We shouldn’t just be talking about E, S or G

We should also be talking about the letter P… psychology is the secret weapon

5 minutes with … Rowan Packer, Equity Partner & Executive, Director of Sustainability and Energy at MAPP

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into real estate

I’ve been on a sustainability journey for around 22 years now. I’m from South Africa, from humble beginnings, where I developed a lot of grit to get where I am.

In 2000, I came to the UK and started work as a receptionist/security person at Sainsbury’s HQ. With the help of some fantastic mentors, I joined their energy team back when the sustainability agenda was practically non-existent. Then, we saved carbon because it was the right thing to do, and it also saved money.

Around 2005, sustainability was ‘born’ into the mainstream. People were asking, ‘Who does this?’ so I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ and started my own journey into the impact of climate change. I then worked at CBRE and Pfizer, when sustainability was 90% energy-related, but we were starting to seriously look at the links between business and science.

As a result, I spent many years trying to convince seniors and companies that climate change is real and they should take it seriously from both a risk or opportunity perspective – even with the presentation of the polar bear on melting ice! My background really helped me understand the science and fall in love with the sustainability challenge.

As sustainability took off, I worked at Landsec for a few years and then became head of sustainability for CLS Holdings across Europe. There, I expanded my understanding of social value, biodiversity, and the world of carbon reporting, governance and climate risk.

Today, I’m operating across the spectrum of sustainability and ESG with MAPP. I work with an amazing team of 20+ specialists that provide services to clients, from global entities to start-ups.

In my sustainability career, I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to a wide variety of challenges and have been able to learn and grow.

What’s your current role? What do you do in practical terms for your clients?

Put simply, we help companies with their sustainability journey both at the individual and corporate levels.

Some clients seek essential services like core data collection/advice, while others ask us to shape their approach, share knowledge and start them on their journey. My forte is assessing where companies genuinely are, regardless of where many may think or say they are.

Companies fall on a spectrum. On one end, I have to challenge perceptions to guide them toward a more balanced perspective. On the other, I help organisations appreciate or embed any missing pieces to the triple bottom line — profit, people, and planet. We guide clients through this shift and help them move forward.

We also protect our clients from risky industry behaviours. One of the biggest risks is from the ESG industry itself. We help clients separate fact from fiction, avoid greenwashing, and achieve actual positive outcomes that they can both understand and feel proud of.

I’m not afraid to challenge our industry. My advice: prioritise working with people who know how to save a tonne of carbon in the real world while appreciating the dynamism sustainability and ESG create in businesses.

What’s at the top of your in-tray today?

Today is about helping people and businesses on their journeys, from start-ups to mature global


Top of my agenda is making those two comparable and equally authentic. We all face the ever-growing challenge of climate change and all its risks and opportunities. Encouraging everyone to be transparent, impactful and authentic and have some fun is my main goal; sometimes, this means getting clients to reconsider strategies, while other times it means helping others who are afraid to start.

With start-ups, I generally say, “Don’t embark with flashy claims. Start with solid data and a love for analysing it.” With mature clients, I typically say: “Have an existing data foundation, and then we guide them through “talking the talk” and “walking the walk”. This sometimes means hitting the pause button and getting back to a meaningful space, before starting again.

I have always focused on the foundations of clients’ goals and what works for them, not just what’s trending around them.

Our annual GRESB partner event is looked at the increasing alignment between the CX and ESG agendas, especially around the ‘S’. Is that a view that applies at MAPP?

Linking occupier experience to the soft side of sustainability is a no-brainer. Occupier engagement is important for sustainability, and it can be easily overlooked. We shouldn’t just be talking about E, S or G; we should also be talking about the letter P: psychology.

It’s positive psychology that occupier engagement is trying to unlock. It’s the feel of the building, the experience of that building and how responsive it feels to each person and the wider community. Sustainability is psychology in that sense.

