Creating a sustainable future

On 28 January 2020, James Raynor, the Chief Executive of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, gave a speech at Bidwells' Sustainable Futures conference. An extract from the transcript can be read below.

For me, climate change is personal.

I think most of us feel morally compelled to do something about this because it’s hard to talk to your children about your job if what you’re doing each day threatens their future. And that’s why I’m determined that Grosvenor has to be part of the solution.

This isn’t a new direction for our business. Over the last decade, we’ve been working hard to become more environmentally sustainable.

We now divert 99% of our waste from landfill, with a 67% recycling rate for operational waste. Carpets taken from our market-lets during refurbishment, for example, are now fully repurposed as sand for equestrian riding arenas.

Air quality has become another key focus for us. We’ve become the first property company to monitor outdoor air quality in the UK and last year we started testing green lamp posts as a way clean the air on our streets. 

Meanwhile, at Trumpington Meadows on the edge of Cambridge, we’ve achieved a 98% net gain in biodiversity, creating wildflower meadows and a country park which have led to the re-emergence of several rare species like Snipe.

So there’s been some good progress. But frankly the challenge is immense - inside and outside the business.

To give you one small illustration. Grosvenor Britain & Ireland is not a huge organisation - we have 400 employees. But last year, they managed to print over 1.5 million sheets of paper. That’s over 3,500 sheets per person, equivalent to 212 mature trees and 8 million litres of water.

In effect, while we’re trying to create a greener environment - planting trees and improving biodiversity – we’re simultaneously helping to deforest the planet.

So the truth is we’re falling very far short and time is running out. This is not about incremental change. We have to operate completely differently. And part of the challenge is where to start.     

The first step for Grosvenor has been to understand the real need for change. In 2019, we took all our senior leaders on a short intensive course to hear from world leaders in this field, to inspire them and instil a sense of urgency.

We then set about engaging the organisation. We made each senior leader draft, with their team, a plan for achieving a set of goals to make us net zero carbon, eradicate waste and deliver a significant net biodiversity gain by 2030. We had colleagues from across the business scrutinise the plans and integrate them into one single roadmap for the business.

That process of engagement and scrutiny created buy-in and a sense of ownership and accountability.

The third step has been a much stronger focus on innovation. During 2019, we hired an Innovation Director and earlier this month I announced the appointment of our first Executive Director of Sustainability & Innovation.

They are both tasked with sparking new ideas that help future-proof the business and shift us from an incremental to a transformational agenda.   

We know there’s four key areas where we need to focus immediately. The retrofit of our existing historic properties; influencing tenants and the carbon emissions and waste from buildings and suppliers that we don’t directly manage or employ; managing our energy source through strategies including all-inclusive leases; and delivering sustainable construction.

I also want to encourage much more collaboration. Grosvenor has been supporting groups like the Better Buildings Partnership and UKGBC for a while. We also recently co-sponsored BBP’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Framework as well as the Design for Performance Initiative.

But we should do much more in 2020 to help bring the government and our customers along with us.

Finally, I want to close today by offering you a challenge.

The reality is that in a climate emergency, only green companies will ultimately survive. So knowing what you know at the end of this conference, would you buy your own advice?

I suspect that, as with much of the rest of the industry, sustainability is just one part of the range of services and advice you provide to clients. But the prospect of a 2oC­­ rise in global temperatures surely changes everything. Decarbonisation must now fundamentally underpin all our activities.

By not putting it at the heart of your business, I suspect you are leaving yourselves and your clients exposed to significant risk. And maybe also missing out on a major opportunity. Because in the future, companies with a green profile will be valued more highly by consumers and investors. They will have better access to capital and cheaper debt.

To quote Mark Carney: “There will be industries, sectors and firms that do very well … because they will be part of the solution. But there will also be ones that lag behind - and they will be punished.”

Thank you for listening. 

To find out more about Grosvenor Britain & Ireland's properties and places, click here.

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