Ask a handful of property professionals to define sustainability and you’re unlikely to hear the same answer twice.
The notion of ‘doing good’ may emerge as a common theme, but few will spontaneously recount the commercial benefits of being a sustainable business.
The sector has in fact been very slow to recognise that far from being the philanthropic brakes on a business, a sustainable and responsible approach is a vital component to long-term success.
Swap sustainable for sensible, charitable for profitable, and we move closer to a reliable definition - sustainability is as simple as good commercial sense. Take out-of-town retail and leisure destinations. They are rarely championed as the industry’s paragons of sustainability, but as they take on an important role in our retail strategy towards dominance, experience and convenience, we can’t afford for them not to be.
To continue being the investment of choice, we must be the developer and landlord of choice for our customers, employees, partners and communities. To achieve that, everything we do must positively benefit these stakeholders.
So what does that look like in the context of retail and leisure destinations?
Their sheer size often attracts negative attention; it’s easy to assume that big is bad, but scale presents cost benefits to us and our retailers. For example, large roof areas give scope to find locations for environmental innovations like solar collector technologies.
Our newly opened out-of-town retail park in Taplow features roof mounted photovoltaic units (PVs) feeding power into the TKMaxx and Nike stores below, while additional PVs in the louvres feed into Tesco. The Tesco PV is expected to generate over 10,000 kWh per year and the TKMaxx and Nike ones almost 35,000 kWh, so the cost benefits will follow. This is all the more important when you consider that the big-name brands typically attracted to our destinations come to us with their own corporate sustainability agenda.
Socially sustainable initiatives may appear to be harder to quantify commercially than their environmental counterparts, but I believe this is where real advantage is possible.
Rather than existing in isolation from the local community, retail and leisure destinations must be integral to their community and catchment - and when you start playing a meaningful role in a community, you’re rewarded with its loyalty.
Last year, we hosted more than 90 community events in our retail park and leisure portfolio alone, and at one we’ve partnered with a local school that is incentivising students’ attendance, good behaviour and individual successes with reward events and activities. With overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers, we know the programme has benefited people in the local area - but it’s win, win.
Having forged a meaningful relationship with these young people and their families, the story caught the attention of the local media, delivering valuable, positive coverage and creating goodwill that will translate to brand loyalty. It’s that much-coveted loyalty that turns a retail and leisure destination into a community’s dominant one, benefiting retailers and operators.
So acting responsibly and placing our retail and leisure destinations at the heart of communities really is cost effective and can inherently increase our assets’ value. As the cycle continues, a virtuous circle ensures benefits to us and our stakeholders, enabling us to continue delivering to our mantra of shaping the future for good.
Polly Troughton is head of retail parks and leisure at Land Securities