The conversation around sustainability in property is evolving rapidly. Once, good environmental performance meant delivering energy efficient buildings. It now encompasses so much more, from reducing embodied carbon in designs to delivering biodiversity net gain through development.
Investing in people with the right skills and knowledge, harnessing new technologies and data are all vital to achieving the sector’s ambitions, but I was struck recently by how much those aspirations also rely on cultural change.
Two examples spring to mind. The first is about how we secure investment for retrofitting and adapt our way of working to fit the challenge that property now faces. At a recent real estate investor event, participants discussed one of the bigger barriers to unlocking institutional and private equity funding, namely how organisations model returns and payback periods. There was agreement that traditional five-year models are just too short to effectively evaluate the return on money spent on decarbonisation and efficiency upgrades. A change in mindset to embrace a longer-term outlook could open the door to far greater sums of money for climate action.
The second is about not seeing the bigger picture, delivering specific, more narrowly focused sustainability aims at the expense of wider environmental impact. I spoke to BNP Paribas Real Estate’s sustainability transformation manager for our Camargue podcast who argued that too often property teams ‘hit the target but miss the point’ on net zero. The problem is that people naturally lean towards interventions that are easier to measure, for instance planting large numbers of the same tree species to achieve decarbonisation goals. However, this has unintended consequences for biodiversity, resulting in monocultures which damage local ecosystems.
Two stories from either end of the development lifecycle – investment through to delivery – but they illustrate the importance of thinking differently to drive transformational change. How we communicate and share best practice is vital to helping us break mental, and in some instances emotional, constraints and challenge outdated norms. Technological progress will give property the tools to deliver net zero, while regulation will push it to get there. However, we mustn’t forget the human bit and the part that people have to play in making it happen.
Stephanie Byrne is an associate director at Camargue