New build homes? Developers are ticking eco boxes left, right and centre, thanks to the National Planning Policy Framework, stipulating everything from bat boxes to biodiverse roofs. Rental properties? The requirement to meet ever-tightening MEES gives most landlords a new level of smugness. Even resale buyers are flexing their eco muscles by evaluating EPCs prior to purchase. House builders, landlords and home movers have somewhat of sustainable social gathering going on, so where does this leave agents?
At home you’re probably tinkering with your smart energy meter, recycling household waste and following meat-free Mondays but are you guilty of leaving your eco conscious at the branch door?
Time to take action
Agents need to join the green party and take sustainability seriously, because everyone else is. The Government’s carbon pledge is a story that’s hard to shift from the headlines. We’re on a path to become carbon net zero by 2050, starting with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 per cent by the end of the decade.
US President Joe Biden has followed suit, announcing an intention to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions by around 41-44 per cent within the next decade. Even blue chip behemoths, such as Amazon, are pumping out TV adverts hailing their switch to electric vehicles.
Declarations like these are pricking the social conscience of the masses, not just the ‘woke’, and property has the potential to make a real difference. The Negotiator is supporting agents in their own sustainability drives, starting with inspiring stories and easy-to-follow advice.
Sustainability – where to start
The good news is you’ve probably contributed already without realising it, as lockdown has kick-started green habits that can be maintained. Activities such as virtual viewings, home working and video calls all reduce travel and emissions, while apps and cloud computing create more digital and less physical paper trails.
Nurturing green shoots
So is printing fewer documents enough? It’s a great start and actions like this are on the agenda of the biggest agents. As a global agency, you would think Hamptons would favour grand sustainable gestures but you’d be wrong. Its working party – formed by a group of employees all passionate about the environment – sends regular in-house newsletters with suggestions as simple as switching off computers at the end of the day and not using plastic liners in wastepaper bins.
The working party’s efforts are gathered under its ‘Project Planet’ banner, with Head of Sales, Mary Beeton, one of Hamptons’ eco champions. “Our mantra is ‘start small, aim big’,” says Mary. “You don’t have to change the world tomorrow but you can make a difference just by being mindful. Agents must realise that small but regular sustainable choices have very potent cumulative power.”
Agents have the opportunity to speak to thousands of movers about sustainability at crucial milestones, such as swapping energy suppliers when they get to their new property. Mary Beeton, Head of Sales, Hamptons.
Project Planet has also seen Hamptons become a Refill partner, whereby members of the public can drop into a branch to refill a water bottle, while employees are encouraged to take part in beach cleans and litter picks – initiatives that are free to join and promote the feel-good factor.
Taking clients on your carbon journey
It’s worth underlining that becoming carbon neutral – or improving your sustainable efforts – is not a corporate tick-box exercise. It’s a cultural mind shift that we, as individuals, as an industry, as a country and as a planet need to adopt forever.
Agents can play a crucial role in changing that wider mindset by encouraging clients to adopt more eco-friendly practices. “Agents have the opportunity to speak to thousands of movers about sustainability at crucial milestones, such as swapping energy suppliers when they get to their new property,” says Mary. “The existing utility switching message is focused on saving money but agents can highlight how changing can be more eco-friendly too.”
Create a plan…and follow it
Chestertons has taken up the educational baton with enthusiasm, and reaching out to its clients is step three of its environmental impact plan. Step one was to improve its own business and step two was to improve the habits of its staff. Achieving both steps has resulted in Chestertons being certified as a net zero carbon company that now offsets twice as many carbon emissions as it produces.
“Influencing our clients is step three,” says Giles Milner, Chestertons’ Marketing Director. “We released our first ‘Green Initiatives’ video on Earth Day 2021 and are about to launch a special ‘Green Guide’ created by an environmental journalist.”
We released our first ‘Green Initiatives’ video on Earth Day 2021 and are about to launch a special ‘Green Guide’ created by an environmental journalist. Giles Milner, Marketing Director, Chestertons.
Lessons for landlords
Landlords especially are going to need some eco love in the coming years, particularly as EPC evaluations become harder to pass. Investing is energy efficient features and profitable yields do not always go hand-in-hand, however, but here is where agents can educate.
“We know landlords want to keep costs down,” says Michael Cook, National Lettings Managing Director at the Leaders Romans Group – an agent that itself has set the target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. “That said, many landlords are higher or additional-rate taxpayers and eco refurbishment costs are tax-deductible. They should see sustainable improvements as an investment that results in capital appreciation, as well as reducing their tax burden.”
Many landlords are higher or additional-rate taxpayers and eco refurbishment costs are tax-deductible. They should see sustainable improvements as an investment. Michael Cook, Leaders Romans.
