Two worlds aligning: Why CX should be at the core of ESG strategies in real estate

The fifth annual RealService and GRESB partnership event, hosted by Canary Wharf Group, attracted a keen audience of over 120 property sector professionals looking to discover more about embedding customer experience at the core of ESG strategies in real estate.

With an agenda full of high-profile panellists and speakers from across the property industry, our attendees were treated to a morning of insight and inspiration on the aligning agendas of CX and ESG, with a special focus on the ‘S’.

In opening, Jane Hollinshead, Chief People Officer at Canary Wharf Group, took the opportunity to welcome everyone to the event, highlighting that One Canada Tower has already received 64 million visitors this year, and they are all seen as customers.

The event was full of transformational insight and innovative thought leadership. Keynote speaker Dan James, Development Director at the Eden Project, stressed the point that ESG starts with getting people engaged. The Eden Project, he explained, offers a ready-made activity for locals and tourists alike, which then provides an opportunity to discuss environment.

Speaking about the need to take action on climate change, James told the audience that real results require real investment – £25m has been invested in a geothermal project at Eden – which is now delivering enough heat that the project is now gas-free and delivering green renewable energy through geothermal.

But as well as its environmental developments, the Eden Project is also making strides in social value by connecting nature recovery and social recovery. The project has been working with GPs in Cornwall for 10 years, to tackle loneliness and depression in the community by creating walks, socially prescribed activities, and horticultural therapy on the Eden site for people suffering with their physical or mental health.

James eloquently described the importance of connecting biodiversity recovery and social recovery, he said: “Let’s be clear about the situation we’re in. We have a planetary emergency. We’ve all got a responsibility and accountability to put things right for future generations. This is our moment. We need to be brave. We can’t have business as usual. Nature has to be at the heart of our future economic recovery.”

The first panel session came next, with a lively set of opening provocations from Phin Harper, Chief Executive of Open City, which were used as a prompt for debate by the rest of the panel (see more on this below), which featured Liz Peace, advisor on property, politics and the built environment; Lorna-Rose Simpson, Co-Founder of New Public; and Graeme Marsh, Head of the McCarthy Stone Foundation.

Next was the Fireside Chat, hosted by our Justine Johnson, Associate Director, who welcomed Canary Wharf Group’s Sophie Goddard and Michelle Laramy to the stage, to describe how their respective roles as Directors of Sustainability and Customer Experience had evolved and aligned during their careers. They described a shift in how customers want to interact with providers, and the importance of sharing sustainability data becoming more significant to occupiers as well as investors.

“Our occupiers see sustainability as core to their values, so when they’re looking at where they want their office to be, sustainability is seriously up there – they’re saying; ‘this matters to us.’ So as part of the real estate industry, we need to try to deliver this for them, so that the buildings our occupiers are located within become a physical representation of their values.”

Sophie Goddard

Next to take to the podium was Sophie Hazeu, Senior Consultant and Project Manager at RealService, who discussed ESG as a service, and how the CX discipline can help rethink the approach to occupier engagement.

“At first sight, the two disciplines of ESG and CX would seem unlikely bedfellows. But they have far more in common than sets them apart. Both depend on deep customer understanding and the ability to turn insight into action using data and process.”

Sophie Hazeu

The traditional property industry mantra of “location, location, location” will soon be replaced, said Hazeu, by “location, ESG and customer experience” as the sweet spot of many office portfolios.

“And if in reality ESG and customer experience are driving rents and deals, then it makes sense for the two skills to work hand-in-hand,” Hazeu said.

All too soon it was time for the final panel (see more on this below). The Stakeholder Engagement Challenge: The Occupier and Investor Perspective, featured a high-profile line-up of industry experts: David O’Sullivan, Director of Workplace Services at GPE, Laura Noctor-King, Head of Sustainability – Engagement at Better Buildings Partnership, Alexander Steel, Member Relations Manager EMEA at GRESB, and Kirsty Draper, Head of Sustainability for UK Agency at JLL.

Thanks to everyone who came along to this enormously insightful day and shared their vision for a world where customer experience is at the core of ESG strategies.

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