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It makes business sense to understand sustainability

29 November 2017 – Over the past two years, Hammerson Plc has sent seven of its senior management team on The Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme, run by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Louise Ellison, Group Head of Sustainability, explains how the course helps its leaders understand and respond to current sustainability challenges, and stresses the importance for all senior teams to understand the implications of sustainability for their business.

In March 2017 Hammerson launched a commitment to be Net Positive (that is regenerative, not depletive) for carbon emissions, water, resource use and social impacts by 2030. This is a significant set of targets and includes direct and indirect carbon emissions generated by our business. Delivering on these targets will require real engagement with all of our stakeholders, but it starts with our own teams. Not just the sustainability team either. We can only achieve this scale of change if everyone across the business plays their part. Making this happen isn't easy and requires clear, strategic leadership from the very top of the business. And leadership is of course much more effective if it is based on a thorough understanding of why we have made the decision to set out on this journey in the first place. 

The Business & Sustainability Programme (BSP) has been an important executive education resource for building that understanding within the business. For senior managers outside the sustainability team it provides a rapid, thorough overview of the science and critical issues, placing them directly within the business context. 

Our senior management team take the necessary time out of busy diaries to attend the programme and get a really clear understanding of what climate change is, what sustainability is, and what the expected impacts are – environmentally, socially and economically. They get the opportunity to meet and work with people from other sectors to get different business perspectives and to really think through the implications these fundamental shifts have – for the economy and society, for our sector, and for Hammerson. This builds confidence that the agenda is a shared one, and that businesses from all sectors have an important role to play in responding to it. 

Attendees from Hammerson come back better informed and understanding the value a well thought through sustainability programme can bring for us as a business. They also have a stronger sense of what their part of the business can deliver.  Attendance on the programme started the collaboration that ultimately led to the Costa Eco Pod. It also helped to plant the ambition in one of our senior team to deliver the first carbon neutral retail park in the world – completed at the end of October 2017 and now open and trading. 

Often the biggest challenges to sustainability are process based – business as usual is a tough habit to break – particularly if you can't immediately see the consequences of not breaking it. So an intensive programme that highlights both the consequences and the potential business opportunities and solutions, is enormously valuable.

Hammerson has put multiple people through the programme including our Chief Executive, Chief Finance Officer, UK and France Development Directors, and Head of Shopping Centre Operations in both UK and France, and our Group Head of Sustainability. Sending different leaders within the business to the same programme is helpful in driving a sense of shared understanding and experience and again, builds knowledge and confidence. Comparing notes about the different sessions and delegates is something I really look forward to. I also still meet up with fellow delegates from completely different sectors who are often dealing with or have dealt with similar issues and can provide a fresh perspective on challenges.

As an advocate of BSP, I routinely recommend it to people inside and outside Hammerson. Senior teams really need to understand sustainability if a business is to respond effectively – and that means effectively for the business – not just for the environment. Business leaders who think they can't afford the time to develop their knowledge in this area may come to find that it was a really expensive mistake. 

The Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme is designed to equip senior executives with the inspiration, understanding and confidence to translate complex sustainability trends into strategic business decisions. Seminars are held in Cambridge, Cape Town, Melbourne and Zapallar, Chile.


About the author

Louise Ellison

Louise Ellison is Group Head of Sustainability at Hammerson plc.

Joining the company in September 2013, Louise is responsible for developing Hammerson’s Positive Places initiative and ensuring that its shopping centres and developments continue to meet challenging sustainability targets. Louise joined Hammerson from M&G, where she was responsible for overseeing the sustainability strategy across its real estate portfolio. Prior to this she held the Head of Sustainability position at Quintain Estates. After completing a postgraduate research degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Louise began her career as a lecturer, holding senior positions at University of East London, University of Portsmouth and Kingston University School of Surveying.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.