50 Shades of Green – The impact of Sustainability for Corporate Real Estate

The week following my last blog entry saw unrelenting rain.  Still it’s good for the lawn.  Which, in a way, is ironic as today’s second webinar unpacking the core findings of CoreNet’s CRE 2020 project deals with all things green.  Over the next decade, sustainability will become ever broader in scope and more punitive to the non-compliant.  As such sustainability will be at the heart of the corporate real estate challenge over the next decade.

And it is apparent from the webinar that the challenges presented by sustainability will be multiple. A wide range of topic areas were discussed over an engaging and case study laden presentation, including:

  • The development of regulatory incentives for resource efficiency, coupled with market penalties for resource inefficiency
  • The future role of corporate buildings not just as consumers but also producers of energy that may even become linked into mini energy grids serving wider communities
  • The growing emergence of eco-districts – collaborative place creation involving real estate developers, investors, occupiers and city authorities with localised sustainability goals, such as net-zero waste, as a central premise.
  • The increased influence that access to reliable and renewable energy, potable water and water distribution will have on corporate location and property decision making

What was most refreshing about each of these topics was that way in which each was grounded in real life corporate experience.  So we heard about: Google’s involvement with city authorities in Mountain View to create an eco-district; Microsoft’s advanced use of building data to make smart decisions and avoid green-washing; and the energy and ultimate cost savings made by GlaxoSmithKline following their consolidation of facilities at the Triangle Park Campus in North Carolina.

But as always, the issues come to life and have real bite when they strongly intersect with the other challenges and issues facing corporate real estate professionals.  So for me, things got really interesting when the expert speakers started to look at the dynamics between sustainability, workforce and the workplace.

I was, for example, fascinated by the realisation that differing worker attitudes towards sustainability create strong dynamics that influence the advocacy or leadership required to make a step change corporately.  The most sustainably aware or passionate worker might not, in reality, be the best champion of a more widespread transformation in corporate behaviour.  This is a lesson to be heeded over the coming years.

Perhaps the strongest message to emerge from the webinar however concerned the intersection of sustainability and modern work-styles.  There has been a nagging concern amongst some CRE professionals that while the adoption of new forms of working brings direct cost savings and enhanced sustainability credentials to the corporate portfolio, it may merely represent a zero-sum game or the shifting of the environmental impact away from the corporation and firmly onto the individual worker. This is a particular concern as CRE teams take on a broader remit that transcends beyond the formal and traditionally ring-fenced corporate portfolio and extends focus into a range of non-corporate – or 3rd place – working environments.  Yet today, there was some early evidence that there is a positive net effect of home or remote working styles from a corporate sustainability perspective.  It may well be that in the years ahead as new forms of working are adopted and become a reality for more workers, the grass truly will be greener at home.