Resilience and pursuing sustainability goals during a global pandemic

COVID-19 has thrown into question the ability of many businesses to withstand and quickly recover from external shocks. But this period of disruption also provides an opportunity to strengthen resilience and adaptability to future risks, says Grosvenor Europe CEO, Sara Lucas.

With scientists warning that climate change and environmental degradation could increase the risk of future pandemics[1], this World Earth Day is a time to accelerate environmental action in the real estate industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted tragic losses on families, communities and both local and global economies. As a result, most business activity around the world has shifted to centre on combatting the crisis. We are focused on how we can support our colleagues, occupiers and communities to endure the crisis, and grow stronger as we emerge on the other side. This is an essential part of our role as a responsible landlord and investor, utilising our experience and farsighted perspective to ensure we continue to deliver commercial and social benefit.

However, the effect of global lockdown measures has also highlighted various positive impacts on the environment. For example, we are likely to see the largest ever annual fall in carbon emissions in 2020[2], and air pollution has decreased rapidly almost everywhere across the globe as air travel and commuting between for work and education has decreased[3].  

Notwithstanding the immediate pressures, climate change  remains one of the biggest challenges that businesses will face over the coming decades, and just like this pandemic, it has the potential to cause widespread disruption, with some physical and financial impacts already apparent in global markets.  So, while we respond to the current situation, it is important to keep in mind our existing long-term goals, including those relating to climate change, which will ensure the resilience of our business and the places in which we work long after this crisis is over.  

On April 22 we mark the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day. This year’s theme is Climate Action, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 13. This goal urges everyone to take urgent action to mitigate climate change. This day serves to remind us that we have an opportunity to learn from our experiences and sustain the environmental benefits we are currently seeing, by creating a new business as usual. One that delivers transformational change towards a more sustainable future, and one which prioritises the health and wellbeing of our people and those who use and visit our properties. This will require a resilient and adaptive approach, embracing technology-enabled changes and reducing demand on fossil-fuel energy sources.

In 2019, we were one of the first real estate businesses to make the ambitious commitment for all buildings within our direct control to operate at net zero carbon by 2030, and all buildings (directly and indirectly managed) to be embodied and operational net zero carbon by 2050.  This remains a high priority for us.

To achieve our goals, we have already conducted in-depth asset reviews, consulted our investment partners and we factor in sustainability credentials into every investment and development decision we take. We are also about to launch an internal sustainability course for all staff, ensuring we all have the skills and knowledge we need to deliver on our net zero carbon commitments. Meanwhile, we continue working on finalising a pathway to achieve these ambitious carbon reduction targets, which we will publish before the end of 2020. 

By learning from our experiences and continuing to focus on these important targets, we can set an example of how to transform business as usual, leading the way to a sustainable economy, a healthy planet and the ongoing success of our vibrant communities. 

[1] World Economic Forum – How biodiversity loss is hurting our ability to combat pandemics.

[2] Carbon Brief – Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions.

[3] BBC – Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads.

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