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The very fact that we still need to ask, ‘How mainstream is sustainability?’ and ‘Is being green a part of our daily lives?’ indicates that, for many, it’s still seen as something different, something separate. Most of us would agree that sustainability affects us on a daily basis – if only through the prevalence of recycling bins – and that there is a mainstream consciousness of sustainability. But only when we stop thinking about it in this way – when we no longer feel the need to call things ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ – will the aspiration to live within the planet’s resources be truly integrated into our lives.
This means our current challenge is to bridge the gap between today’s ‘consciousness’ of sustainability and tomorrow’s everyday.
In construction, some believe that going green is more expensive. That’s debatable, and depends on your timescale, but it means a good deal of the challenge around being greener is finding innovative ways to fund a project, overcoming the financial hurdles to a more sustainable approach.
Much of the power of the green argument is in the numbers. If we tell a client that their new building could be LEED Platinum or BREEAM Excellent, it might excite their PR team or environment director. To pique the interest of the finance director, project director or facilities manager, you need the hard numbers – evidence of the benefits of green. Frequently, we’ve seen an eco-sceptic client become a green advocate because we’ve been able to show them that a more sustainable approach will lower the building and running costs and even improve the productivity of the people working in the building. It’s even possible to put a monetary value to some of the social benefits.
In many cases, though, we also help our clients find new ways to fund their green projects, and the options are increasing. At the heart of them is often a different business model – one that takes a longer-term view and shows how the longer-term benefits and cost savings more than make up for the initial outlay.
On top of generally available services and funding routes, like energy performance contracts, Skanska has developed its own green fund, designed to provide investment money to help clients fund a green solution – products, services or expertise – that will reduce carbon, energy, water, raw materials or waste and see cost savings over time. The risk of initial investment for clients is removed, and the cost is covered with the payback from the solution. Clients not only reduce their environmental impact, they also share in the financial return.
Expanding green investment to more people is also a theme in the financial world, where there is a growing interest. Ethical investment used to be the province of church and charity pension funds, born out of a desire to avoid investing in areas like tobacco and armaments. It has since evolved from negative screening to positive choices, with investors now able to select opportunities on the basis of their environmental benefits. One option is Skanska’s green corporate bond, issued for the first time earlier this year.
The aim of this bond was to raise capital for green construction projects, but also to attract different types of investor to Skanska. Not only do those investors get a return on their investment, but they also know that their money is going towards responsible commercial development projects, supporting the development of a more sustainable society. (Projects funded through it must be rated at least LEED Gold or BREEAM Very Good, with energy consumption 25% below the local code, or more.)
The bond was significantly oversubscribed. That’s great for Skanska and its reputation in green construction. It’s also a strong indication that sustainability has real value in the marketplace – one more step towards bridging the gap between today’s ‘conscious sustainability’ and tomorrow’s normality.
Jennifer Clark is Director of Environment, Skanska.
Photo credit: Skanska