US asset manager helps buy sustainable real estate body GRESB

New ownership structure will see GRESB become a b-corp and set up a foundation

Summit Partners, a $21bn US-based private equity house, has led the acquisition of the investor-backed Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) from the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for an undisclosed sum. 

GRESB itself has also bought a stake as part of the deal, which will see its standards spun out into a foundation. 

The Amsterdam-based body was launched in 2009 by Dutch responsible pension investors PGGM and APG, and the UK’s Universities Superannuation Scheme. It counts some of the world’s largest asset owners as members, including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and South Africa’s GEPF. Japan’s $1.6trn Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) joined in March.

Its sustainability ESG and data benchmarks cover more than $5.3trn in real estate and infrastructure value and its work centers on the annual GRESB Survey, which investor members encourage their real estate managers to fill out.

GRESB merged with the Washington-based GBCI in 2014 to build data and research, but this week – in a dramatic change in its ownership structure – its management partnered with Summit to buy 100% of its shares from GBCI. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

Now, a non-profit GRESB Foundation will be set up to independently own and govern the GRESB Standards. Its board will initially comprise of GRESB’s former non-executive directors: Patrick Kanters, Managing Director of Global Real Assets at APG Asset Management, Deborah Ng, Head of Responsible Investing at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and Mathieu Elshout, Senior Director of Private Real Estate at PGGM Investments. 

“We welcome the establishment of a truly independent GRESB Foundation to govern the  GRESB Standards and continue their development as investor needs evolve,” said Kanters. 

The role of the existing Real Estate and Infrastructure Advisory Boards (renamed Standards Boards) and Benchmark Committees (renamed Standards Committees) are still to be formalised. The foundation’s articles of association are expected to be established by the end of the year. 

GRESB will seek formal B-Corp certification, “in order to build accountability for our mission into our legal structure and to protect this accountability over the long term”. 

It will also expand its emerging markets team, invest in data science and technology and bolster its support for reporting efforts.

“Thank you to so many of you who have been supporters of GRESB throughout our 10-year journey so far,” said Sander Paul van Tongeren, Co-founder and Managing Director of GRESB. “We’re looking ahead to a new era for GRESB with deeper industry involvement in our  governance and greater capacity to deliver the ESG data and insights needed to navigate the transition to sustainable real assets at the speed and the scale that is now required.”