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ESG Is A Mission For Property, But Only Now Is It A Mission For The Church

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England

Many investors approach the ESG agenda with an almost missionary zeal.

But surprisingly the body that oversees the church’s property portfolio hasn’t been so keen. Until now.

The Church Commissioners for England have appointed Paul Jaffe, formerly of British Land and LaSalle Investment Management, as Real Assets ESG lead. Jaffe oversaw the placemaking, environmental and community initiatives at British Land’s £1.8B Paddington Basin campus.

The commissioners have been criticised for their slow disengagement from a large portfolio of investments in environmentally doubtful businesses, not least the oil industry. Since 2015 the commissioners, who manage a £9.2B investment fund and own at least 100,000 acres, have been rethinking their strategy.

As recently as February 2022 a former archbishop joined a call to the church to disinvest from ExxonMobil, whilst concerns were raised about the fossil-fuel links of members of key committees.

The Church responded by saying it was making progress and adhering to climate goals.

The complaints come as the Church of England, led by Archbishop Justin Welby, faces criticism for intervening in political disputes.

The commissioners’ real assets portfolio includes significant UK land holdings, including agricultural land, strategic land and forestry operations, in addition to commercial and residential real estate, infrastructure and indirect investments.

Nobody is quite sure about the size of the property portfolio. However, it is probably above the £2B quoted in 2015. This includes the 90-acre Hyde Park Estate near Paddington and Paternoster Square in the City of London.

According to the most recent annual report, the total investment fund under management is £9.2B. The report indicates that commercial property is allocated 2.9%, residential 5.3% and indirect property a further 1.2%.

That year the real assets side of the business purchased Wycombe Retail Park, High Wycombe. The commissioners also won planning permission for 1.36M SF of new employment space (mostly logistics) to the east of Peterborough. 

“Paul’s appointment underlines the Church Commissioners' commitment to responsible investment, outlined in the pillars of Respect for the Planet and Respect for People, putting best practices at the heart of our investments in real assets," Church Commission Head of Real Estate John Weir said. "Paul will enhance our focus on environmental stewardship and the creation of social value across our diverse real assets portfolio."  

The Church Commissioners are an official body managing assets of the Church of England. Other churches and Christian denominations make their own arrangements.