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It is a challenge that falls to many estates departments, to develop a sustainability programme which future-proofs the entire organisation.  Estates departments have the skills and knowledge of the physicality and infrastructure of their organisations, this in-depth understanding leaves estates departments in a great position to create or re-fresh a sustainability programme within their organisation. But the challenge that this includes, is that sustainability needs to cross all boundaries and propagate across the entire organisation. Estates departments can be the facilitators of sustainable development, but can’t be lone adopters, so any sustainability programme needs to have ‘radiation’ at its heart.

Identifying solutions, improving services Working on the principle that the term ‘sustainability’ describes a process of identifying solutions, improving services and utilising this adjusted focal point for guiding business development; good sustainable development strategies should aim to meet the needs of stakeholders today, without compromising the ability to satisfy future needs. Strategies should look beyond corporate social responsibility and the societal activities that an organisation contributes to the community, concentrating also on how the environment impacts on an organisation and how the organisation impacts on the environment.

It is essential to identify the minimum standards a programme will aim to meet. These need to be in line with national policy and/or may be related to organisational principles, but must include the ambition to embed sustainability

Financial stability in the long-term Sustainability strategies help to ensure; financial stability in the long-term, compliance with the law, preparation for potential future requirements, maintained reputation, resilience to economic, social and environmental change, better use of finite resources and a better service for the community. A strategy needs to be meaningful and tell the whole story of all the functions of the organisation today and in the future, this includes estates functions but as important are all the other departments and people across the organisation.  If estates are tasked with sustainability, the first thing to realise is that this function will require more cross-organisational accountability and therefore authority and or backing from the organisations leaders.

Sustainability as a part of the decision process A strategy needs to have the ultimate aim of making sustainability part of the decision process when planning and forecasting business delivery, when designing and building construction projects, when considering how employees work, when leading on strategic direction and when continuing with day-to-day actions. The overriding aim should always be to make sustainability everyone’s responsibility, within the organisation and beyond.  This is an important area to focus projects.  More often than not typical estates functions, energy management, waste management, building design, are well informed and well regulated – to become more sustainable.  It may be that other department’s are not realising the opportunities from consideration of their sustainability.  Estates departments may need to identify where training is required, to motivate, engage and ‘encourage ‘smart growth’ to build sustainability into business strategies and general practice.

Created specifically for the organisation A sustainability strategy needs to be created specifically for the organisation and should be considered as a positive, enlightening method of energising an organisation to be astute and innovative. To ensure sustainable development is not treated as an added extra but becomes embedded into the way things are done, it is important to integrate existing ambitions and challenges into a sustainability strategy.

Mechanisms to mitigate climate change A complete strategy will include mechanisms to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions and acting more sustainably.  This alone will not protect organisations from the effects of climate change such as longer and more frequent heat waves, increased flooding, harsher cold snaps and the impact these events will have on business continuity.  Considering an organisation’s ability to adapt to future scenarios is important to a sustainability strategy. A sustainability strategy should address the organisation’s ability to adapt and change through forward planning; increasing resilience, managing risks, protecting oneself and the community and also, importantly, taking advantage of any potential opportunities that arise. Global changes in climate are already happening and will, without doubt, continue. This results in the need to ensure buildings and infrastructure are designed for future climates, that business functions are prepared to operate in changing conditions, that compliance with changing government regulations is assured and that the financial risks from possible increases in taxes and prices are accounted for.

It is the responsibility of sustainability leads, usually in the estates departments, to ensure that expertise within an organisation is embraced to bring together innovation and invention. Getting the right people involved from the start is very important and the following areas should be considered;

  • Energy
  • Procurement and waste
  • Travel/transport
  • Water
  • Buildings, design and biodiversity
  • Health and wellbeing (workforce, customers, clients and community)
  • Partnerships and networks
  • Engagement, communication and information sharing
  • Governance
  • Finance and reporting (including quantitative and qualitative measurements)
  • Adaptation

Strategies, programmes or action plans need to be able to evolve and writing them should not be a limiting factor to develop new ideas. It is important to update and add to sustainability strategies by adding individual business cases which can be developed over time. This can be encouraged by making the strategy visible and accessible as an online/electronic program, rather than a printed document. Dashboards, forums and social media will all be valuable tools to both develop centrally and educate the staff chain in using these new opportunities. Estates departments know all too well the issues with reaching colleagues who are not based in an office, at a computer, consider the managers and indeed the workforce in these areas when disseminating projects and communications.

A successful sustainability strategy is not just about metrics, targets and financial savings.

To be successful at becoming a sustainable organisation, trusting a ‘gut feeling’ of what is right will have a  range of far reaching benefits. These benefits are sometimes difficult to measure, however they should not be dismissed based on that fact, but embraced as ‘the right thing to do’. It is important to understand the principles and sometimes be willing to back intuition, investing without a specific business case.  Follow your instincts, be bold and see, feel and count the rewards.