Our greening strategy - Evolving Mayfair & Belgravia together

Emily Hamilton, Sustainability Manager, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, reflects on her recent trip to Mexico City as part of the Climate Leadership Programme led by former US Vice President Al Gore.

Climate reality

For as long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about the environment. When I started my career, ‘sustainability’ was an alien word to many people, particularly in the property industry. We’ve come a long way to understand the real meaning of sustainable development.

As a property company, Grosvenor has the unusual privilege of managing and developing neighbourhoods at the heart of a global city. Our London estate in Mayfair & Belgravia has evolved for 300 years to changing needs.With London's rapid growth, we think it will have to work harder for its communities and all Londoners by adapting - with better streets, greener spaces and more active and enterprising places that appeal to the many.

That vision is predicated on buildings and places responding to changing needs and to the environment. If they’re to be sustainable, they will have to tackle the threats posed by climate change. So we want to contribute to the Government’s national target by halving our estate’s carbon emissions in the next two decades. We are on track to do so by refurbishing properties at lease ends, renovating newly-purchased properties to meet our stretching environmental standards, and retrofitting buildings to raise energy efficiency. That five year rolling retrofit programme has tackled over 300 properties so far and reduced our portfolio’s carbon footprint by around 4,000 tonnes - the offset equivalent of driving 476 times around the world.

We have a 20 year vision to establish our estate as a beacon of environmental excellence. There is much still to do.

New context

I’m always on the lookout for engaging ways to communicate the threats and opportunities posed by climate change and the response of the built environment. I heard great things about Al Gore’s new film, so one miserable rainy evening I sat down to watch it. Truth to Power, the sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, has climate optimism at its core with solutions we can all harness for our planet and, therefore, humanity. It features Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership Corps programme in which people from across the globe and all walks of life are trained over three days to become Climate Reality Leaders.

Attending the Climate Reality Leadership Corps programme in Mexico this year was one of the best decisions I have ever made. As well as meeting extraordinary and passionate people, we heard from powerful speakers such as Dr. Ana Cecilia Conde and former Vice President Al Gore about the global solutions we have to grasp. And importantly, I learnt about the ways in which others can be inspired to take action.

Just a couple of the many headlines that stuck with me:

  • Each day we emit 110 million tonnes of man-made global warming pollution into the thin shell of our atmosphere.[1]
  • In 2017, losses from climate change-related disasters totalled nearly $400 billion - a figure that is forecast to increase.[2]

And some progress we’re making:

  • By 2020, renewable energy is predicted to be the cheapest form of power generation, overtaking fossil fuels.[3]
  • Solar power capacity has increased 48 times in the last 10 years, and global battery storage is projected to total 125GW in the next fifteen years.[4]
  • Global investment in commercial building energy efficiency retrofit is forecast to total $959 billion by 2023.[5]

The sustainability initiatives that Mexico City is running were also inspiring. I saw solar taxi charging points and plastic bottle deposit schemes, and while Mexico is an emerging economy - and more than 40% of its population lives below the poverty line - city leaders view climate change mitigation and adaptation hand in hand with economic development. Environmental and social benefits are not  traded off against economic success.

Accelerating our efforts

So back in London, I turned to our contribution to carbon reduction and greener spaces, and the efforts we’re making on top of a leading-edge, technology-driven retrofit programme. Five properties in that programme now meet world-leading EnerPHit Passivhaus energy performance standards. Three became last year the first ever listed residential units in the UK to achieve BREEAM ‘outstanding’ certification, a globally-recognised benchmark for sustainability.

In parallel, we have begun an ambitious programme to grow recycling rates in Mayfair and Belgravia and see reduce and reuse becoming the norms. Last year, we recycled 2,894 tonnes of waste, achieving an average 70% recycling rate across the estate, well above the London average of 50%. Over the last three years we have eliminated 2,804 tonnes of carbon from the waste cycle - the equivalent of planting 73 rainforests the size of Regent’s Park.

In addition, we are cutting the carbon and pollution generated by traffic on our streets. We are consolidating waste collections from more than 500 buildings, mostly shops and restaurants, with a single provider. And we are cutting personal deliveries to our head office in the West End. In our ground-breaking pilot, personal deliveries are consolidated at facilities in south London and then carried once a day in one environmentally-friendly electric vehicle. We have cut total vehicle movements by 40% in just six weeks, and personal delivery vehicles from 15 a day to just one.

And we’ve started delivering our ambitious greening strategy across this part of central London, installing green walls, pocket parks and green roofs while enhancing the existing gardens and squares we own. We’re working with other landowners to spur this on, as our partnership with property companies in the Wild West End programme demonstrates.

Shifting perceptions

Popular belief has it that the greatest barriers to cutting carbon are financial and technical, but actually public perceptions and social attitudes are bigger blockers. So as a business, we have a duty to help deepen understanding, including our own, and shift attitudes. Like all businesses, we are under pressure to explain our contribution to society and tell a clearer story of the ways in which are commercial ambitions are good for the city. And our 20 vision for the London estate requires deeper collaboration with others. We want to instigate that partnership by opening ourselves to public opinion and expressing our point of view on the fundamental challenges posed to us all by climate change.

[1] Journal Nature Climate Change 2014.

[2] United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed, 2018.

[3] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) 2017.

[4] Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2017.

[5] Navigant research 2016.

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