Building with B Corp: How B Corp can help deliver a sustainable real estate sector
Posted on 21 February 2024

There are 1,500 UK-headquartered businesses with B Corp certification. Yet less than 40 of these operate in the real estate sector. Worldwide, the food and drink industry is the front-runner, followed by the IT software and services sector in second place.

When Precede Capital Partners launched almost three years ago, we set out to be a lending platform that partnered with best-in-class developers to deliver ambitious, but also responsible, real estate projects. From the outset, we have embedded social and environmental values into our business strategy. We are acutely aware of the unique role the built environment has to play in tackling climate change and creating positive social value.

Since inception, we’ve been backed by TowerBrook, a mainstream private equity firm and certified B Corp with a longstanding commitment to social and environmental stewardship They were an invaluable partner during the certification process, providing continuous guidance and support. I met regularly with their ESG lead to discuss all aspects of the certification, while at the firm’s ESG Summit in Paris last year we had the opportunity to meet with other TowerBrook-backed portfolio companies and discuss the process, gaining useful insights from a range of businesses.

For a business like ours that works closely with developers, supporting them to make more sustainable decisions is crucial. Precede offers a Green Loan product to developers that aims to mitigate the increased costs associated with building low-carbon, environmentally sustainable homes. We also work with sustainability advisors Longevity Partners, who we consult on every project. They help us evaluate prospective developments against our sustainability framework (which covers the full lifecycle of a project) as well as work alongside our borrowers to provide support and advice on the environmental and social performance targets of the asset. They are also consulted on any projects qualifying for industry-recognised sustainability certifications, such as BRE HQM or LEED v4.1.

Our recent deals demonstrate this careful and considered approach in action. In partnership with Nomura, we provided a £227 million four-year whole-loan facility – since syndicated to Nomura, NIBC and DWS – to finance the construction of First Street, a development in the heart of Manchester which will have heating provided by air source heat pumps, EV charging points and rooftop solar PV provision. Similarly, the Great Charles Street development is one of Birmingham’s largest regeneration projects and is expected to achieve strong energy performance with a low Scope 1 and 2 emissions profile. Here, we facilitated a £188 million five-year whole-loan to fund the scheme, a financing which has since been syndicated to Nomura, Pimco and NIBC.

B Corp is also about your internal values and governance procedures as a company: how you treat your staff, the support and culture you offer as an employer and the varied ways you embody strong and authentic ESG values. Building a team that cares about the impact of their work goes a long way. At Precede, we have assembled a diverse team for whom delivering crucial homes for the UK as sustainably as possible resonates on a personal level. Everyone is on the same page when it comes to making socially conscious real estate projects a reality.

However, this recent milestone in becoming B Corp certified has also left me reflecting on why real estate appears to be lagging behind other industries. Although many of these businesses embrace B Corp values, the complexities of our industry mean there are often barriers to certification.

Real estate is a sprawling sector that encompasses countless industries, ranging from manufacturing to planning, finance to investment. We ourselves are a debt financing platform that works primarily with developers, who themselves work with an extended supply chain of managers, manufacturers and construction partners. This composite means many real estate businesses are closely entwined with several third-party suppliers, which can make it challenging to obtain accurate and timely due diligence. Every three years businesses are required to apply for B Corp recertification – this means keeping on top of due diligence (at both the asset level and within the business at Precede) is a critical path from Day 1.

Yet, with policies such as the Future Homes Standard on the horizon, there is a clear shift underway towards legislation favouring more sustainable homes. Ensuring that schemes are future-fit is essential not only for the sector but for the people who will eventually live in these houses and the surrounding environment. Transitioning our built environment to one that is committed to positive change and high standards is crucial to the industry’s future as green policies evolve.

Our homes are so often the foundations of our local environment, communities and ultimately our day-to-day lives. With this in mind, we hope to see continued recognition for real estate businesses that do the right thing and are taking the all-important strides towards delivering a truly sustainable sector which preserves the environment, fosters community and ultimately provides people with homes which are fit for the future.

Karen Dunstan
Co-Founder / General Counsel / COO

Karen has 15 years post qualification experience having completed her law degree at The London School of Economics. Karen was previously at Urban Exposure Plc for 7 years, as General Counsel. Karen has also worked at King & Wood Mallesons, Herbert Smith LLP and Charles Russell.

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