There are some job appointments that really catch our eye. They’re “different, unusual”.

JLL’s hire of Dr Georgia Warren-Myers as head of ESG value and risk Advisory for Asia Pacific is one. First, she’s got a PhD and she’s an academic. Her previous role was Associate Professor in Property at The University of Melbourne.

We’re not sure how many people in the real estate consultancy business have PhDs. But one thing is certain – they’ll be in increasingly hot demand if their skills help shed light for investors on the impact of climate change and sustainability on property, as Warren-Myers’ does.

It’s the second time round for her in the company. Warren-Myers, who’s also a valuer, started work on her thesis 15 years ago when she initially worked with the company. She’s kept in touch with her former colleagues and others in the industry to source data for her regular surveys and research on how valuation and the broader industry responded to the climate and sustainability challenges.

Valuers

Part of her thesis for the PhD was to track the level of knowledge development around climate and ESG issues and understand how that “infiltrates markets”.

Every few years, she’s also tracked valuers on their level of reporting around ESG (environment, social and governance) issues, “what they’re seeing and potential value relationships”, even around the rating tools.

As these issues continue to rise to the top of the property investors and their vast retinue of professional advisors, consultants and designers but it’s the attitude of valuers that are the most intriguing.

It seems that traditionally, they’ve been singularly focused on market assessment of value – or historical transactional evidence ­– rather than the multiple future challenges massing on the horizon.

Warren-Myers says that’s only partly true.

In a conversation with The Fifth Estate on Wednesday she ran through the thinking. It’s true that valuers rely on market information, she said, but things have evolved and are now at a point where valuation needs more nuanced information – around the growing risks of climate impact – and sustainability. Which of course can also signal opportunities.

Property is undergoing myriad challenges, she noted.

“Back towards the early days… there was a very, very low level of knowledge around what the rating tools actually meant – in a very simple kind of context,” she said of the valuation profession.

“Some people were excellent, but the ratio over the whole survey sample was very poor in terms of that knowledge and education.”

A big shift occurred around the time of her 2016 survey when she noticed a significant evolution in the market as mandatory disclosure took hold.

This came via the CBD, or Commercial Building Disclosure program, which required all offices of more than 1000 square metres that were bought or sold, to disclose their NABERS Energy ratings.

It took a few years for the program to “really be felt” in the industry in terms of consistent reporting across the market, she said.

“But I noticed that there was quite a significant jump, in terms of the knowledge around the rating tools in the survey I did around 2016.

“Suddenly, there was a lot greater knowledge around that NABERS tool.”

At the same time the understanding of Green Star building ratings stabilised before shooting up again later.

It was clear in later surveys, that the CBD mandatory disclosure program “really started driving some change in terms of behaviors and knowledge development as well and also level of reporting.”

She’s not surprised (as we were!) find that the NABERS website now claims around 80 per cent of all commercial buildings in Australia are now rated for NABERS Energy, as the trickle down effect to smaller offices also took hold.

Today most valuation reports state a NABERS rating and today they might include strategies towards net zero or capital expenditure that might be needed around an assets, she said.

What to do with the information

So far there seems to be some uncertainty still around what to do with the information. Warren-Myers says what’s missing is the capability of being able to compare assets.

“And whilst we as valuers, as do a lot of comparison processes, those ESG characteristics, and certainly the ratings are not front of mind when they’re doing that comparison aspect.”

She expects awareness of these issues will continue to become more prominent element especially in premium and A Grade space and to escalate in terms of importance, “particularly as we see net zero strategies coming in for tenants and for landlords”.

What’s the missing link for valuation to better incorporate sustainability and ESG?

Partly the challenge is that valuation is effectively a “reflective piece”, Warren-Myers says.

In her new role, which won’t be based in the valuation space, but in a risk and advisory role, she will try to plug that gap, tackling answers to questions such as around the location and risk profile of portfolios.

Then to help develop the right strategy around risk, “bring the clients along the way in terms of understanding the exposure of various types of risks to their assets. And then what they do about them”.

What happens as we enter a new world of uncertainty?

“Well, uncertainty is kind of actually normal,” Warren-Myers says. “And we’ve been dealing with it for decades and generations.”

What’s important is how we deal with it and parameters we put around it to control it as much as we can.

“There’s aspects that we can control and there are aspects that we can’t.

“It’s a process of effectively eliminating as much of the risk that you can.” On property it could be by moving ownership around.

Not all risk is bad

Often with uncertainty it’s not always downside and the higher the risk, the higher return. Volatility and uncertainty are what drive the share market, she points out.

So why did JLL particularly seek out the skills Warren-Myers brings?

“I think it’s come to the crux point where suddenly, particularly with corporate social responsibility and the ESG requirements, all infiltrating the organisation space, that there’s a much greater need now to understand what the value implications are for assets, and what kind of risk profiles these assets and their investments are actually prone to.”

It’s about providing better clarity around the work that the existing team net zero and the need to minimize emissions and mitigate those emissions, she says.

Climate change and its impact isn’t just “suddenly going to arrive at a certain date in the future.

“What we’re going to notice are the increasing reoccurrence of major events and … not only when they occur, but also the extremes that they occur to.

“And that’s going to have flow on effects. So for things like insurance, in particular, and we’re already starting to see the insurance companies have been, quite concerned.”

In residential property there will be big issues to deal with as lower income people may only be able to afford to live in vulnerable areas – that are uninsurable.

The biggest question, she said, is what we are going to do about this.

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