Michael also feels that by providing more green properties, landlords can improve their rental income. “It is increasingly likely that tenants will pick a rental or stay for longer if eco-efforts result in cheaper utility bills, especially if the tenant feels their choice is having a positive environmental impact. Put simply, eco-friendly rentals can reduce voids, improve yields and enhance capital appreciation.”
Finding your eco partner
Mary says that’ll you’ll often hear another mantra at Hamptons: ‘save time, save money, save the planet’ and we know the ‘save time’ element will ring bells with agents. Whether you’re a two-branch, resource-short agent in a small Devon town or the owner of a 30-branch franchise, you may be questioning where you’ll find the time to go green Fear not; external agencies can be employed to evaluate, educate and undertake carbon offsetting on your behalf. For instance, Chestertons employed a specialist to calculate its carbon footprint, identify major contributors, provide advice and actually offset its C02 emissions.
Simple in-house actions, such as switching to 100 per cent renewable energy supplies across its network, is complemented by serious offsetting activity that’s taken care of by the experts.
SMALL CHANGES, BIG COLLECTIVE IMPACT
- Always choose recycled printer paper and send your own wastepaper for recycling
- Don’t laminate brochures or any other printed marketing collateral
- If you supply paper coffee cups, buy ones made of recycled materials
- Opt for un-laminated ‘to let’ and ‘for sale’ signs made from recycled materials
- Turn electrical appliances off at the end of the day instead of using standby mode
- Buy Fair Trade tea, coffee and sugar for the office kitchen
- Ban single-use plastic from the office and encourage staff to drink tap water
- Promote the use of the Blue Patch sustainable business directory
- Walk or cycle to properties, where possible
Digging deep but not getting your hands dirty
Agent Newton Fallowell has chosen to partner with Epic 3 – a community interest company dedicated to fighting climate change – to share the sustainable load and develop its Branching Out initiative. In 2020, it planted 5,000 trees and it has committed to planting a further 6,000 in 2021 – that’s a sapling planted by Epic 3 every time a ‘Sold’ board is erected – and not one business suit was muddied in the process.
If you are fortunate enough to have a department able to work on your ‘going green’ campaign, fantastic… there are [also] good companies that can help you succeed in sustainability. David Spackman MD, Newton Fallowell.
Newton Fallowell’s partnership illustrates how agents with big intentions but modest resources can outsource offsetting. “If you are fortunate enough to have a department able to work on your ‘going green’ campaign, fantastic,” comments David Spackman, Managing Director of Newton Fallowell, “but for many businesses, this will be a rare privilege. Thankfully, there are good companies that can help you succeed when it comes to sustainability.”
Making your moves green
Just Move In is pioneering another initiative. This home set-up and certified B Corporation company (more on that later), is working with agents to drive home the sustainability message in the run up to completion. Hamptons has already signed up to its free service, (which includes council tax set up, Royal Mail redirection, arranging storage, and sourcing the best TV and broadband deals), because of its sustainable offering.
“Customers looked after by Just Move In have the option of transferring onto a 100 per cent renewable energy plan and they will also get a carbon-absorbing mangrove tree planted in their name,” says Ross Nichols, co-founder of the company.
Customers have the option of transferring onto a 100 per cent renewable energy plan and they will also get a carbon -absorbing mangrove tree planted in their name. Ross Nichols Co-Founder, Just Move In.
There’s also an incentive for agents in the shape of referral fees, which they can choose to bank or, in the case of Hamptons, re-invest in sustainable activities. “We’re delighted that Hamptons has chosen to donate its 2021/22 referral fees to the Marine Conservation Society – a charity that was voted for by its staff.”
As highlighted above, staff buy-in creates a sense of eco ownership and Chestertons is treading a similar path to get the workplace engaged. “We involve staff in as many of our eco processes as possible,” says Giles. “The company voted for how they wanted to offset our carbon emissions; they chose water filter distribution in Cambodia, tree planting in the UK and protection of the Amazon rainforest.”
If you need extra convincing to go green, try and see the issue from another angle. “Agents should prepare themselves for movers actively asking about their sustainability credentials,” says Tani Dulay, the Chief Executive of the Woodbourne Group – a property investor and developer behind plans for the world’s first mixed-use, net zero carbon development in Birmingham.
Agents should prepare for movers actively asking about their sustainability credentials… wanting to know about the agent’s attitude to the environment, alongside fees. Tani Dulay, CEO Woodbourne Group.
“People will be walking into branches wanting to know about the agent’s attitude to the environment, alongside fees.” Although Tani stops short of saying a poor eco record will lose an agent business, he does think agents with robust approaches will prosper as more of us choose businesses who can demonstrate sustainable practices.