For me, the crossroads between occupier engagement and sustainability is psychology, or what I have always called “behaviour change”. A great example of this in the UK is the campaign we all remember with the supermarkets when they removed single-use plastic bags. Many people were sceptical about this move, but it was backed by legislation and industry, resulting in an 80%+ reduction in the use of plastic bags and locking in a culture of having ‘bags-for-life’ in every car. This single act created long-term behaviour change, which is the key link for long-term success.

Have we all got wound up about the language, the terminology?

Terminology is important to me because when you get this wrong, you confuse people with the different words on their journey. It can be a massive roadblock to positive impact and progress.

One such example is the words ‘ESG’ and ‘Sustainability,’ which are two different worlds in many ways. ESG protects your business and your exposure to risk, while sustainability is the forward step or the opportunity around that risk. People often get these slightly confused and then struggle to measure the right impacts or progress, which leads to confusion or negative outcomes.

Therefore, ESG or sustainability is the mindset, the campaign, the roadmap with different goals. One looks backwards while the other looks forward, toward opportunity, fun and change.

People also struggle with areas like social value, which is not easily measurable like carbon. I was in real estate development for eight years. What happens regarding social value is that the developer will have a £100 million scheme, take eight years to build it, and hire a set amount of people based on social value-linked KPIs, which they then monetise into a social output measured against that KPI on paper.

The trouble is the same as with carbon offsets; data sources are unclear and no one really follows up on impact. Is that person still employed 36 to 60 months after the scheme opened its doors? If you don’t know, is that still social value or long-term impact?

The follow-up is a massive opportunity. This part of our industry is still young, so there’s lots of maturity to come, which is exciting.

Can we get to Net Zero without legislation?

Yes! In my opinion, the UK always reacts best when legislation says we must. However, UK legislation only has influence up to the UK boundary, and real estate is a global boundary industry.

Therefore, each country is different when it comes to Net Zero, even without the legislative perspective. For me, it actually depends on where the money (i.e. investment) comes from in the real estate world. A lot of money comes from different countries in a dynamic and blended way, such as Asian private equity, European banks, American bonds or Canadian pension funds. So as an example, if the money is mostly from a Canadian pension fund which has bought UK buildings, then what’s important is the mix between a Canadian legislation pathway and a UK pathway in a UK asset built with Canadian money.

Basically, a Rishi Sunak can’t derail it on his own, but if a Rishi Sunak and a Justin Trudeau all decide they don’t care about, say, net zero carbon targets in real estate, then that could derail things.

When Rishi Sunak rowed back on net zero commitments, which was a blow, simultaneously both the US and the EU enhanced their ambitions. Looking on in real estate we’re thinking, “Only one’s going backwards, two are going forwards, so we’re still game on.”

You can’t just do the right thing?

Well, yes and no. A business has to make a profit before it can do anything good. You can’t give someone a raise if you’re losing money; you can’t save the planet if you’re losing money.

Everyone outside business struggles with that concept, but if I can save a business from losing a pound first, I might have a pound to spend later on. I can turn 80p of that towards sustainability.

If a business is a pound down, how can I ask for 80p for responsible impact in a business setting? Standing with placards outside is less efficient than being inside, I have always found.

BUT….there’s a benefit to the placards – I need activists outside claiming the full pound so I can get the 80p. The Just Stop Oil strategy isn’t playing out, but it has allowed me to say, “They have a point; let’s have a conversation about it.”

Any final thoughts?

I work with a lot of industry groups and the key message is we have to reevaluate and re-emphasise authenticity. I don’t mean simply a few values on the front door. Is all this action, all these posters, actually saving a ton of carbon in the real world?

Also, don’t overlook the power of people – many industries have forgotten that. It was drilled into me in the early 2000s that behavioural change was the solution to long-term impact. If you look at sustainability today, behaviour change is rarely mentioned. It’s all about technical solutions, standards, certifications and five stars… none of which tackles the individual.

Authenticity and behaviours are the key pieces for all of us going forward. These are the areas we drive most strongly at MAPP, and I hope they resonate with our clients.

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