We speak to Caroline Hill, head of sustainability at Landsec, the UK’s largest commercial property company. Previously she spent more than a decade at consultancy giant PwC, advising business clients on corporate sustainability strategy.
The interview is part of a series for a report, Secrets of Pioneers, Delivering a Decade of Green Growth, which was launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on 9th November 2017.
Where were you in 2007?
Back in 2007 I was working at PwC in their sustainability and climate change team. I think PwC was really at the vanguard of sustainability consultancy and working with clients to think about corporate responsibility strategies and the whole responsible business agenda.
But I think there have been enormous changes since then. Back then it was unusual to be going to clients with the green agenda. Whereas now I think clients are a lot more au fait with it and understand it’s a key part of how a business is run.
What is the most important lesson you have learned over the last decade?
To make sustainability relevant to whoever you are talking to. There are different levers you can use with different audiences. If you are going to speak to a CFO think about what their priorities are and how sustainability fits and supports them. If you are going in to speak to a marketing person, what are your different messages there?
I think old school sustainability was about having your environmental goals and trying to meet them. New-style sustainability is about how we run our businesses better, how we achieve resilience in our companies and be around in 10 or 20 years’ time.
Where do you expect to be in 2027?
If you had asked me that question back in 2007 I don’t think I would have told you I would have a team of 20 people looking after sustainability in the UK’s largest property company. The thought back then that a property company would have 20 people dedicated to sustainability, I think that would have sounded ridiculous.
So looking to the future and where I will be in 10 years’ time, who knows? But what I hope is that big business will really have sustainability embedded in the top level, so within executive committees and board level, and it will be an integral part of the way companies are run.
What is your vision for the green economy in 2027?
We will see a massive rise in consumer awareness. I think we are starting to see that in pockets, but I think by 2027 people will have, for example, air quality monitoring apps on their mobile phones. They will know if their work place is giving them air quality that they are happy with or not. So that kind of consumer activism will be huge I think, and will drive some important improvements.
What will be the biggest changes to today’s world?
The nature of work will change hugely. Some of the jobs we do now won’t exist in 10 years because of the rapid rise of technology and AI.
I think we will see some really significant shifts to companies having fewer direct employees, bigger supply chains, bigger pools of contractors they work with, so people have more flexible careers than they have now. For sustainability professionals that means it is essential we really get on top of how we run sustainability through our supply chain now.
What will the future sustainability challenges be?
Climate change resilience. I think we are just starting to see that come in now, particularly with the Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations from the Financial Stability Board, but I think by 2027 stakeholders like companies and cities will have to show how they are resilient against future changes.
We are already starting to see in some cities the rise of the chief resilience officer – I think that kind of thinking around how cities, how companies are adapting to the changes that will sadly be taking place by 2027 will be huge.
Do you think we will be on course for two degrees?
It depends what day you ask me! Some days I am an optimist. I love the campaign that was part of New York Climate Week this year about being a climate optimist. I think that kind of positive thinking, that we have to get on top of this, is essential.
But then other days I see research of where we are, and what is certain is that currently we are not on track to meet those goals.
But I think the awareness and desire to meet them is ever growing. They are still possible, but there is much more to do and technology has an absolutely critical role to help us achieve that.
If you could invest in one clean technology through to 2027 what would it be and why?
Battery storage technology. Because I think we have seen some fantastic performances, particularly in the UK over the last few months’ from wind and solar, but when we start to combine technologies like solar with batteries, that’s when I think we are really going to have a bit of a game-changer.
Are you more or less optimistic about the future today than you were 10 years ago?
I am more optimistic, because business and consumers generally weren’t even talking about these issues 10 years ago. We haven’t done the action we need to do yet, but it’s at least on the table now
This interview is one of more than 20 which make up a report, Secrets of the Pioneers: Delivering a Decade of Green Growth, published on 9th November at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit.
We have already featured several other interviews with leaders from the sector, including Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer, and climate scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh. These interviews and many others are available on the blog.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of both BusinessGreen and Greenhouse PR, the specialist communications agency which supports businesses, entrepreneurs and campaigners working to create a green economy.
At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering new standards of sustainability across multiple sectors. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, we’re always on the look-out for new opportunities to reach our clients’ target audiences. If you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, we’d love to hear from you.