Recycle your sign boards
One highly visible way of demonstrating commitment to sustainability is by using recyclable sign boards. Kremer Signs is the largest producer of boards in the country – a million a year – and as such has a significant role to play. Sales & Marketing Manager Tom Cummuskey says, “After years of development work with our key material suppliers, we now have a tried and tested fluted board that is not only made from recycled plastic, but a board that after many uses can be returned to us for recycling. As of 2021 all of our customers will be switched to this eco-friendly correx as standard.” ‘Eco Boards’ is Kremer’s new recyclable sign board brand.
Kremer Signs is the largest producer of boards in the country – a million a year – and as such has a significant role to play.
ELECTRIC FLEETS: PLUG IN AND PLAY
Branded cars have long provided mobile marketing for agents but journeys that can’t be made on foot or public transport should, ideally, be made in electric vehicles. The Government’s 2030 deadline on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars is already providing the push some agents need.
Belvoir Sales & Lettings in Wolverhampton is one such agent, with the franchise working with Evans Halshaw to adopt an exclusively electric fleet. The swap is helping lower costs and reduce the environmental impact, as Kim Costello, Chief Marketing Officer for Pendragon, owners of Evans Halshaw, explains: “Many agents we work with make frequent, short journeys, which in traditional petrol and diesel vehicles can make a big impact on fuel economy.”
“The Energy Saving Trust state that, on a cost per mile basis, a fully electric car could cost you a quarter or less of what a traditional petrol or diesel car might, meaning there are significant savings Kim Costello ready to be unlocked.”
Agents can trade in older petrol and diesel vehicles, as well as access a number of Government grants and tax incentives – which cover the installation of charging points as well as the vehicles themselves – to make the switch simpler and financially attractive.
Is it gauche to market yourself as green?
Agents may worry about appearing disingenuous if they use something good for financial gain but drawing attention to green activity isn’t an overt money grab. “Why wouldn’t an agency want to promote how it offsets carbon emissions or why it has switched to 100 per cent renewable electricity?”, says Ross.
He believes new business will come naturally as a result. “If there are two agencies, both offering a similar service and fee, but only one is carbon neutral, the client is going to pick the carbon neutral agent due to people becoming more environmentally conscious.”
Just as movers may choose an agent whose sustainability stacks up most favourably, Tani adds that agent themselves can choose their business partners more carefully. “Our Group’s underlying strategy is focused on long-term, sustainable growth. For us, choosing to solely work with those who share our net zero carbon ambitions is fundamental and this action is transferrable to the agency sector.”
Agents Together’s revamped website is setting out to make sustainable choices effortless. “We want to educate and help agents – especially small chains and independents who may feel overwhelmed – make sustainable selections by bringing resources and ideas together in one place,” comments Sarah Edmundson, Agents Together’s CEO.
“Our new, free directory of recommended industry suppliers will exclusively feature companies with excellent sustainability credentials. Agents can easily align themselves with likeminded sources and go on to promote the positives of these new partnerships to their wider audience.”
Attention! The B-Corp is here
Choosing a B Corporation company as a partner is another passive way for agents to change their eco behaviour, as businesses with B Corporation status already meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance. Again, an agent can promote its use of B-Corporation partners to embolden its own sustainability pledge.
Ambitions agents can go one step further and choose to become a B Corporation business themselves, gaining the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance in the process. Both options send the right signals to staff, stakeholders and customers, so they’re worth exploring.
You’re fired… candidates calling the shots
Agents Together has made sustainability one of its three key pillars, alongside mental health awareness, and diversity and inclusion. The matter of environmental impact has moved up its agenda, with the acknowledgement that sustainability is crucial for not only attracting new customers but also for attracting new professional talent.
“We are highlighting the business, as well as the environmental, gains agents can enjoy by improving their sustainability levels,” adds Sarah. “Younger generations expect their employers to be responsible, so sustainable growth needs to be built into an agent’s culture and published publicly. The reality is candidates are increasingly seeking out a future employer’s attitude to sustainability and basing whether to apply for a job or not on the quality of the pledge.”
Giles shares the same view when it comes to recruitment: “There is no doubt that the people entering today’s workforce are looking beyond any financial package. They often want to work for a company that has strong values and ethics and supports the things they care about.”
Whether you’re stirred into action by Sir David Attenborough, a Netflix documentary or this very article, start your carbon neutral journey today.
FREE GREEN WEBINAR
Join us for the first industry summit on at 12 noon on May 12th –
Agents For Sustainability: How To Unlock Positive Change, hosted by Gabby Logan.
To register for this FREE webinar, just click here.