Ethical Performance
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British Land

building a new approach

More by British Land - Back to the autumn 2006 issue
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case study

A smiling Christine Tona beams out from the front cover of British Land’s employee newsletter. An events manager at Broadgate Estates, one of its subsidiaries, she is the inaugural winner of the company’s Corporate Responsibility Awards. Christine took the top prize thanks to her success at encouraging tenants, contract staff and her fellow employees to take part in a variety of recycling initiatives.

Behind the smiles, British Land is working hard to get across a serious message. The FTSE 100 company has set its sights on making each and every one of its 711 employees a de facto sustainability manager.

The senior management of the property investment and development company are closely involved: a Corporate Responsibility Committee made up of the heads of each department meets every three months to set sustainability goals for each area of the business.

‘They have to come to the meeting prepared to report on their objectives and targets,’ explains Claudine Blamey, corporate responsibility executive with British Land. ‘It’s working well because they are taking ownership.’

The notion of ‘ownership’ crops up regularly in Blamey’s account of the company’s implementation strategy. Only when people understand the issues at hand and are empowered to act on them will things start to happen, she argues.

To achieve this, British Land has adopted a two-pronged strategy. First, it has sought to engage employees on social and environmental issues. Working with the GoodCorporation consultancy, which undertakes independent assessments that incorporate stakeholder feedback, it has identified which aspects of sustainability most interest and concern its employees. Climate change and global warming are high on the list: ‘These issues are coming to the forefront of people’s daily lives,’ Blamey says. ‘Changes only start to happen when people want them to.’

The next step has been to provide a structure that allows employees to act in an effective manner. The company has opted for what Blamey calls a ‘process approach’. In 2004, British Land identified seven aspects of sustainability policy, ranging from its employees and local communities to waste management and biodiversity. It then took each of these areas in turn and considered how they relate to what the company actually does.

‘We then had to create processes specifically tailored to each part of the business, so that responsibility for sustainability in these focus areas becomes part of every individual’s job,’ Blamey explains.

Since 2004, when the strategy began operating, the company has held five training events for employees and suppliers. Additional guidance and practical advice is also available on the company intranet in the shape of an employee handbook.

Blamey gives the example of the development department to explain how the process approach works in practice. In late 2004, British Land issued the department with a management guide – the ‘Sustainability Brief’ – that encourages its property designers to consider a host of social and environmental questions such as how to reduce waste in construction, whether it is possible to use recyclable building materials, and how best to consult local interests.

British Land saw immediate results. ‘I knew we were making progress when I sat in on a development meeting and heard the company’s head of construction ask why sustainability was down as a separate point on the agenda,’ says Blamey. ‘He said it should be something we talk about through the whole meeting.’

The drawing boards are already beginning to reflect the impact of this new approach. The design brief for Ludgate West, an 11,800 square-metre office complex in central London, lists 89 separate areas in which sustainability is now being considered, ranging from regeneration and local economic impact to energy use and noise pollution.

Each topic has a sustainability objective, target and completion date. By the time Ludgate West opens in late 2007, it will feature a sanitation system that uses harvested rainwater, sustainably-sourced timber throughout the building and even 152 square metres of vegetation on the roof.

British Land’s sustainability message is also spreading to its tenants. In its role as landlord, it recently negotiated emission reduction targets with the occupiers of Broadgate Estates, which include the financial institutions UBS and Henderson Global Investors and legal firm Herbert Smith. Over time, British Land hopes to reach similar agreements with tenants occupying its other properties.

It is also looking to engage its 5000 suppliers, who are all to receive a letter from the company explaining its sustainability principles. Additionally, British Land is taking part in a business-led initiative that assesses ethical risks posed by suppliers to the construction industry. Blamey anticipates that the scheme, which is managed by supplier information specialists Upstream, will in time result in a list of certified suppliers.

Implementing the strategy has not always been straightforward. At the outset, one of the biggest challenges was to convince the sceptics. ‘Getting everyone in a particular department involved can be a challenge,’ she says. ‘There are always some people who are not easy to persuade.’

Identifying a leader in each team, and then encouraging them, has been important in overcoming inertia in some departments, and volunteering has also proved effective. By renovating an old church or working in a community garden, people gain a tangible sense of what ‘sustainability’ means in practice. One in three British Land employees took part in community activities of this kind in 2005.

Keeping employees in touch with what is going on remains a challenge. British Land’s annual corporate responsibility report – its fifth – is particularly useful in this respect. The company also produces a regular four-page newsletter that includes updates on CSR activity throughout the company. 'Getting staff involved right from the outset has been essential,' says Blamey. In the case of the Sustainability Brief, the company held a series of workshops with its development managers. It then went through the same process with its external project managers. Only then did it produce the Brief document. ‘We got people’s buy-in because they were closely involved from the start,’ says Blamey. ‘Also, if it’s not relevant to what they do, they just won’t want to know.’

In this vein, the environmental consultancy Arup has just finished a wide-ranging consultation with British Land’s development team on how the Sustainability Brief can be revised, with a new version due by March 2007.

The need to be flexible is the other main lesson that British Land has learned from its recent experiences, says Blamey. An implementation strategy must be comprehensive enough to provide employees with good guidance – but not so detailed that it stifles creativity. ‘Our process approach has been successful because it’s not bureaucratic,’ she explains. ‘By letting people use their imagination, it allows them to come up with the bright ideas.’

more about British Land

With a property portfolio worth £18.3billion ($35bn, €27bn), British Land is one of the UK’s largest property investment companies. The business has 711 employees and more than 5000 suppliers. It:

has a sustainability strategy focusing on seven main areas: employees, supply chain, regeneration, community, resource use, waste management, and biodiversity

has developed regeneration plans for the Lower Don Valley in South Yorkshire that aim to generate economic output of £270million ($510m, €400m) per year for the Sheffield area

contributed more than £450,000 to community projects and other good causes in the UK during 2005

operates nature trails at Teesside Shopping Park, Blythe Valley Business Park and Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield

cut annual water use from 1.02 cubic metres per square metre of property space in 2003/4 to 0.82 cubic metres in 2004/5

IBE comment

British Land has successfully embedded its corporate responsibility values within its organization by ensuring that each employee has a sense of ownership of the issues. Especially noteworthy is that sustainability now informs many decisions made by British Land staff.

points of interest include:

the design of ‘sustainability briefs’ appropriate for each department, ensuring that these issues are considered alongside all day-to-day decision making

use of GoodCorporation to conduct stakeholder interviews and find out employees’ concerns

the effort to engage employees at all levels, and the ongoing nature of this engagement, which involves keeping employees informed of the process through the company newsletter

acknowledgement that there is no ‘one size fits all’ for sustainability programmes

Katherine Bradshaw, Institute of Business Ethics

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