All I want for Christmas is … for environmental and social concerns to be tackled head on by the real estate sector

Julie Hirigoyen

It’s Christmas time again and all around us we hear carols being sung, glasses being clinked, and presents being wrapped. But in amidst the noise, what is really going on in the boardroom of UK Plc? The truth is that there are many issues today which keep our executives awake at night, and a significant number of these are environmental and social concerns.

This question was put by JLL to about 50 corporate delegates attending the 2014 annual CBI conference back in November. Their most common responses included:

  • Energy costs
  • Climate change and climate volatility
  • Recruitment and retention of the most skilled and well-educated staff, as well as employee wellbeing and engagement
  • Inconsistency, uncertainty, and confusion of Government policy on sustainability, and the lack of effectiveness of regulatory instruments being introduced by both UK and EU
  • Short-termism of both commercial and political decision-making
  • Rising social inequality.

In the run up to a general election in which none of the parties seem to be saying very much of substance on sustainability policy, it is perhaps unsurprising that the business community is concerned at the lack of political leadership on sustainability.

So why should this be relevant to the property industry? One simple answer might be that this concern by senior corporate representatives itself translates into a strategic intent to embed sustainability within business delivery. And considering the business drivers underpinning this trend, corporate real estate activities could be right in the firing line. The business drivers that were considered to be the most important within our survey are listed below alongside specific examples of their relevance to real estate.

Business drivers for sustainabilityRelevance to real estate
Reinforcing brand and reputationBuildings are rapidly becoming tangible representations of brand identity. From location to overall fabric design, workplace strategy and amenity mix, property is increasingly being used by major corporates to reinforce brand image and reputation and attract high quality staff with promises of flexible working and work-play choices.
Managing liabilities and legal obligationsEnvironmental policy targeting energy efficiency and carbon impacts of buildings has proliferated in recent years, culminating in a very complex and somewhat confusing landscape today. Businesses that wish to manage their legal compliance obligations in the most efficient manner have no choice but to put corporate real estate (CRE) teams right at the heart of their efforts. From the Carbon Reduction Commitment to Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting, Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme and Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards in the form of EPCs, property is at the heart of sustainability delivery.
Supporting cultural change and  innovation

Property itself is fast adjusting to the synergistic evolution of both technology and sustainability. Smart appliances, intelligent buildings, system networks, and the internet are all adding to the notion of property as an interactive experience. As companies adapt to ever changing environments, they will look for buildings that support their cultural values and ambition to differentiate. And what better way to engage and inspire staff than to provide them with a space that encapsulates the highest standards of business ethics and demonstrates transformational potential.

Interestingly, only 15% of our respondents felt that their sustainability agenda was yet transformational (i.e. generating positive environmental and social outcomes), in contrast to 50% stating that their sustainability agenda is either well under way or advanced.

So it is for these reasons that my own Christmas wish list this year includes a simple request for the sustainability teams and corporate real estate teams in large organisations to share a Christmas party and discover the synergies of their respective business goals. Because property might be just the answer our C-suite executives are looking for during their sleepless nights worrying about environmental and social concerns. This Christmas why not think about a bricks and mortar response that cuts costs, increases brand value, attracts and retains talent, screams out culture, enables innovation, and avoids environmental catastrophe or social crises.

Julie Hirigoyen is UK head of sustainability at Jones Lang LaSalle