Remember to keep your ‘Proof of Purpose’

As we enter the festive period, we will all be reminded to “keep our proof of purchase” should any of our gifts need to be returned, it is the evidence that we need to show ownership.

This concept made me think.  As a Sustainability professional, how do I demonstrate Proof of Purpose?  How do I create binding agreements with my various stakeholders to ensure they take ownership of the difference we are trying to create?

2019 has seen a dramatic increase in the level of engagement/activism on environmental issues.  Cities around the world have been brought to a standstill as people have taken to the streets to protest against the ‘perceived’ lack of action from national governments to tackle climate change.  Unfortunately, at the time of writing this piece, the COP 2025 conference in Madrid did not bring any new hope as the battle continued between Rich and Poor nations.

In the space between people demanding action and the inability of Governments to find a consensus, Industry has to take the lead.  Those organizations who choose to recognize that NOW IS THE TIME for action will ultimately strengthen their business.

We know that through Stakeholder engagement, we can create genuine initiatives that can clearly evidence the difference organizations can make to their environmental responsibilities, their communities and staff.  It allows people to see your ‘Proof of Purpose’.

A clear example of this is;

Real estate developers face increased pressure from investors, tenants and other stakeholders about the ESG performance of their buildings.  It is of course critical that the wider community begins to demonstrate how climate action is being considered.  Large commercial tenants, in particular, ask for building certifications and sustainability (performance) data to meet their own sustainability objectives and to create positive work environments for their employees.

Our team recently worked with an international developer of commercial real estate to analyze the sustainability requirements of its market and stakeholders and to map out a building certification strategy for new developments.  By developing internal standards and objectives, aligning them with development processes and creating a sustainability USP, the client benefits in multiple ways:

  • They get a clear picture of sustainability activities, standards and requirements in their business;
  • They can make better investment and planning decisions by adopting a lifecycle perspective;
  • They streamline development processes and benchmarks;
  • They can communicate their strategy and performance through their sustainability report; and
  • They meet market demands regarding ESG indicators and communication of ESG data.

All of these contribute to projects with improved quality and profitability, higher ratings, and sustainable value-creation.

The ‘Proof of Purpose’ here is clear and investors, developers and occupiers of real assets need to demonstrate that they are future-proofing our towns and cities for climate impact.

A further example is the assessment of flooding risk, which is increasingly important for climate adaption;

As a result of climate change, the frequency of heavy rainfall events is increasing and thus there will be more problems with drainage on commercial sites.  The consequences can include environmental and building damage.  Climate change data has thus been updated by regulators, such as the UK Environment Agency, to help determine peak flood levels from desk-based information incorporating the latest climate change allowances.

Early engagement with stakeholders is paramount for real asset developments to ensure that the regulators agree with the level of risk and the associated mitigation to ensure flood risk is not exacerbated locally or downstream.  This includes consideration during the early planning stages to ensure that the appropriate Sustainable Drainage Solutions and safe access and egress are being considered in the development design.  Similarly, early consultation with those responsible for the maintenance of main rivers is needed to ensure that floodplain compensatory storage is being accurately calculated for any floodplain displacement as a direct result of the development.

If key stakeholders are not consulted early, the impacts could be:

  • Potential knock-on implications for layout and master-planning which could affect the developable area;
  • Additional hydraulic modeling which could be cost-prohibitive;
  • Impact on the finished floor levels which could also impact access and egress;
  • Increased risk of objection from the EA or LLFA on climate change grounds; and
  • Potential delays to the planning application process.

By adopting an early engagement based ‘staged approach’ you are de-risking the planning process and demonstrating to stakeholders that you understand and take responsibility for the wider impacts of real assets; ‘Proof of Purpose’.

Good business responds to the needs of its customers and Stakeholders.  2020 will undoubtedly see ‘Good’ business’s act.  The demand is there, the need is there.  To pretend otherwise would be poor commercial judgment.

Customers will buy into your organization, if you can give them ‘Proof of Purpose’.

This article is written by Inogen Associates: Delta-Simons (UK); Denkstatt (Austria); HPC (Germany)

Contact: Paul Burns ([email protected])

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