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Understanding the Culture of Sustainability to Build Back Better – Position Paper

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Understanding the Culture of Sustainability to Build Back Better – Position Paper

What, Why and How?

2020 has not been the year that any of us expected. While the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the news cycle, there have been ongoing efforts to tackle the Climate Emergency.

As the pandemic revealed a number of new opportunities and threats, many countries began to consider how they could rebuild their economies in the aftermath, reaffirming their net-zero targets in the process with a particular focus on green recovery.

We now have an opportunity to do things better coming out of the pandemic but

What” is it that we need to do? Some recent drivers aimed at creating a healthy, sustainable, green and equitable built environment frame the “Why”’ question. Our mission at Creative Building Performance is to focus on the “How?”

First we had the climate emergency, which prompted several governments worldwide to affirm commitments to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Then with the launch of the Build Back Better campaign, we saw the government’s plans to support growth through significant investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation, and to pursue growth that levels up every part of the UK and enables the transition to net-zero.

The Build Back Better campaign seeks a coronavirus recovery plan that protects public services, tackles inequality in communities, provides secure well-paid jobs and creates a shockproof economy that can fight the climate crisis.

We also saw the launch of The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) Health-Safety Rating. IWBI is leading the global movement to transform buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive.

In addition, the UK government also mandated that by 2025 businesses will be required to disclose climate-related risk and mitigation.

Combined, these drivers provide quite strong signals that the time is right to move towards a healthy sustainable and equitable future.

Understanding sustainability and culture

The term sustainability is broadly used to indicate programmes, initiatives and actions aimed at the preservation of a particular resource or resources. However, it actually refers to four separate elements: human, social, economic and environmental – also termed as the four pillars of sustainability.

A responsible business is often described as one that benefits society whilst addressing any negative impacts it may have on society or the environment. Being responsible can simultaneously mean being sustainable.

Corporate responsibility considers the impact an organisation has on society, the environment and also the economy. Having an effective CR programme can contribute positively to all stakeholders, as well as providing benefits for the organisation itself, and ensuring it operates in a sustainable way.

Why does corporate responsibility matter? Because wider societal issues matter to people.

In ‘doing the right thing’ by their stakeholders and holding identical values, organisations will see positive outcomes from brand enhancement and increased reputation, to building employee engagement. We can assume it makes good business sense to operate sustainably.

HR teams have a role in communicating with and educating employees at all levels on their social and environmental responsibilities. As well as embedding sustainability concerns through all people management policies and practices, HR professionals are central in aligning the organisation’s values, culture and business activity. Equally, learning and development functions play an important role in developing management capability and promoting organisational learning in corporate responsibility.

A campaign launched in 2020 called “Make my money matter” stated that people moving their pension to a more sustainable fund has 37 times more impact than reducing flying and becoming vegan, combined.

There’s an increasing interest, particularly from young people, in wanting to know where their money is going and where it is invested. Clearly this year we've had a massive change in culture due to the pandemic restrictions and we need to address what elements we can keep and what benefits the workforce.

Working from home, for at least some of the time, could be something that businesses will continue with going forward. Or, supporting the creation of neighbourhood work hubs and allowing people to have that better work-life balance.

The number of businesses that are defining themselves as sustainable is increasing and it is moving away from corporate social responsibility towards encompassing all of these different operational aspects of a business, where things are being addressed systematically across the whole business and the whole supply chain.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist

GDP is not a good measure of economic performance and it's not a good measure of well-being”

Why? Because what we measure informs what we do, and if we measure the wrong thing we're going to do the wrong thing. Kate Raworth and other economists are saying that treating environmental and social factors as externalities and not including them in calculations is bad business practice. It fundamentally undermines the value of a business and it causes much of the massive inequality that we're seeing at the moment.

It is widely accepted that it is unsustainable to move away from what we need to be genuine. We need to understand the foundations of our society and what the environmental ceiling is, and operate within that.

As consumers, we can exert pressure on businesses to improve performance. Transparency is vital so that consumers can verify claims made by businesses around their sustainability and environmental performance. And, most importantly, these claims need to be backed up with data.

Companies like Patagonia, which are well known for being environmentally responsible, are also equally open, honest and transparent about where they do use chemicals and where they are trying to improve. This has much more market value than just saying ‘we are the best’ or ‘we are the first’.

On the opposite side, in 2020 five senior executives at Shell resigned because they didn't believe that the chief executive and the rest of the senior management were committed to transforming the business as quickly as they thought it needed to. The story ran in the FT compromising the company. This was not information that they wanted to be out in the press just before announcing their net-zero carbon strategy.

Another interesting story is about an American renewables company, NextEra, overtaking Exxonmobil as the largest U.S energy company for a short period. The underlying story is that over the past 10 years the market capitalisation of NextEra has grown 600% and that of Exxon has halved.

Coca-Cola launched in 2018 their “World without Waste” campaign and were heralding the launch of their plant bottle which was partly made from plant materials, but they have been named the top plastic polluter for the past three years. Coca-Cola is coming under a lot of pressure, in part because of the claims that they made in 2018, and the fact that they don't seem to be doing anything at all to improve their performance.

In order to achieve this vision of a green, sustainable and equitable future we all need to be involved. Not just building designers and developers. At Creative Building Performance we believe that having the right tools to unlock the vast amount of data that's already available is fundamental to the Build Back Better movement.

Implementing CSR practices is increasingly vital for a company’s sustainability and enduring success. The long-term benefits are nothing less than the long-term viability of the company. Managing relationships with customers, employees, owners/investors, suppliers, competitors, communities and government agencies and regulators, is key to maximising company valuation and building a sustainable company.

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