In a world where AI has risen to the top of the news agenda as the next existential threat, it’s easy to forget about the challenges posed by climate change.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending the FOOTPRINT+ conference to discuss how the UK real estate sector is working towards net zero and decarbonisation.

Having worked in environmental communications across several sectors, I’ve always felt the property industry was slightly behind the curve, with a lot of talk and not enough action.

On reflection, I think the property industry might be being too hard on itself. Sure, in terms of progress on ESG its slightly behind other sectors but this is partly due to a few external factors out of its control, the most important being:

  • Structural challenges – The lack of publicly available data is one of the biggest barriers in the way of reducing emissions. Sadly, inbuilt into the property sector are long-term leases and a legal framework which makes it difficult for occupiers to access their buildings, and obtain this data, which means naturally that the transition will take longer.
  • Government support – When it comes to making investment decisions, there are simply not enough financial incentives to support the green transition when compared to other industries. Also, in terms of policy, the lack of regulation makes it difficult to make any meaningful progress.

The failure to explain this has led to some organisations fall into the trap of making bland and nebulous statements rather than explaining this properly. This will at best be ignored by the media or at worst receive negative coverage with journalists now having greater expertise and confidence in calling out greenwashing.

While this is certainly a problem for our industry, it does present an opportunity for organisations to get ahead of competitors, in terms of promoting their message.

Here are the top tips from our experience and learnings from the conference:

Back up your claims with data

The lack of data is a common problem for environmental spokespeople across the industry, so as a result, having good case studies and data to showcase your environmental credentials can promote your organisation to the top of the agenda.

For example, at the FOOTPRINT+ conference, I discovered that shockingly, only 10% of the top 200 Real Estate companies measure their Scope 3 emissions, even though these emissions contribute to 85% of carbon in properties – so if you are doing this, do shout about it.

Also from a defensive perspective, it’s important to stress-test your messages. For instance, if you have a press release to promote an environmentally friendly development, also draft a Q&A answering all the questions you think an inquisitive journalist may ask, with the support of your ESG policy team. This will not only put you in a good position to respond to any incoming queries but will also improve your messaging by ensuring your assertions are defendable and backed up by facts.

Simplify your language! 

For example, if your building uses less carbon, instead of having a flashy nebulous term to signify this, instead think about showcasing the practical steps that have been taken to support this.

Often in real estate important messages on ESG can get lost in technical language, so it’s vitally important to communicate in a way that is relatable for someone outside the sector and not get lost in the weeds of the detail.

Use international comparisons and make policy recommendations! 

The reason the property sector is often seen as behind other industries on climate is because of the lack of policies from government and a lack of ideas on what best practice is.

As a result, referencing international examples can be an effective way of amplifying your message with journalists.

Whether promoting Australian-style energy efficiency standards that provide live data compared with the static one-off standards we currently use, or lessons from the Netherlands to incentivise retrofit investment, international examples can really bring your arguments to life.

Lastly, as those who work in the sector will know, there is a lack of government policy in this space, causing a lot of inertia in the industry. This provides a great chance for businesses to seize the momentum and get on the front foot by making such recommendations.