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Reflections from the Environmental, Social & Governance Conference, Scotland

SfH board member Julie McDowell shares her thoughts after speaking at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations’ (SFHA) inaugural ESG conference last month.

The number of people attending the SFHA’s recent Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Conference in Glasgow shows that housing associations in Scotland are keen to learn more about ESG and define what it means for them.

I spoke in two sessions at the conference. In the first session I talked about my experience working in ethical investment, the ancestor of ESG, starting in 2000, and how the field has evolved since then.

At the second session I spoke about the Sustainability Reporting Standard for Social Housing (the SRS), with an update on the process leading to version 2.0 of the Standard, which was released this week.

Comments and questions in both sessions focused on the practical steps in creating an ESG plan that is strategic, useful and cost effective.

Participants wanted to know more from the speakers about how to engage Boards and employees, how to encourage biodiversity around their properties and how to measure carbon emissions.

The questions showed that many are well on their way in developing an ESG strategy and are keen to talk to others and share experiences on the challenges they face.

It is also clear that social housing associations recognise the value of focusing on ESG although the acute financial pressures the sector is facing have highlighted the need to articulate this value clearly.

Although the margin discounts associated with sustainability targets are small, participants acknowledged the likelihood that basic banking relationships will require borrowers to report on their ESG plans and performance.

We now have eight Scottish housing associations that have adopted the SRS as a framework for reporting on ESG and I predict that the number will increase.

Julie is a SfH board member, chair of Blackwood Homes & Care and an ESG specialist.