The Importance of ESG for Net Lease REITs

While net lease REITs have developed robust governance policies and social initiatives, environmental has been more difficult to address. Learn why and how to approach

Original article posted in the WMRE Midyear Outlook on July 30, 2021

Nearly three-quarters of institutional investors are factoring ESG into their investment decisions, up 18% since 2019 according to a recent report. As the importance of responsible investing continues to grow and more investors evaluate companies based on ESG-related criteria, REITs are recognizing both the benefits and necessity of a holistic ESG strategy.

Despite the increased focus, the net lease industry has lagged behind. In a recent WMRE survey focused on the net lease sector, only six percent of respondents said ESG was a significant factor in their investment decisions. While net lease REITs have developed robust governance policies and social initiatives, environmental has been more difficult to address—largely due to the triple-net lease structure whereby tenants are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the property, including energy usage and environmental practices.


While net lease REITs don’t directly control property operations, there is an enormous opportunity to work with tenants to reduce their environmental impact and implement sustainability initiatives to support the ‘E’ in ESG—here’s how.

An illustration of a warehouse with solar panels on the roof and windmills
Integrate ESG into underwriting

ESG criteria can be integrated into the underwriting of new investments both at the property and tenant levels. In assessing properties, factors to consider are the types of energy used, equipment age and waste management standards. Most importantly, considering not only the current state of the building, but what improvements can be made in the future, is critical. On the tenant level, it’s important to understand the company’s broader ESG goals and ensure they are committed to reducing their carbon footprint. For build-to-suit investments—where REITs fund the construction of a new facility— taking a proactive approach to engaging with tenants on sustainable design decisions early in the process is crucial and a great way to turn a conventional investment into a green one.

Source sustainability projects from within

Net lease REITs can source sustainability-focused opportunities from their own portfolio. REITs with industrial properties are particularly well suited to working with tenants on sustainability projects that improve carbon footprint, reduce operating expenses and enhance asset quality. Such projects include, renewable energy opportunities, green building certifications (ie. LEED, BREEAM), building efficiency retrofits or energy audits. By identifying owned properties best suited for certain projects and proactively reaching out to tenants, net lease REITs can build a steady pipeline of sustainable investments while helping tenants decrease operating costs and advance their environmental goals.

Finance investments through green bonds

As more investors look to increase their allocation to ESG-related investments, public net lease REITs may be able to secure attractive financing to fund their pipeline of sustainable investments through the issuance of green bonds. Green bonds are designed to support strategies and initiatives that have a positive environmental benefit and can help net lease REITs appeal to a wider investor base and raise the capital needed to fund green investments.

In closing

Implementing environmental initiatives as part of a broader ESG strategy is possible for all REITs, net lease included. At W. P. Carey, we take a proactive approach to reducing our global carbon footprint, partnering with our tenants to reduce their environmental impact and meet their own ESG goals. These initiatives are not only beneficial to the planet, but to a REIT’s broader portfolio. Green buildings generally increase property value, drive higher rents, attract higher-caliber tenants and often improve renewal outcomes, which can all lead to enhanced cost of capital and accelerated growth.

Brooks G. Gordon Profile Image
Brooks G. Gordon
Managing Director
Head of Asset Management
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