September 27, 2019

How to build on the built environment with sustainability messaging


Around the world, campaigners, cities, institutions and governments are declaring a state of emergency in response to climate change. Every day we are being made aware of a new report which paints a bleak picture of society unless there are drastic and rapid cuts in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we produce.

As it stands, it could be argued that much of our new architecture is fundamentally at odds with our planet’s limits as it is reliant upon huge material extractions and constant emissions. The government estimates that construction accounts for almost 47% of total UK emissions, with cement blamed for 8% alone.

In this unprecedented moment, it is time for housebuilders, construction companies and architects to consider how to respond to our ecological emergency.

Looking forward, the industry must implement detailed action plans to embed sustainable industry standards and practices. For housebuilders and construction companies this likely means adapting innovative building methods, such as using alternative materials, renewable energy and adopting offsite production. However, some businesses are already ahead of the curve – and are set to benefit from ‘the green pound’.

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their own carbon footprint. As explained by Steven Overman in his book ‘The Conscious Economy’, citizens of the ‘Conscience Culture’ wear their values on their sleeves. The values they uphold are signified and expressed through the brands they choose, use, promote, and join as employees. Now, not only are they forgoing the plastic straw and investing in a reusable coffee cup, but increasingly bigger life decisions are going green – whether it be who they travel with, work with, or the home that they buy. To stand out on the ‘Conscious Economy’ it’s vital that you link your values and your strategy. Business is operating in a culture in which values drive everything.

For green-minded companies operating in the built environment, it is time to stick their head above the parapet and shout about the initiatives they have in place and about the difference they are making.

But in the face of increasing pressure to meet ambitious sustainability targets, companies are often frightened about getting it wrong, so much so that they become reluctant to say anything at all. But with the right messaging and consideration, talking about your success in the sustainability space can push you ahead of competitors. However, there are some factors to bear in mind.

You must keep your message positive. Global warming is depressing enough without constantly reminding consumers of the doom and gloom scenario. Companies should look to engage positively with audiences with the same passion for sustainability that they do with their other key businesses messages and objectives.

Remember that consumers are knowledgeable and more equipped than ever before to investigate your claims.  This means businesses must make sure what they are saying is accurate, or risk a huge reputational crisis when you are found out. But in the same breadth, audience expectations are rising, so communicating about basic energy-saving initiatives will no longer cut the mustard. Up your game to be heard.

If your business lacks the foundation for credibility in the green communications space, form a mutually beneficial partnership with an organisation that does, and then tell your customers about it. A great example of this is HSBC, one of the world’s largest financial services organisations, who wanted to talk about the importance of boosting the take-up of technologies that will cut emissions. Through its Climate Partnership, it partnered with WWF, the Earthwatch Institute, the Climate Group and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which gave them the credibility to do so.

There is also increasing demand from investors for consistent Environmental, Social and Governance reporting (ESG), as it is now a core part of the decision process. Now, it’s vital that you report ESG information in your annual report or a standalone sustainability report. This must not only include an explanation of the strategic relevance that ESG issues have on your businesses, but also data that is of investment-grade quality.

The built environment’s role in reshaping culture in the face of environmental limits is growing by the day, and in reality, the reputational potential of sustainability for businesses is huge. In a crowded market place, green consciousness is an increasingly differentiating factor, so it’s important you shout about it, and in the right way.