• Sustainable assets, sustainable feturns: Unveiling the ESG-Rental Premiums Nexus

    24 May 2024

    In the evolving landscape of commercial real estate, the significance of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors has become increasingly prominent. It has become a critical factor for real estate decisions, from investment decisions to corporate sustainability plans of landlords and occupier’s requirements. As global awareness of sustainability grows, the integration of ESG principles into business strategies is no longer a choice but a necessity. This paper delves into the critical role of ESG in the commercial real estate sector.

    The focus of our research is on understanding how each ESG factor influences the rental premium in the office market. Rental premiums are subject to various factors – location, building specifications, and quality, to name a few – among which, ESG has emerged as a potent factor. With businesses becoming more conscious of their social responsibility and environmental impact, office buildings that adhere to ESG principles are likely to command a rental premium.

    This paper provides empirical evidence of the sensitivity between ESG parameters and rental premiums. These statistics can help landlords and investors determine the most sustainable path for integrating ESG criteria into assets while considering the ever-changing sustainability landscape. This can also help occupiers select a long-term resilient workspace that is aligned with their ESG framework. By understanding the potential financial impact of integrating ESG into asset management, stakeholders can make informed decisions that result in long-term profitability and resilience.

    Key Takeaways:

    • Every enhancement of ESG-related criteria can contribute to up to 17.1% of rental premium.
    • Sustainable certification is becoming a screening criterion to avoid brown discounts.
    • 43% of buildings surveyed conducted sustainable buildings accreditation, and more to come.
    • Integrating ESG-related criteria beyond sustainable certifications unlocks substantial green premiums.
    • The top three ESG-related criteria considered rental sensitive in Hong Kong are EV charging infrastructure, Art and Culture Integration, and Green Pledge.

    Challenges for HK landlords in ESG implementation

    In Hong Kong, the decision-making process for asset owners in choosing upgrades for their buildings often relies on requests from investors, rating agencies and occupiers. Pioneer developers have taken a step further by establishing their own vision for ESG considerations, which serve as a guiding principle for determining which ESG parameters should be prioritised.

    This paper proposes an integrated and macro approach to prioritising ESG parameters in real estate stakeholders’ assets. By identifying key areas for investment and asset enhancement that align with emerging trends, asset owners can ensure that their buildings are well-positioned for success in the rapidly evolving ESG-focused market to secure long-term benefits.


    To study their ESG provisions, 181 representative and active office buildings across various commercial districts in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were surveyed.

    To quantitatively assess the sensitivity of the ESG provisions of the office buildings, a total of 24 ESG parameters that are prioritised global trends and have evolved in HK were evaluated for each building. An ESG score from 0 to 1 was generated based on the presence and performance of each parameter of each assessed office building. The full ESG score for a building is 24 (i.e. 24 parameters).


    Based on the regression, a rental premium of 17.1% has been found for every additional total ESG score. The regression result for location and building age is also statistically significant at 95% confidence interval, which underpins the set up of this multi-variable regression.

    The understanding of rental premium here could have two layers: it can be interpreted as additional rent of 17.1% received due to a single point higher in total ESG score. Alternatively, it can also imply that there would be 17.1% rental discount due to a single point lower in total ESG score.

    There are different ways to achieve a higher ESG score, which can lead to a higher rental premium. However, decisions should also be made based on the consideration of capital costs and implementation time, as capital costs vary from one case to another.

    To guide asset owners on the enhancement priority through macro statistics, rather than the total ESG score, each ESG parameter underwent another round of regression under the same setup to find out individual rental sensitivity to office rents. Although a portion of these regressions on individual ESG parameters are statistically insignificant at the 95% confidence interval, most of them are statistically significant at the 80% confidence interval.

    The top 3 priorities of each parameter are as follows:

    Martin Wong, Senior Director, Head of Research & Consultancy, Greater China: “In Hong Kong, office tenants, particularly Hong Kong-listed enterprises, are currently placing a significantly greater emphasis on ESG features when making real estate decisions. In view of the ESG premiums, certain landlords are demonstrating a relatively swifter response compared to others. Their focus extends beyond the environmental aspect and encompasses the social and governance dimensions as well.

    While Hong Kong aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, multinational corporations are expected to adhere to the standards established by their global headquarters, potentially as early as 2027-2030.”

    Jackie Cheung, Director, ESG, Asia-Pacific said, “The Asia-Pacific region is witnessing a growing trend known as the “flight to quality,” which is accompanied by an increasing number of ESG disclosure regulations at both corporate and asset levels. Building owners strategically plan their ESG upgrades to align with this trend, rather than solely focusing on task-driven upgrades. By doing so, landlords can unlock the potential for ESG premiums, mitigate the risk of brown discounts, and position themselves for higher occupancy rates and rental resilience. These advantages are particularly important during market downturns.”

    The landscape of ESG premiums in the real estate sector is evolving beyond basic building certification and energy efficiency measures. Emerging trends, driven by increasing investor scrutiny and a growing recognition of the interconnectedness of ESG factors, demand a more holistic and accountable approach to ESG integration. Landlords are advised to conduct a thorough ESG study before any asset upgrading plan, and investors are advised to conduct an ESG due diligence before asset acquisition.


    This research study summarises the significance of sustainability provisions in office buildings, indicating tangible rental premium benefits. Investors can consider implementing a range of sustainability features as mentioned in this report to enhance the performance and market competitiveness of office buildings. These results provide generic recommendations for ESG provisions, and a tailor-made ESG enhancement plan should be discussed with consultants to maximise the green rental premium of the asset.

    (from left to right) Martin Wong, Senior Director, Head of Research & Consultancy, Greater China, Wincy Wan, Senior Analyst, ESG, Elaine Kong, Senior Business Strategy Manager, Professional Services

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