Brexit to give continued uncertainty to Sustainability Professionals, JLL warns

Brexit to give continued uncertainty to Sustainability Professionals, JLL warns

Excerpt: JLL UK is leading the way to call for governmental intervention and planning to give better certainty and stability to sustainability professionals in the wake of ongoing political and business uncertainty.

Investment management firm JLL UK has warned that the country’s prolonged period of political and business uncertainty in the wake of the Brexit vote will continue to affect sustainability professionals, and suggests they must be more flexible in their pursuit of long-term corporate social responsibility objectives and goals.

Talking to edie, JLL UK’s Head of Sustainability Sophie Walker said that she believed those working in sustainability would have more difficulty adjusting to the period of uncertainty compared to those working in other areas of business – because the nature of their goals are long-term and the attitude of other sectors currently is very focused on short-term aims. She said of the research JLL had conducted:

“Post-Brexit, I think we’re operating under assumptions of EU roadmaps on a variety of business issues, including sustainability. Things are up for debate and discussion over the next few years and everybody in every sector has to be more flexible than they’ve had to be in their entire career. You have to be brave, bold and ambitious when setting out your targets. At some point, you’ll have to take that step. But, you have to be prepared to pivot and be more nimble. It’s an interesting challenge for sustainability professionals, who always try to take the longest view possible but are now being asked to think across a three to six-month spectrum. It’s definitely a tension.”

Dissimilarly, Walker claims that the recession was, inadvertently and unexpectedly, a positive event for the sustainability sector, as it placed focus for the first time on the financial aspects of sustainability to drive long-term business value. Whilst she admits this does stifle companies spending on “green bling”, she believes the required re-focus on long term strategy made sustainability more integral and central to businesses rather than staying as a ‘nice to have’ add-on. JLL UK were just one such company to shift this focus, and several of their clients have moved in the same direction.

JLL only recently announced their own sustainability goals to meet by 2020. These include a 100% renewables targets and aspirations to send zero waste to landfill. However, since the Brexit negotiations have begun, Walker believes the focus could well change again.

“I fully anticipate that within the next six months I’ll have to pivot again and slightly change focus. Business hates uncertainty, it makes it really hard to make investment decisions that are effective, and you can waste time second-guessing what might happen,”

Walker said. “But, we are in business to serve our clients and provide them with real-estate solutions. Ultimately, that isn’t going to shift, Brexit or no Brexit, and we have to align our sustainability trajectories to support that ambition and purpose. Our clients aren’t going anywhere and they continue to need our support. It’s a helpful mindset to keep, to try not to worry about all the shifting parts.”

However, periods of uncertainty are not without risk, and Walker acknowledges this. For companies operating within the built environment, legislation and regulation manages the requirements for environmental protection and standards, and is being constantly updated worldwide to move with new market developments, gain strength and become stronger. Walker described the need for such regulation to stay in place to provide a “safety net” for such businesses.

Within the EU at present, buildings currently account for 50% of extracted materials, 50% of energy consumption and a third of waste generated. The European Commission has a Circular Economy Action Plan to focus on the lifetime of buildings and ensures that new regulation and legislation introduces design improvements to increase the lifetimes, energy efficiency, durability and recyclability of properties and their components.

This circular economy model will no longer apply to the UK once it has left membership of the EU, but the government has yet to adhere to the package and has not announced plans to introduce any new legislation – similar or otherwise. It is this lack of clarity of a long-term involvement within the plan or announcement of a new one that contributes greatly to the aforementioned uncertainty. Indeed, JLL UK is one of several companies who are currently backing Business in The Community’s (BITC’s) new circular offices campaign that aims to introduce circular economy principles to the private sector.

“I don’t think anyone knows about the timeline for circular economy,”

Walker added.

“It does have the potential to have a really significant impact on the UK, but only once resource input prices become very expensive or volatile. We do need to start to see some of the really simple legislation come in. Those simple things could create quite a lot of momentum, and it is definitely in the government’s gift to make happen.”

How this will impact on the sector moving forward remains to be seen, but one thing remains definite: more planning is needed to ensure the safeguarding of sustainability.