Sustainability at Workspace - Doing the right thing
Workspace Group is a FTSE 250 listed Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) which owns, develops and directly manages nearly 60 business centres in London with a current portfolio of flexible offices that cover some 4 million square feet.
Driving forward its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda is a top priority for Workspace, and sustainability fits naturally in Workspace’s ethos – given their activities involve refurbishing old (Victorian) warehouses into modern office spaces. To tackle its carbon footprint, Workspace signed up to the Better Building Partnership (“BBP”) Climate Change Commitment in September 2019 to initially deliver net zero carbon real estate portfolios by 2050. Since then it has carried out a review of its business and supply chain emissions and, in January this year, published its “Net Zero Carbon Pathway” strategy, which details how Workspace aims to become a zero-carbon business already by 2030.
Workspace’s rolling refurbishment and redevelopment programme is crucial to help reduce the whole life-cycle carbon emissions of its buildings and transforming them into modern spaces, whilst as well as retaining the history of the sites. Workspace now has 12 BREEAM rated buildings. BREEAM is the leading sustainability assessment method for infrastructure and buildings and incorporates considerations such as energy efficiency, protecting natural resources and enhancing the well-being of the people who live and work in buildings.
Workspace established a Green Finance Framework, aligned with the International Capital Market Association's (ICMA’s) Green Bond Principles, which sets out the “Eligible green projects” categories, a broad range of projects – highlighting and supporting the full range of the company’s decarbonisation drive - for which the company may seek to raise green debt. The company received an independent second party opinion for the framework from DNV-GL.
Workspace opts for a green debut entry into the capital markets
Tapping into the capital markets for the first time, Workspace turned to NatWest to support them in their role as joint lead managers and joint green structuring advisers with a ‘green entry’ into the market; opting to issue a £300million, 7 years, 2.25% green bond. NatWest had already acted as joint structuring bank helping establish Workspace’s Green Finance Framework in c.4 weeks, which was a much shorter timeframe than we would typically expect.
Despite investors showing hesitance towards office real estate firms since the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift towards working from home for most office workers, investors welcomed Workspace’s green debut, which resulted in a strong £800 million orderbook. The company’s broader than usual Green Finance Framework proved to be a particular strong selling point – encompassing, for example, a supply chain element such as sourcing more low embodied carbon concrete, and clean transport, which can include the creation of charging points for electric vehicles at or around its buildings.
Building sector going green is a game changer for sustainability
Responsible for nearly 30% of global carbon emissions , transforming buildings into green buildings is a key deliverable for cutting carbon emissions, which derive from the energy used to heat, cool and light them. Reducing the energy consumption of buildings can cut carbon emissions by more than 30% ; in addition, shifting to sustainable cement can save between 1.72-2.75 billion tonnes of CO₂ emissions annually – between 50-80% compared to traditional cement. Green buildings have also shown to improve the health and comfort of their occupants, while also offering economic benefits such as lower operating costs.
National Green Building Councils as well as other organisations, such as the Energy Saving Trust in the UK, work with the building and construction industry to accelerate innovations in the design and constructions of new zero-carbon buildings as well as provide advice for the retrofitting of existing buildings – with a potential to achieve energy savings and emissions of at least 50% worldwide by 2050.
Playing a crucial part in tackling the climate emergency
Dr Arthur Krebbers, Head of Sustainable Finance, Corporates at NatWest, commented about Workspace’s debut green bond: “We are delighted to have supported Workspace with this transaction, which not only marked their first green bonds issuance but also their first bond overall. It’s a very encouraging sign to see growth of the UK sustainable finance market through new issuers such as, and in particular, in the real estate sector, a sector that is responsible for around 30% of the global carbon footprint. Companies such as Workspace are making a real difference and we’re committed at NatWest to help them on their sustainability journey.”
Varun Sarda, Head of ESG Advisory, NatWest, I’m delighted we could help Workspace set up their Green Finance Framework. This framework will help Workspace to raise finance across a broad array of eligible green categories and ensure that the company’s financing strategy supports, and is aligned with, its corporate sustainability strategy. This transaction also underlines the pioneering role the REIT sector can play in the transition to a low carbon and greener economy while also reflecting the growing momentum behind ESG debt in the UK.
Sunil Kainth, Debt & Financing Solutions, NatWest, commented that Workspace’s green bond is another sign of the pace of progress in the real estate sector. All UK and European based real estate issuers accessing the GBP bond market since H2 2020 have done so in green, social or sustainable format. With many other real estate firms having already established their ESG frameworks, or are in the process of doing so, the trend shows no sign of slowing down.
Graham Clemett, CEO Workspace Group PLC, said: "We acknowledge there is a climate emergency and recognise that the building and construction industry significantly contributes to the global carbon footprint. This is why we want to play our part in Building Back Better and transition to a green economy, by becoming a net zero carbon business by 2030. First and foremost, we will be focusing our efforts on driving down our operational and embodied carbon emissions in line with our approved science-based targets, aligned to limit global warming to 1.5°C."
Dave Benson, Chief Financial Officer, Workspace Group PLC, commented: "We are delighted by the strong level of institutional demand for our first green bond issuance. This illustrates that fixed-income investors recognise the resilience of our business model and the enduring appeal of our unique offering of high quality, flexible workspace for London-based small and medium-sized businesses. This bond, which further strengthens our balance sheet, is the first issued under our Green Finance Framework, which will continue to be a core pillar of our financial strategy and underscores our commitment to sustainable investment and development practices."
Karen Jamison, Head of Sustainability, Workspace Group PLC, added: "We acknowledge the climate emergency that we are all facing and the role that we have to play as an owner and operator of London office space to reduce carbon emissions. We are making significant progress towards our commitment to becoming a net zero carbon business by 2030 and this inaugural green bond issuance will support our work to create energy efficient buildings. It will also further our social strategy which is focused on the employment-led regeneration of London, bringing more employment to emerging areas."
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