The environmental agenda, no longer business as usual

Chris Ireland, JLL UK CEO, highlights the plight of the natural environment and reflects on his address to the Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Leadership (CISL) on what more the property sector needs to do.

Since I last wrote in support of business being driven by purpose, the UN has released two reports that illustrate a blunt reality for our future. Firstly, its Global Assessment on biodiversity with the startling news that 25% of species are at risk due to human activity. Secondly, the findings from the Population Division indicating that the world’s population will top out in 2100 at 10.9 billion before it starts to fall back slowly. Only a handful of years to save the planet and all while our global demand on natural resources increases in response to a growing population.

We can all do something to help and as I’ve previously said a nudge in the right direction is a useful place to start. Speaking at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Leadership (CISL) 30-year anniversary at Buckingham Palace in June sharpened my own environmental focus further. I was fortunate to hear passionate accounts from those across business who are grasping the opportunity and actively addressing the critical environmental and social issues.  It was inspirational and reflective.

How seriously are we taking these issues?

The property sector is one of the most resource intensive sectors, consuming well over 35% of global resources and 25% of global water, responsible for 40% of carbon emissions, whilst also having a significant impact on natural habitats. To tackle this massive resource issue, the sector is starting to make commitments around the circular economy but is still embryonic as far as addressing biodiversity.

Indeed, Business in the Community (BITC’s) responsible business tracker shows that only 13% of participating companies chose circular economy and only 2% chose healthy ecosystems as one of their top two priorities. In contrast to over 52% of businesses picking health and wellbeing and D&I as the two highest priorities.

At JLL, we started our journey to understand how circular economy impacts us and our sector in 2017. We have made a public commitment to take a leadership role in the built environment sector and have been an active member of BITC circular economy taskforce since 2017.  On healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, we are conscious that the topic has only been driven by the planning system and requires greater focus and a holistic approach

Barriers to progress

Education, communication and prioritisation has held back the business community. This is particularly prevalent in the property sector where we’ve been too slow to act. We’re traditionally a sector that is risk averse and has complex supply chains with multiple stakeholders. Coupled with the fact that we’re not historically progressive in our thinking, so ideas take too long to come to fruition. Finally, the financial markets, which are so closely linked to our sector, are not responding with appropriate models to factor in the added value created by the circular economy or healthy ecosystems.

So how do we get better?

  1. The sector needs greater understanding of our impact on the natural environment, particularly the interdependency between built environment and healthy ecosystems
  2. We need business leaders to go beyond pilot projects and drive action across their portfolios and supply chains
  3. We should all be welcoming the commissioning of the Dasgupta Report into the economic case for biodiversity, as that will help our financial markets account for healthy ecosystems

Finally, and in conclusion the role of industry bodies to foster partnerships, drive collaboration, hold each other to account and share the learnings is critical. The environmental agenda should never again be business as usual, our planet deserves more, and we have a collective responsibility.

About the Author

Chris has over 30 years’ experience in the UK investment market and specialise both in up and let investment product including portfolios as well as development funding projects. Chris has worked with a wide range of institutional property company and international clients including GIC, M&G, Hermes, Schroders and Legal and General. Chris has also been at the forefront of the development of the Alternative Investment areas within JLL (Student Housing, Health, Senior Living and Platform deals). Within the JLL Capital Markets offer the investment teams now work hand in glove with the sophisticated Debt Advisory business and the Corporate Finance and M&A side. Chris was Chairman of the Investment Property Forum from June 2015 - June 2016 and then sat on their Strategic Advisory Group. Chris joined King and Co as a graduate in 1979 and has worked his whole career dealing with various aspects of the UK Investment Property Market. He ran the Investment teams at King Sturge and became Joint Managing Partner and subsequently Joint Senior Partner prior to the merger with JLL in 2011.

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