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Exclusive Interview: Sophie Walker, Head of Sustainability, JLL

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Sophie is UK Head of Sustainability within Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), the global professional services company specialising in real estate.  Sophie is responsible for JLL’s sustainability leadership position in the UK marketplace and with clients, as well as driving JLL’s internal environmental and social performance across our own estate and workforce.  Sophie is a member of the UK Executive and the UK Building a Better Tomorrow Board.

Prior to taking on this role in 2016, Sophie was a Director in the Upstream business within JLL, overseeing our Strategy & Communication services.  Over 8 years, Sophie helped companies create market-leading sustainability visions, strategies and implementation programmes, and ensured results are achieved.  Sophie has designed strategies for companies and for major master-plans in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, she has assisted multiple clients with their sustainability reporting, she set up our own European training programme, and she has implemented socio-economic and environmental management systems. Sector experience includes: real estate; retail; professional services; agriculture; and healthcare.

Sophie joined JLL in 2007, having worked in the UK House of Commons. Sophie has an MSc from Cranfield University in Environmental Management for Business and an MA (Oxon) in English & Modern Languages from the University of Oxford.  Sophie was Estates Gazette Young Professional of the Year 2014 and one of the ULI 40 under 40 winners 2014.

What is JLL’s sustainability mission?

JLL’s sustainability programme is Building a Better Tomorrow.  At JLL we believe we need to go beyond bricks and mortar.  Buildings affect our health, happiness and can make our work more productive. But they also account for more than half the total impact on the planet. Our mission is to build livelihoods, relationships, ideas, places and a sustainable future.  We want to be the most sustainable real estate services firm globally, realising our significant opportunity to make buildings and cities where people thrive.

What was the driver behind this?

In the UK, we committed back in 2011 to embedding sustainability in everything we do.  The primary driver was strong client and staff feedback on the opportunity for us to be market-leading across all of our services  – we had a great sustainability consultancy in our Upstream Sustainability Services business, which was and continues to be a great asset to our clients.  But we were not realising the benefit of up-skilling our whole workforce to be able to talk confidently about how to navigate the environmental and social implications of real estate decision-making, and we weren’t consistently walking the talk in our own buildings.  That has definitely changed for the better, not least with the UK launch of Building a Better Tomorrow in 2014, which was adopted globally this year.

Who does it primarily serve?

For me, leading our UK programme, the emphasis is on helping and influencing our clients, our industry, our staff and our communities to be resilient long into the future.  At a global level, as a listed company, our programme also gives our shareholders confidence that we are thinking and acting long-term, and they will generate secure value from their investment in us.

What difference does JLL want to make in sustainability?

We want to continue to leading the conversation and setting sustainability standards for the real estate industry.  Every day we give advice to thousands of people about thousands of buildings, and procure many services and products on their behalf. That is a unique influencing opportunity and where we can make the biggest difference. I want us to get to a point where every transaction, every building we manage or build, and every piece of advice we give to clients, genuinely evaluates how we make buildings healthier and better connected with our communities and the natural environment.  We also want to be an exemplar – in our own workplaces and with our own people – of how you fit-out and run great sustainable buildings, and of how you create a work culture that values diversity, develops skills for tomorrow’s challenges and fosters good health and well-being.   We have made great strides, but there is so much more to do.

What are the barriers to making that difference?

In part the biggest challenge for me is having a large workforce. As influencers, it is critical that our staff are knowledgeable and bought-in to what we are seeking to do.  All of our UK staff have undertaken our mandatory sustainability e-learning programme, which was a great start, and we run refresher sessions for our network of over 200 champions.  However, you do need to keep updating this knowledge base for all staff, keeping them enthused through exciting comms and driving the sustainable behaviour change.  Furthermore, we have been through a fair bit of M&A in the last few years.  This brings fresh ideas and fresh business lines in to JLL, which is great, but it also means that there is an ongoing need to get new staff up to speed on sustainability quickly, even when they are taking on so many new things about a different company’s culture and structure.

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?

I have a great team, all of whom spend a lot of time and energy engaging effectively with their networks of sustainability, community, workplace and diversity champions.   I am also part of our UK Executive team which helps with communicating our activities at a senior level. Our HR and Marketing teams have been huge supporters of our employee engagement and training in different guises over the years.   And we also draw on expertise from external experts like Global Action Plan, who helped us run a very sexy paper reduction campaign last year, which achieved a 20% reduction in paper use per person and delivered projected annual savings are £100,000.

Is the Real Estate world doing enough to support sustainability?

It has come a long way, but it still has so much more to do.  Real estate accounts for 35% of carbon, 25% of water and 40% of raw materials use globally.  Real estate development and investment hugely influences our sense of community and our quality of life, and we spent 90% of our time indoors, so buildings influence human health and happiness.  So the real estate sector has one of the biggest responsibilities across all sectors to drive sustainable development.  In the decade I’ve been working in the sector, I’ve seen huge changes for the better, in many different markets, as evidenced by the growth of the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, the impact of Green Building Councils around the world and the growing understanding of social sustainability.  The large developers and institutional investor community really do take sustainability seriously, in their asset selection, in the way they commission buildings, in the way they manage buildings.  So my honest answer is yes, but there is still more mainstreaming to be done by business and we need to ensure that governments of all political hues really listens to how critical a priority sustainability is for the long term economic success of the real estate sector.  That message isn’t being communicated loudly enough yet.

How can people – individuals and organisations – find out more about JLL’s sustainability mission?

Starting with the obvious places – read our Global Sustainability Report or our smaller UK Highlights document.  Or you can drop us a line at Buildingabettertomorrow@eu.jll.com

How do you prioritise sustainability in your personal life?

I have done substantial environmental and human rights volunteer roles over the years, to make sure that I don’t just have a corporate view of sustainability challenges. I also live in a part of London in need of urban renewal, with fantastic green spaces, but awful littering and flytipping.  I want my community to feel safe and pleasant, but I am also incredibly tight for time, with a toddler and a busy job, so at the moment I focus my limited energies on improving the few streets around me – getting the post box re-painted, doing little litter clean-ups, reporting issues to the Council, speaking to my neighbours.  Sometimes it is the small stuff that makes sustainability real for people, and that is certainly true for me.

Energy

Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?

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The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.

Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.

The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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Energy

4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy

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Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?

A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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