A sunny outlook – how Asga’s roofs help protect the climate

A win-win situation: Through photovoltaics, we are increasing the attractiveness of our properties as well as contributing to the federal government's energy strategy.

Under the federal government’s energy strategy 2050, around three times as much renewable energy will be produced by 2035 compared with today. As the strategy excludes hydroelectric power, solar energy is accorded a major role. Photovoltaic systems (PV systems) can help by making the target economically viable – and on top of that it increases the attractiveness of a property. To this end, a level playing field for locally produced electricity for own consumption has been created on a Swiss-wide basis.

And it is precisely this locally produced electricity where we see potential. Own consumption within developments and buildings makes ecological and economic sense. A decent return can be earned depending on the location, use and quality of the site. And with a positive impact: We are convinced that PV installations can contribute to a successful energy transition. 

If we can supply a property with locally produced electricity, we achieve a degree of independence from the electricity market. Seasonal fluctuations in production (summer and winter yield) and the current high cost of energy storage are the biggest challenges. In addition, there are major regional differences in electricity prices and export tariffs.

In 2019, our real estate division conducted a comprehensive portfolio analysis on the technical and financial feasibility of PV systems. The first pilot projects were implemented and internal expertise strengthened based on these findings. Furthermore, an internal strategy paper was produced on the expansion of PV installations within the existing portfolio. The portfolio’s latest PV installation – in Aarau – was commissioned at the end of November 2020. The completed PV system will produce around 95,000 kWh per year – equivalent to the energy consumption of around 20 four-member, single-family dwellings. The module occupies a space of around 550 m2 on an extensively planted roof space totalling around 2,500 m2.

At Asga, we assess the concept behind PV installations on a case-by-case basis. Clarification of technical feasibility is undertaken internally in an initial phase, the aim being to gradually ramp up the expansion of PV installations over the coming years. The plan is for the profitability of the PV installation to more or less correspond to the property’s expected income yield.

We intend to continue strengthening local electricity production within the portfolio in 2021 and play an active part in the energy transition. We look forward to further PV projects, including those planned or constructed by our member firms.

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How we acquire properties

Our properties are an important part of our portfolio and help us retain our stability as a co-operative over the long term.

Our Swiss Direct Real Estate business division – that is, our directly owned properties – has seen constant growth in the past few years. Today, direct real estate assets of around CHF 1.8 billion are actively managed from our head office in St. Gallen. Last year there was a new addition to our portfolio: the “7am Park” development in Winterthur.

So, how do we proceed if we’re interested in a particular property? Portfolio transactions such as “Eichpark” form part of the division’s core business and are normally undertaken several times a year. Available properties are first of all assessed internally, particularly with regard to our mandate guidelines as well as compliance with our strategy. Due diligence is then performed in conjunction with external consultants, in a process lasting several weeks. We then present the investment opportunity to the Real Estate Investment Committee. Following discussion and price-setting, we submit a binding offer and – if it is accepted – commence negotiations. In uncertain times, real estate investments constitute a stable income stream for the pension fund.

However, we continue to manage our properties once they are part of the Asga portfolio. At Landquart, we are currently looking at the installation of a photovoltaic system with the aim of further enhancing the attractiveness of the property and playing our part in the energy transition. The installation of charging points (e-mobility) is being assessed and implemented in response to demand.

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How we invest sustainably thanks to our climate policy

We're going further: Our ESG efforts now include binding climate targets too.

2021 saw Asga introduce a binding climate policy for its investments. An important step: Our climate policy enables us to comply with our fiduciary duty to take into account all risks within the investment process. In this way we are actively contributing to Switzerland’s fulfilment of its long-term climate targets under the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at delivering a sustainable, carbon-neutral economy.

Our climate policy is based on three pillars:

Climate risk

Climate impact

Active shareholders

Why three pillars? As well as being important in regulatory terms, the division into three pillars enables us to carefully consider precisely defined measures. But first things first:

Under the first pillar, we recognise the risks associated with climate change as part of our fiduciary duty. Here we monitor the risks arising from climate change and incorporate them into our general risk management. Based on these considerations we’ve taken another far-sighted measure: For example, we exclude coal companies on account of risk factors. This is in line with the climate strategies pursued by various countries: They have published plans to include certain fossil fuels such as coal among the stranded assets that many developed countries will exit by 2030.

Under the second pillar, we take account of the Paris Agreement, which Switzerland signed in October 2017. The Paris Agreement not only aims to keep global warming significantly below two degrees but also to channel financial flows in a climate-friendly direction. Asga is committed to the Paris Agreement: That means binding ourselves to a reduction in our carbon emissions.

Active shareholder engagement, which constitutes the third pillar, is especially important in terms of encouraging companies to transition to sustainable business practices – not just from a climate perspective but also from an overall ESG point of view. Our climate commitment is reflected in our membership of the Swiss Association for Responsible Investments (SVVK – ASIR). The SVVK – ASIR engages in an active dialogue with Swiss and international companies. In addition to our current policy on voting rights, we also exercise our voting rights as they relate to our climate commitment and furthermore in the case of all Climate Action 100+ companies.

Our climate policy rounds off the sustainability policy we introduced last year and enables us to take binding measures in terms of how we deal with fossil fuels. Naturally, this climate policy is at all times implemented while fulfilling our obligations towards our insureds. Generating a market-level return at fair cost, while taking an appropriate degree of risk, remains vital in order to enable us to fund the promised benefits.

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Factoring sustainability into our investments

As a pension fund, we think in generations. For us, the sustainability of our investments is not just part of our day-to-day work, but also a fundamental pillar of our long-term success – and thus of secure pensions for our insureds.

We manage the retirement savings capital of over 120 000 active insureds. In our capacity as a co-operative, we are aware of our responsibility as an investor with a high investment volume. This is why – since 1 April 2020 – we have systematically factored ESG criteria into our investments. ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance – in other words, issues that are conditional on the application of sustainability in these three areas.

In line with our pension fund’s fiduciary responsibility, we have worked with the Executive Board and the Board of Directors, as well as an external expert on sustainability, to draw up a sustainability policy that enables us to take a proactive approach to ESG risks. The policy we developed in order to factor sustainability into our investments – as a strategic component – was the logical outcome. This policy is based on three pillars and accompanied by a climate policy.

We define goals

Our sustainability policy serves our insureds, in that we reduce investment and reputational risks and promote the sustainable management of the companies we are invested in. We are guided by globally accepted standards and not by subjective or perceived values. We follow Swiss law (e.g. legislation governing the export of war material) and international conventions ratified by Switzerland (such as the Paris Agreement) and the 10 Principles of the UN Global Compact. We also ensure that our external asset managers sign the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI).

Together we can achieve more

By becoming a member of the Swiss association for responsible investments (Schweizer Verein für verantwortungsbewusste Kapitalanlagen, SVVK – ASIR), we are able to work with a strong partner that assists its members in terms of implementing normative screening as well as dialogue with companies. In introducing a binding sustainable capital investment policy we are committing to a promise: We aim to continually improve and to regularly review our efforts. We report openly and transparently in our Annual Report and on an ongoing basis on our website and other channels.

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