What is the responsibility of real estate owners, investors and developers to the future of our planet’s environment, given that buildings create more than 40 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions?

At Grosvenor, a privately-owned property group active in some of the world’s most dynamic cities, we know that our future success is tied to the sustainable growth of cities, which already account for over 50 percent of the global population, and in which the global population is projected to double by 2050. We have a vested interest in helping create and manage attractive and vibrant places where people choose to live, work and raise families.

During the next few decades, cities will need to adapt to the unprecedented challenges of rapidly urbanizing populations, the effects of climate change, and the distribution of natural resources. With these challenges in mind, the property industry must be brave and innovative if we are to create and manage buildings, communities, and cities that are not only efficient in environmental terms, operating within the annually renewable natural resources of the planet, but also promote a high quality of life for all who pass through them.

Grosvenor is passionate about cities, urban design, and development. We try to take a long-term view, seeing ourselves as stewards with an eye to the future. Our approach is firmly grounded in implementation. Through our global sustainability initiative, we have reduced our carbon footprint for the third consecutive year. In 2012, total absolute carbon emissions fell by 11 percent; more importantly, this figure dropped on a like-for–like basis (comparing properties that stayed in our portfolio throughout the time period), albeit by a more modest 3 percent. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our data in both accuracy and coverage, support real estate industry environmental performance benchmarks and improve our internal governance. Our staff remains one of our biggest forces for change.

We aim to continually improve our understanding of cities for the benefit of occupiers, investors, and all our other stakeholders; research is at the heart of our decision-making. Over the last two years, we have begun to think more deeply about our response to these challenges and have broadened our approach. It’s clear to us that to create truly vibrant communities, we must acknowledge the importance of social as well as environmental sustainability.

We know that our vision is ambitious; there’s a limit to what we can do on our own. For this reason, working in partnership with our tenants, local government bodies and the international property industry will be critical to helping create more sustainable places in which future generations will want to live, work and play. 

Kate Brown is the group director of sustainability at Grosvenor, based in London, and a member of NREI's Sustainability Board of Advisors.