By Sherief Ibrahim, Industry Go To Market Leader, Financial Services Industry, North America, Microsoft
Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to find an organization disclosing its ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) principles or performance. But with growing demand for greater transparency and accountability by investors, governments and other stakeholders, ESG disclosure is quickly becoming the norm. Today, over 86 per cent of North American companies are opting to release voluntary reports which document their annual ESG activities. ESG reporting being one of the fastest growing voluntary disclosures in history, the lack of standardized reporting formats and transparent guidelines, coupled with a rapidly evolving landscape has created challenges in effectively tracking and reporting ESG goals, managing data and ultimately driving insights.
BentallGreenOak (BGO) is a real estate investment management, advisory, and services firm that operates in 14 countries around the world. The firm is known for its real estate investment strategies with a clear focus on sustainability and innovation, in the areas of data science and technology. As an early adopter of ESG practices in commercial real estate investing, BGO has quickly risen to a leadership position in the industry and continues to find new approaches to advance on their sustainability commitments. Most recently, BGO became a signatory to the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative to support the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
In early 2022, BGO embarked on a four-week pilot program, working with implementation partner Avanade, to test out Microsoft Sustainability Manager’s (MSM) capabilities to learn how it could support their ESG reporting requirements and data integrations. MSM seamlessly unifies data intelligence and provides comprehensive, integrated and automated sustainability management for organizations at any stage of their sustainability journey. For BGO, such a tool would help them to consolidate ESG data from multiple sources, automate key processes, like report generation, and track progress to better understand their status and where further action is required.
ESG-specific data management technology is still in its nascency and there are few solutions that support the various regulatory reporting requirements for companies like BGO. The firm’s merger in 2019 presented the company with the challenge of consolidating large amounts of data from multiple jurisdictions in a seamless way.
“The extendibility of the platform is the unique feature of MSM that allowed us to customize the baseline functionality of the platform and to test its capabilities to determine if it could support our growing requirements.”
Another challenge faced by BGO was figuring out how they could capture performance metrics, monitor trends and data, and support reporting requirements under Europe’s SFDR (Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation) all in one place.
MSM’s ability to integrate with other Microsoft solutions, such as Power Apps, to build no-code data collection tools and to visualize data insights was a step forward in achieving BGO’s goals. This integration enables BGO to further automate key processes like report generation at specific intervals. Data validation can also be applied at point of capture to ensure data is structured properly, eliminating manual conversions, saving time, and allowing their teams to put their efforts into other tasks.
As the demand for integrating ESG into investment decisions increases along with increasing regulatory requirements, it is likely that more companies will adopt more ESG data management practices to attract investment, meet the needs of their shareholders and remain compliant. Real estate sustainable investing can only benefit from the adoption of tools like MSM that provide greater insights into companies’ operations and the assessment of their performance; important factors which inform sustainability goal setting and the ongoing tracking of their progress towards meeting those goals.