Environmental, social and governance (ESG) sits at the top of the agenda for many developers and investors.

Maja Nesdale

Maja Nesdale

Those leading the way in terms of sustainability, wellbeing and social impact should be praised for their enlightened approach, which also adds value to their assets. They stand in good stead for an anticipated piece of UK legislation that will turn wellbeing from a buzzword to the law.

Taking its cue from Wales, where the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 mandates improving social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing, the UK government has succumbed to mounting pressure to prioritise ESG by creating the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill, which has been through the House of Lords and is on its second reading in the House of Commons.

In England, wellbeing as a corporate focus has grown organically, but if the Bill secures Royal Assent, it will become a legal requirement. Creating a set of national wellbeing goals will require public bodies to act in pursuit of the UK’s environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing and publish future generations’ impact assessments.

Developers and investors will need to positively reinforce the objectives of the act, requiring a focus on wellbeing from the very outset. The design team will need to embed its principles with more engagement and collaboration among stakeholders, particularly councils and public bodies. Evidence, facts and figures will be needed to prove the intended outcomes of a project and, therefore, compliance with the law.

It is promising that there has already been a move towards embedding wellbeing in the built environment; for example, the NHS’ Healthy New Towns guidance. Exemplary projects that already exist in the UK include the regeneration of Barnsley Town Centre at the Glassworks, where the facilities and an improved environment will enhance the experience for local residents and visitors.

In Wales, there are more examples, because the Welsh act has been in force since 2015. The Cardiff Met University School of Journalism, Media and Culture has won awards for wellbeing, while Grange University Hospital’s new mental health treatment centre mirrors the journey to recovery in a way not seen before.

We should be inspired by the great strides taken by Wales, but also look further afield. In Detroit Michigan, innovation and regeneration have been the factors behind Ford Motor Company’s pivot from a car company to a mobility company. Huge moves are being made to create a future mobility innovation hub that will serve industry and community alike.

The role of technology in helping design and create healthy, inclusive, walkable and engaging places is the future. Perhaps, when considering ESG, looking beyond our own borders and globally at future methods of design and construction should help.

Developers, investors and agents all influence the property market and architects and designers need to respond while also championing the purpose of any act that is passed - not just because it impacts every development and planning permission, but also because, for the first time, many principles of ESG are becoming viability factors, not hygiene ones.

This presents an opportunity to further enhance our built environment and the benefits that it can bring to society, now and in the long term.

Maja Nesdale is director at Arcadis IBI