Obstacles to overcome when activating your sustainability strategy

Start making progress toward your sustainability goals

Whether you’re looking to achieve net zero carbon emissions over the next decade or create a work environment that better supports the health and wellness of your employees, if you’re serious about your sustainability goals, you’ll need a strategy and an action plan to make and measure progress. But all too often, organisations aren’t ready to activate their sustainability strategy, leading to unexpected delays that impact progress.  

Be prepared: Read on to learn six of the most common barriers corporate real estate (CRE) leaders face trying to activate their sustainability strategy—and tips on how to avoid them. 

Disengaged executive leadership 

Historically, executive leaderships have sometimes hesitated to invest in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) initiatives because of the common misconception that they come at the expense of financial performance. But we’re now seeing leadership become more engaged—especially over the last year—at least in part because the business case for sustainability has never been stronger: Not only have sustainability programmes become more affordable but also their benefits have been documented well, showing how companies that concentrate efforts on material sustainability issues outperform their peers. There’s even growing consensus that sustainable spaces pay off financially. 

To begin making progress on your sustainability goals, you need a champion—a high-ranking executive whose business goals align with the sustainability initiatives you’re looking to accomplish. Schedule a strategic discussion with senior leadership to determine what initiatives will make progress towards your goals and provide a return on investment (ROI). For instance, an energy audit incorporates data and financial calculations that can help you quickly identify and prioritise high-ROI opportunities, such as updating outdated equipment. This can help you make a stronger business case that gets senior leadership on board.  

A Dubai-based global real estate and retail company Majid Al Futtaim, worked with JLL to transform its business leaders into sustainability leaders, resulting in a commitment by executive leadership to become net positive for carbon and water in its operations by 2030 and for developments by 2040. These ambitious commitments were a first in their region, demonstrating Majid Al Futtaim’s leadership in this space. We were then able to help them raise awareness of going net positive, deliver training on a new data management platform we provided, set energy and water efficiency targets across every site to start lowering carbon emissions and water use, develop action plans to drive transformative changes, and raise awareness of the company’s approach to driving change.  

Investments not prioritised appropriately

Although there are many low-cost ways to make progress with a sustainability programme, it takes significant investment to execute projects and actions that truly move the needle to deliver huge ROIs. Unfortunately, these projects often are deprioritised due to tight budgets and the perception that other organisational needs have greater urgency. To plan for these longer-term investments, work with senior leadership to establish a business case with operating and capital plans, engaging them as early as possible and clearly articulating how each project supports your enterprise’s sustainability vision, commitments and culture. You’ll also want to define the short- and long-term costs and benefits of each opportunity, as well as prioritise initiatives based on their ROI. Whether you’re looking to implement an on-site renewable energy programme or replace an inefficient HVAC system, you’ll have a much easier time rallying stakeholders and getting the funds you need by making a thorough business case.

JLL recently piloted an energy program for a large healthcare company to help identify and demonstrate the benefits of a portfolio-wide sustainability programme. After identifying and performing energy audits on four campus buildings, we identified 20-plus energy conservation opportunities—calculated to reduce energy consumption by more than 18% per year—for capital investment. By providing estimates for project costs, annual energy cost savings, and ROI figures, the client was able to build a business case and demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of energy and sustainability initiatives.

Misalignment between sustainability strategy and current business objectives

Many organisations have numerous sustainability initiatives planned, but they lack a strategy to prioritise and coordinate those activities, making it impossible to know if these activities are moving the needle. And even those organisations that do have a strategy in place often don’t realise it needs updating due to changing business objectives and internal and external pressures. For example, you’ve been targeting a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over five years. But over that time period, your CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) score dropped from a C to a D-. This requires updating your strategy to focus on the actions needed to boost your score. 

Make sure your strategy aligns with your business objectives to ensure clear KPIs between them, and revisit that strategy every time your organisation updates its business objectives. It’s recommended that you review your strategy every year and publish a new set of sustainability goals every four or five years.

No timelines

Even having a strategy in place with targeted action items, it’s difficult to make meaningful progress without knowing the amount of time it takes to accomplish each task. Every organisation must build both incremental and overall timelines for each action item to track and report progress along the way, assigning the appropriate amount of lead time by working backwards from each deadline. 

Changing a building automation system’s sequence of operations will require less lead time than a more capital-intensive programme such as an on-site renewable energy programme, which will have more moving pieces and require more signoffs. If you’re having difficulty establishing timelines, consider working with a partner; organisations often rely on outside experts to set their timelines.

No stakeholder accountability

You’ve identified your sustainability goals and the initiatives to help you accomplish them. You’ve also identified everyone who will be involved in the process. But without accountability measures, people have no incentive to complete tasks, which slows progress. This is where a responsibility assignment (RACI) matrix, tied to your sustainability goals, can be impactful. A RACI matrix identifies the roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders involved in a project, identifying who is responsible, who is accountable, who needs to be consulted and who needs to be informed along the way. If your organisation’s goal is to reduce 20% water consumption by 2025, you might assign the following:

  • Responsible: Operations lead
  • Accountable: Head of real estate
  • Consulted: An external consultant
  • Informed: Your sustainability committee

Establishing a RACI matrix ties all responsible stakeholders to your strategic plan by implementing specific KPIs to help them meet their goals.

Lack of measurement protocols

You can't manage what you're not measuring. Before you can set and start making progress on your sustainability targets, you must create a baseline to determine the gaps between where you and your peers are, as well as how you align with sustainability frameworks—and then compare those results against those of your peers and the latest best-in-class sustainability standards.

Consider measuring things such as monthly utility bill expenses, energy usage, equipment efficiency, water consumption, recycled waste vs. landfill waste, carbon emissions and more. And have a robust, automated system in place to pull reports and analyse data frequently. A knowledgeable partner can ensure your carbon footprint is measured correctly from the start, saving you headaches later.

Launch your sustainability efforts today

With a little preparation, you can safeguard against common missteps when activating your sustainability strategy—and start making measurable, meaningful progress on your goals. Visit our website to learn more about how to turn your sustainability ambitions into action.