From community to retrofit: three key takeaways from the UK ESG Real Estate Agenda

21.12.2023

It’s been a month since Clearbell hosted Bisnow’s UK ESG Real Estate Agenda at our recently retrofitted Kodak Building in Covent Garden – an ideal setting given that sustainability was at the core of the design strategy.

Over 300 attendees gathered at the annual event that never fails to inspire, spark conversation and facilitate innovation.

Personally, I had so many valuable conversations and took a lot away from the panel sessions, so I have summarised some of my key takeaways below for anyone who wasn’t able to attend:

Capital and carbon now equally important to investors.

My colleague Alice Murray, head of asset management and sustainability, joined a panel session focused on transforming buildings through upgrades and repurposing.

We all know that the most sustainable building is the one that already exists, and with 80% of buildings in the UK today expected to still exist in 2050. this panel explored how we can redevelop those which are no longer fit for purpose with an ESG focus.

One of the most interesting takeaways from this session was the increasing proportion of investors who have changed their analysis criteria over the last two years to focus on capital and carbon returns, rather than just capital returns.

If developers and investors weren’t paying attention to ESG before, they certainly should be now!

Social value needs to be given the same prioritisation as net zero.

When we talk about ESG, most people understandably focus on the ‘E’. Of course, the environmental aspect of ESG is crucial and arguably the most challenging to drive forward at scale but getting the ‘S’ right is also integral to supporting environmental goals.

Communities that are struggling with poor quality homes and a lack of access to vital services disproportionately suffer from deprivation-linked illnesses and struggle to access long-term employment opportunities. This understandably has a huge impact on creating thriving communities, but also stifles environmental progress with focus from the issue detracted.

Creating happy and healthy communities is not only the right thing to do for the people that live there but is also intrinsically linked to supporting the country’s environmental goals.

This was also touched upon in a panel around EV infrastructure and the need to consider access to charging points – we can’t expect people to work towards the UK’s sustainability goals if we do not equip them with the right tools to do so.

Clarity and transparency in reporting is crucial to maintaining asset value.

What became apparent from the panel I sat on, focused on investment strategies and trends within the context of ESG, was that everyone agrees there isn’t the standardisation needed across the industry to ensure assets are being assessed correctly.

Over the years numerous measurement tools have been brought into place from EPCs and BREEAM to NABERS, but as it stands there is no widely agreed metric that the whole industry is using to measure ESG factors.

However, much we may have liked to, my fellow panelists and I do not have all the answers as to how we get to a point of standardisation across the sector. The crucial takeaway is that there is the desire from those across the industry to get there though.

And this was indicative of the mood of the whole day – everyone is keen for change to play their part and to share their ideas, but without government intervention and standardisation across the industry our ambitious aims for net zero are unlikely to be met.

However, it is this passion and desire for change that has left me feeling optimistic about our future, albeit we have a lot of work to do yet!