Link Group has become the first registered social landlord (RSL) in Scotland to adopt the European Certified Sustainable Housing Label, joining just two other housing associations in the UK to have done so.
Jon Turner, chief executive of Link, revealed yesterday (Thursday 3 December) that the Edinburgh-based group had achieved the accreditation, while speaking on a panel at the Social Housing Annual Conference.
Social Housing recently reported the adoption of the label by Catalyst, which manages around 34,000 homes in the South East, joining fellow G15 group member and the UK’s largest housing association Clarion, which took it up last November.
The latter went on to issue two oversubscribed ‘sustainable’ bonds in January and November this year – the first sector bonds to carry a sustainability label. Both were issued through Clarion’s £3bn Euro Medium-Term Note programme.
The label is provided by German consultancy Ritterwald, and to date two other European housing associations have adopted it: Gewobag, which owns around 70,000 homes in Germany, and Vilogia, which has around 73,000 homes in France.
Clarion’s most recent performance in the capital markets saw it beat its own record for the lowest-priced primary housing association issuance. With a coupon of just 1.25 per cent, the 12-year, £300m bond priced at only 95bps over gilts.
However, Mr Turner told delegates that for Link, the primary motivation in adopting the label was not financial.
“The reason that we’ve gone for this label and taken the independent accreditation route is not because we immediately want to go and raise ESG funding – it’s because it tells me that we have an organisation fundamentally built on doing the right thing, doing it in the way that matters to people – and we have an anchor now that shows to everybody that we are a genuinely sustainable organisation.”
Together with its three subsidiary RSLs, Link Group has nearly 10,500 units in management, its 2020 accounts show. It is currently working on a sustainability strategy, which it plans to publish during the course of the current financial year.
Mr Turner added that while the group had already travelled some way towards its aspirations to be a sustainable organisation, the label provided a strong focal point.
He said: “Very quickly we realised that this wasn’t a sustainability strategy, this will simply be our business strategy going forward – because the two are no longer separate, they are exactly the same thing.”
To achieve the label, there is an assessment process looking across the organisation, which tests performance against internationally recognised ESG metrics. The report from Ritterwald is then passed to a second party opinion provider (SPO), who confirms the documentation and compliance on the certification process.
Commenting on the announcement of Link’s accreditation, Dr Mathias Hain, managing partner at Ritterwald, said that the accreditation demonstrates that the label “does not only apply to large housing associations”.
“We are thrilled to count Link Group as a label holder, the first Scottish housing association to receive this accreditation. Link Group has done a remarkable job regarding sustainability matters as the high scores of the housing association reflect.”
Mr Turner added: “In attaining the Certified Sustainable Housing Label, we have laid down a key foundation in the vision for our wider sustainability strategy and for Link to become a leader in this field.”