In his annual letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink makes it crystal clear that BlackRock will hold companies accountable to act on climate change immediately.

Susan Freeman

He says that the ‘tectonic shift’ toward sustainability-focused companies is accelerating in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and BlackRock is asking companies to disclose how their business model will be compatible with a net zero economy. With almost $9 trillion under management, Fink continues to wield his considerable power to put climate change firmly centre stage.

At Mishcon de Reya we are delighted to have just launched our brand new climate strategy. We are committed to being a net zero carbon business, this year and every year. As part of our commitment to acting on climate change and following last year’s successful initiative, we have signed up once again as a lead partner in the Property Week Climate Crisis Challenge Campaign. We look forward to being involved in another excellent programme of features and events.

The recent UN Peoples’ Climate Vote with a massive 1.2 million global respondents, is the largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted. The results span 50 countries covering 56% of the world’s population. The opinion poll found that two-thirds of people now believe we are facing a ‘global emergency’.

Climate change

Source: Shutterstock/ Sepp photography

The London Real Estate Forum Investment Summit takes place digitally on the 1 to 4 February. The excellent line up of speakers includes leading economists and government, city, and regional leaders. London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who is rarely sighted at real estate sector events, is due to give a keynote speech. He says, ‘It is vital that in the aftermath of this pandemic we seek to tackle with renewed urgency the underlying socio-economic problems that have been exposed and exacerbated by this crisis. The development sector will be central to this effort.’ This will be one not to miss to hear how the development sector can work collaboratively with the Mayor as we emerge from COVID.

Have you by any chance been invited to join Clubhouse? The invite-only social media app was launched in the US last year, with wealthy investor backing and glitzy celebrity endorsements. It has now turned its focus on Europe, leading to explosive growth in the last few weeks. This strategy has proved successful with the UK and Germany now having the most app downloads outside of the US. Since you have to be invited to Clubhouse by an existing user, some have even taken to social media to solicit invitations. Clubhouse first gained popularity in Silicon Valley in March last year with the app being limited to a select group of users. This week Clubhouse raised Series B funding at an impressive $1billion valuation with reports of nearly two million weekly users worldwide. Europe’s tech community has apparently been drawn to Clubhouse by the opportunity to listen in on interesting conversations, connect with experts, and network. Has the real estate community embraced it as yet?

We are spending so much of our lives online right now that it is inevitable that virtual fashion (clothes you can only wear online) is having something of a moment. Rather than paying to own physical clothes, customers pay for digital versions they can then overlay on images of themselves. Customers select their fashion items from digital-only online marketplaces. However, when you purchase a 3D digital design, you also send in a photo of yourself. Digital tailors then ‘dress’ your image and send the purchase by email at a cost of anything from $15 to $200. If, for the foreseeable future, our conferences, panels and events are going to continue to be digital, I for one will give this new trend a go.

Meanwhile, our bricks and mortar, retail fashion chains continue to struggle. The 242-year-old Debenhams chain is in the process of closing down, after administrators failed to secure a purchaser for the business. It has been announced that online retailer Boohoo has bought the Debenhams brand and website for £55 million but will not take on any of the remaining 118 or so Debenhams stores, nor its workforce. The bidding war for Arcadia’s Topshop continues with ASOS another pure play digital retailer apparently in the lead. As in the case of Debenhams’ buyer, the online retailer is unlikely to take on any of the company’s stores. At this rate, we will have little choice but to buy our fashion items online.

TV celebrity Mary Portas, whose excellent 2011 review into the future of our high streets and town centres offered key recommendations to save the high street, has once again stepped up to the cause. She has joined the Save Our Streets campaign, spearheaded by Ross Bailey, founder of Appear Here, the technology platform that connects retailers with pop-up sites in vacant units. In a letter to the Treasury, Portas says immediate action is needed or ‘we face a future with hollowed-out streets and no places left for communities to come together’. She added, ‘When it is safe to open up we are asking the government to incentivise shopping at independent retailers to combat the impact of multiple lockdowns.’ Hopefully, this time round, and some ten years after the original Portas report, the government will listen. 

It is good to see the ingenuity and creativity being applied to the disruption caused by the closure of one of London’s river bridges for repair. Plans have been drawn up to ferry more than 19,000 passengers a day across the Thames during the closure of Hammersmith Bridge. The Times reports that an application has been submitted to convert a riverside wharf into a ferry terminal to provide a ferry mooring on the south side of the river. A decision has yet to be taken on a location on the north bank. The service would be operated by Transport for London. Up to 1,200 passengers an hour could be transported on two ferries running 16 hours a day. The ferry bid is being led by architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, together with Jamie Waller, a philanthropist and chairman of the Prince’s Trust enterprise network. It would be good to see more use of the Thames to provide passenger transport.

Finally, whilst there may not, as yet, be much cause for celebration, perhaps we should be doing more to support the struggling champagne industry. Forbes reports that champagne sales fell by an estimated $1.2 billion last year with global champagne sales dropping by 18% in volume. This is hardly surprising with restaurants and hotels closed for much of the year and celebrations cancelled amid the pandemic. The champagne that would normally have been consumed at MIPIM alone would have made quite a dent in annual sales! Let’s hope for more to celebrate as 2021progresses.