‘Doing what’s right’ - Unite Students launches Sustainable Finance Framework

Unite Students’ new sustainability strategy includes targets for net zero carbon operations and development by 2030, a commitment to providing opportunities for all its employees irrespective of their background, gender or ethnicity, and a pledge to raise standards across the student housing sector.

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Sustainability reflects Unite Students’ values

Unite Students is the UK's largest owner, manager and developer of student accommodation, offering homes to 74,000 students across 173 properties in 25 leading university towns and cities.

A commitment to “doing what’s right” is part of Unite Students’ corporate philosophy and operating sustainably means for the company to act in line with its values. Hence, over the past few years, the student accommodation company has worked hard to reduce its environmental impact, support the wellbeing of its student customers as well as promote access to Higher Education through the Unite Foundation.

Unite Students’ new sustainability strategy includes targets for net zero carbon operations and development by 2030, a commitment to providing opportunities for all its employees irrespective of their background, gender or ethnicity, and a pledge to raise standards across the student housing sector. The company already discloses details of its sustainability performance via leading benchmarks, such as for example the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), and received a four-star GRESB rating in 2020.

Sustainable Finance Framework capture environmental aspects and social elements

Aiming to finance its sustainability projects through sustainable bonds, loans and other debt products, Unite Students sought advice from NatWest to develop a Sustainable Finance Framework.

In its role as sole Sustainability Structuring Advisor the NatWest team worked closely with the Unite Students team to help develop a holistic Sustainable Finance Framework that captures both environmental aspects and social elements.  In the past couple years, NatWest had helped Unite Students engage with investors in order to outline its sustainability strategy.  The feedback received from investors during those meetings guided the decision on the most appropriate framework for the real estate company.

Underlying projects of the company’s Sustainable Finance Framework contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while supporting the company’s business strategy. Sustainable projects range from green buildings and projects aimed at improving the energy efficiency of Unite Students’ properties and renewable energy to social initiatives including the provision of affordable housing, financial support for students through the Covid-19 pandemic as well as more innovative forms of support such as  projects aimed at widening participation in post-18 education.

NatWest also helped Unite Students to find a strategic partner to review their framework and assess its alignment with relevant principles published by the International Capital Markets Association (ICMA) and the Loan Markets Association (LMA). ESG consultant and data provider ISS ESG provided this external verification.

Unite Students’ framework reflects several trends in the market, namely the fast increasing interest of real estate players in an ESG approach of their business, the motivation of the sector to raise sustainable debt at the capital markets, and – post pandemic – embed COVID-19 response projects into the framework.

Framework marks significant milestone for Unite Students’ sustainability journey

Sunil Kainth, NatWest, commented: “We’re delighted to have supported Unite Students with the development of their Sustainable Finance Framework.  We’re committed to actively contribute to social, economic and environmental progress in the UK through supporting customers such as Unite Students on their sustainability journey.”

Dr Arthur Krebbers, NatWest, added: “We’re proud to have helped Unite Students establish their inaugural sustainable finance framework. It very much highlights growing ESG momentum in the UK market as well as the real estate sector more generally. Within the framework Unite has successfully embedded both tangible environmental and social metrics, that should be very appealing to the investor community.”

Joe Lister, Chief Financial Officer of Unite Students, said: “The publication of our Sustainable Finance Framework represents another significant milestone for our sustainability strategy. We have clear objectives to become a net zero carbon business by 2030, while delivering a positive social impact through our work with our employees, students and local communities. The Framework enables us to fund our sustainability journey through debt instruments that are environmentally and socially impactful, allowing investors to more directly link the benefits of their funding to our sustainability objectives.”

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