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The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the incredible social value already embedded in our networks

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Cressida Curtis
Cressida Curtis
Head of Corporate Affairs & Sustainability, British Land
“Large companies – and particularly large property companies – used to turn up in a place and say ‘this is our sustainability or our community programme: take it or leave it’. Now we say ‘you’ve got ideas, we have ideas – let’s work together’.”

Does British Land have and articulate a social purpose?

Everything goes back to our purpose of creating Places People Prefer. We know the way places are designed and managed can impact how people feel and behave towards each other and want our places to be those where they can be themselves and thrive.

It’s a principle of generating wellbeing – creating and providing places that support cohesion and connection.

For example, at our Fort Kinnaird shopping centre in Edinburgh, we manage the city’s leading shopping centre not just by providing 70 shops, restaurants and cafés but because we instil a sense of nature and include natural materials and green areas between the shops, that people find attractive.

It’s about our behaviour too: at one of our shopping centres one of our colleagues saw a child crying, found the boy couldn’t afford the football top he yearned for, and provided a small sum to help him to buy that top. The word of mouth recommendation from a gesture like that makes people want to come back.

How has British Land’s understanding of social purpose changed during the pandemic?

The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the incredible social value already embedded in our networks – we really are immersed in the communities we serve. We found we could connect people really quickly, helping them to navigate the problems they were facing.

For example, we are a long-standing member of the East London Business Alliance (ELBA), which builds the connection between businesses and local communities. Since the outbreak started, we have been contacting the people who’ve been helped into employment through ELBA over the last year and understanding what support they may need to stay in employment through the crisis so that positive impact doesn’t disappear.

Large companies – and particularly large property companies – used to turn up in a place and say ‘this is our sustainability or our community programme: take it or leave it’. Now we say ‘you’ve got ideas, we have ideas – let’s work together.’

Our central belief in ESG is that it is a collective effort – no single person or organisation has every piece of the jigsaw puzzle. We need to collaborate to find solutions.

Why turn up and do what we have been doing for the past 10 years? We need to change it up and build on the ideas coming through. This will also mean bright, diverse people will want to be a part of the real estate sector.

What will be the extra cost to occupiers of leasing sustainable buildings?

Some agents estimate that a BREEAM Outstanding or Excellent building will translate to a 10% higher rent, and occupiers can make savings that outweigh that extra cost.

They will make considerable savings in energy use, and in buildings designed with wellbeing at the core they can see reduced sickness and increased productivity in their teams.

There is also a big reputational issue for companies to consider these days. For many, particularly in high growth sectors, the space they occupy may be the largest element of their environmental footprint, and there is real commercial benefit to reducing that impact, particularly in terms of attracting talent.

What are British Land’s best examples of sustainability in action?

We are proud of our record overall, having achieved a 73% reduction in our carbon intensity against a 2009 baseline and supporting 1,745 people into jobs through our Bright Lights skills and employment programme.

But we want to go further, and in June committed to a net zero carbon portfolio by 2030 and the launch of new social commitments, including partnering with local stakeholders, education and employment initiatives in an extension of our Local Charter.

At our 1 Triton Square office development at Regent’s Place we are turning a 1990s office building into a net zero embodied carbon building. This has involved a whole new approach to development, including refurbishing the entire façade, removing thousands of glass panels and creating a pop-up factory in Essex to renovate them rather than just discard and replace them, which would be the norm in a redevelopment.

We are also introducing a Transition Fund though which we’ll offset embodied emissions associated with developments through accredited schemes and finance the retrofitting of our standing portfolio.

Investment in our Transition Fund will in turn lead to lower energy costs and closer relationships with our customers, who will ultimately reap the benefit.

For further insights please download the full report: Real Estate Reset.