a former employee."

However, in its 2021 annual report, published in March, DWS claimed only €115 billion in ESG assets.

DWS has €131 billion of real assets under management, including real estate and infrastructure. It is not known if the investigation is targeting real assets investment products.

Wöhrmann, pictured above, has been replaced by DB executive Stefan Hoops.