Earlier this month, Sustainability for Housing hosted a webinar to mark the launch of Version 2.0 of the Sustainability Reporting Standard for Social Housing (SRS).
The webinar attracted over 120 participants from across the finance and social housing sectors, as Brendan Sarsfield, Chair of SfH and Andy Smith from The Good Economy ran through the some of the key changes. The webinar also heard from funders and adopters about the ESG landscape and what the SRS has brought to their businesses.
Below are some key talking points:
Small HAs shouldn’t be afraid of adopting
One of the speakers at in the webinar was Susan French, Chief Executive of Barnsbury Housing Association, which owns and manages around 300 homes in London.
Susan encouraged more small HAs to get involved in the ESG reporting process and suggested that it is attainable.
She said: “I would encourage any small HA to give it a go. It’s not an onerous process, there will be gaps, but it’s a good starting point.”
Brendan Sarsfield, Chair of SfH, was also keen to highlight the ability of smaller HAs to report against the Standard successfully.
“I think small and medium HAs are more nimble and less siloed. I think some of the best reports I’ve seen have come from small and medium sized organisations,” he noted.
ESG is increasingly commonplace
The Standard was created three years ago in response to growing demand for ESG information from investors and a desire to get the social housing sector to report in a unified way. Speakers at the event acknowledged how quickly the ESG agenda has grown in that time.
Hugo Gordon, Senior Policy Advisor at the Investment Association, said that ESG is now a primary part of investors considerations.
He said: “Most investment managers see ESG as essential,” due to a growing trend of sustainability disclosures and growing client expectations.
“Prior to the SRS, some of the reporting could be piecemeal – the SRS has been so valuable in that way,” he added.
Investor demands will continue to evolve
While speakers noted the growth of ESG, they also noted that demands on reporting will continue to become more demanding. 7
As Arun Poobalasingam, Funding and Marketing Director at The Housing Finance Corporation, said: “I think the SRS having a consistent format is great, one of the issues is…each stakeholder will have their own flavour of the day and will make requests of all their funders.”
But he suggested that having a uniform reporting tool across the sector gives HAs some power when talking to funders.
Kelly Saban, Assistant Treasury Manager at Southern Housing, said she has already noticed the changing demands from investors. “We have noticed in the last year a slight uptick in investors and lenders coming to us asking newer questions,” she told attendees, adding that updated criteria around damp and mould issues are welcome additions to Version 2.0.
David Willock, Managing Director ESG Finance and Lloyds Banking Group, also said he expects demands on reporting to grow. He advised: “Just keep having those conversations and don’t be afraid to reach out to your investor.”
It’s not about perfection
Some of the speakers talked through the areas that were difficult to report and those that were easier than others. What was clear from the discussion was that no one expects to be able to report perfectly from the off.
Kelly explained that Southern had found reporting around Scope 3 emissions to be a challenging area and they benefitted from external consultants. “I don’t think perfection is achievable, we are always trying to improve the process,” she said.
David offered a funder’s perspective and reassured adopters: “This is a journey. We are not expecting people to all of a sudden be able to deliver every aspect.”
SRS has helped embed ESG into organisations
Reflecting on the process of reporting in the last few years, adopters Kelly and Susan noted how ESG has become embedded into their organisations.
Kelly explained that Southern has started an ESG working group to bring together different parts of the business to help collect the necessary data. “Now ESG has become embedded in the business, and it has become routine”
Susan noted that the majority of employees will have some contact with the ESG reporting process given the size of the organisation. She explained that Barnsbury has always had a strong focus on net zero and sustainability and she “saw the SRS as an opportunity to showcase the work we are doing on that.”