The sustainability challenge is huge, but we are up to the task

A glance down the Deal Of The Year shortlist at this year’s Property Awards - a category sponsored by Shoosmiths - provides a comforting reassurance of the resilience and creativity of the UK’s real estate industry. From advanced manufacturing sites in Birmingham and ‘Jenga’ inspired hotels in Manchester, to the landmark acquisition of the world’s first hometel and the UK’s largest-ever private property deal, it appears the real estate industry is in rude health.

That the deals were done during the onset of the pandemic and amid numerous lockdowns up and down the country, is truly remarkable. As we (hopefully) look forward to a less tumultuous future, the category offers hope that the sky really is the limit for the industry (literally with a number of these schemes…). But what of the future, and how equipped is our built environment to take us there? With governments from across the globe tackling the biggest issues of all at COP26, the real estate that surrounds us is again taking centre stage and is a key focal point of the conference.

Solutions are being sought, including the challenge of decarbonising existing stock, given that 80% of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been built. With some chatter emerging of the comparatively lesser-known risks of embodied carbon in existing stock being released through demolition, retrofitting needs to be seen as just as much a priority as new build, if not more? That is arguably oversimplifying the challenge but decarbonising our existing stock is just one issue that needs to move up the agenda quickly. What is more, recent research from Savills shows that more than one billion square feet of office stock in the UK - or 87% - needs to be improved in order to meet the government's 2030 energy efficiency deadlines. Savills also goes on to say that the residential sector requires £330 billion of investment while 1.4 billion square feet of retail needs to be upgraded if UK real estate is to achieve net zero and meet climate change targets. Big decisions need to be made and different paths may now need to be taken.

That is not to dampen my enthusiasm from earlier in the piece, but the challenge facing the industry to reshape our built environment into a more sustainable environment is clearly significant. However, that doesn’t mean it cannot be done, indeed it has to be done. And as I again cast my eye down the shortlists of all the award categories and see the calibre of the organisations involved, I am reminded of the industry’s ability to adapt, to evolve and to create. CO-RE’s and Old Park Lane Management’s development at 20 Ropemaker Street, a nominee in the Deal of the Year category that will deliver 450,000 ft² Grade A BREEAM “Outstanding” and WELL Platinum office space, (the largest-ever commercial project to secure the accreditation) is just one example of this.

The pandemic has left us changed, but arguably better for it and with a greater appreciation of what is needed to take real estate forward. As Aristotle once said – perhaps whilst sat in a plot of prime real estate in ancient Athens – “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." The sustainability challenge is huge, but we are up to the task – it is what we do.

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