Sustainability is the starting point for decisions, not the afterthought
Sustainability has a ubiquitous influence in today’s world, transcending borders, communities, and business sectors in more ways than ever before – especially as the issues of climate change and global warming continue to be a priority on the global political stage.
The same goes for the real estate and private equity sectors through the neatly coined term “responsible investment”. With the built environment responsible for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions, reducing the environmental impact of real estate is a key priority for investors and corporate occupiers.
Most notably, property valuations are factoring in sustainability metrics, or lack thereof, of a building far more than they were even last year – and in some cases, for the very first time. This naturally filters down to PE firms and their decision-making process. The mid-market, in particular, needs to be aware that their lenders are increasingly focused on sustainability issues, including access to capital. This means looking at their strategies from acquisition through to disposals to ensure that capex is factored in from the beginning and embedded in the business plans from the get-go. EPC assessments are just one of example of how to develop cost and action plans to improve building performance. Though, it has of course been interesting to see wider discussions within the industry about whether EPC ratings are indeed the best way to drive the decarbonisation of commercial property.
This brings us on to the second most notable direction of travel – embodied carbon. It has risen up occupier and investors’ agendas, as we focus more on life cycle consumption than operational consumption. There has been a tremendous a shift, wherever possible, towards retrofitting assets rather than rebuilding them altogether. In many ways, a more sustainable building is one that already exists, and PE companies must start conducting life cycle analyses on buildings to understand how they will perform from acquisitions to disposal, how much carbon you are saving and how you can bring down your overall carbon footprint. This is something that every medium-sized PE firm should – and in many cases will already – be looking at. Repositioning and refurbishing existing buildings to meet the evolving needs of society and the economy allows us to reuse building materials and historic sitework, which can reduce emissions significantly when compared with a new build.
Thirdly, there has been a shift in the importance of working with your community and the social benefits that this can bring. Indeed, we are now in a time where businesses must be proactive – not just by putting the environment first, but also by being considerate about the local community. By creating a strong social strategy that puts the people first, businesses can enhance the value of their assets whilst ensuring it serves the local community. Development used to be something you did to a community; now it is something you do with a community. Our work at the new mixed-use business park in Maidstone, Kent is testament to this. With Phase 1 substantially completed at the end of 2022, the development will also include nearly 12,000 new trees and four wildlife ponds. The buildings themselves include solar panels and electric vehicle charging points aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Finally, a new electric bus service and cycle lane to Maidstone town centre are being created to reduce car use. This was all developed in partnership with the local community and will therefore serve them in the best way possible.
We need to embrace sustainability initiatives in the same way that we encourage profits and dealmaking, rather than looking at it as a tick-box exercise that we implement for the sake of it. For the mid-market, it needs to be embedded in all our thinking and in everyone’s roles across their teams. Sustainability is the starting point for decisions, not the afterthought.