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Sustainability: Setting the agenda


The sustainability agenda has changed significantly over the last 10 years and the real estate industry urgently needs to respond.

In March, Hammerson’s sustainability strategy stepped up a gear when we announced our target of being net positive for carbon emissions, water, resource use and socio-economic impacts by 2030. This is our response to the rapidly evolving sustainability agenda, which highlights some real challenges across the sector.

The development of Hammerson’s vision generally evokes two questions: why and how?

The “why” is fairly straightforward: the economic consequences of climate change are already being felt and, put simply, no one is doing enough to stop them getting worse.

The Paris Climate Agreement is an important step, as is all target setting, monitoring and reporting, and debate.

But ultimately success is about what we do, not what we say. And given that businesses are about doing

– particularly property companies – why not start taking action now to help alleviate the costs and risks that are surely heading our way?

Achieving results

The answer to “how” is more difficult.

Hammerson has significantly reduced its carbon emissions, energy demand and waste, monitors and reports extensively and invests to create the best outcomes it can. It develops BREEAM “excellent” buildings, manages them well and is about to deliver the world’s first carbon neutral, BREEAM outstanding retail park.

But becoming net positive requires the business to transition to a different way of approaching sustainability and, crucially, needs active collaboration with stakeholders across the industry.

Our sustainability programme, Positive Places, takes a stakeholder-led approach on the basis that everyone needs to participate for the targets to be met.

Achieving net positive will require even deeper collaboration with stakeholders and in some areas, particularly the landlord and tenant relationship, the property industry is not set up to support this.

One of the most significant elements of net positive is the inclusion of impacts from the tenanted areas of our assets in

these targets. These areas represent over 60% of our carbon emissions. But getting retailers to reduce their electricity consumption on our retail assets is seen as one of the biggest hurdles we face.

One does have to ask why this is so difficult. There is no split incentive here – if the tenant fits out to a more energy efficient spec, they benefit directly. So why is there still such a common reluctance to even enter a discussion about environmental standards at heads of terms?

Yes, it is a negotiation, but is it  acceptable  now  to negotiate out some basic provisions to share data and work together towards the environmental efficiency of a shopping centre? This is an industry-wide issue, and one which requires a concerted effort to challenge and change.

Pockets of evidence suggest this isn’t impossible. Retailers coming to Elliott’s Field, a Hammerson retail park in Rugby, have worked closely with our development manager on specifications and lease terms and have agreed to maintain efficiencies during  operation so that the scheme remains carbon neutral over its lifetime. They have agreed to take power from the solar photovoltaic array on the roof and install efficient lighting and air conditioning – all of which will reduce their operating costs.

Apart from the ambition of our retail parks team, the success of Elliott’s Field is in large part due to the efforts and long-term vision of the design team, particularly the engineers.

Our assets are built with the next 50 years in mind, so we have to design buildings that can withstand the climate change impacts we cannot avoid without making it worse and, ideally, making a positive overall impact.

Role of the many

The key point here is that the consultants and suppliers working within the industry need to transition too. They need to bring ideas and innovations that will support sustainability as business as usual.

In too many situations sustainability is still seen as a niche or optional exercise by the very teams relied on for innovation. They may need to design buildings that are completely different to what they have before, and different to what their clients traditionally want. But that is exactly the point –  sustainability must be part of the design criteria through the whole process and the consultants who are advising need to bring it forward without  being asked.

As clients we have to be clear about what we need but the expertise on how to deliver it must come from the suppliers. Any architecture or engineering  practice  relying on a sustainability team rather than sustainability expertise within their entire team needs to get with the programme .

Net positive is our way of setting the business on a course to be able to respond to the impacts of climate change and reduce our contribution  to it.

But we are just one company. The whole industry needs to change if the life changing consequences of climate change are not to get much more extreme.

We have done a lot of ground work, published our footprints and are sharing as much as we can as we move forward. If setting out our vision helps other companies in our sector or any other sector to do something big, that will be a success for us.

But, ultimately, everyone in the industry needs to be asking themselves what more they can do – whatever their role. Make sure it’s on the agenda whatever you are doing  today.