August 25, 2022
How important is it to influence and deliver systemic, positive environmental impact throughout the housebuilder sector and beyond into the financial markets?
“The Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda has never mattered more to the housebuilding industry. It’s a fundamental requirement of greener, ethical financial lending, as well as all other business dealings.
“Back in 2019, we took the decision as a Board of Directors to be a force for change and make sure Hayfield always leads by example. Our strategic thinking has enabled us to deliver zero carbon ready homes across our development portfolio, significantly bettering Building Regulations and the Future Homes Standard.”
Cynics would see some companies’ sustainability agendas as ‘green wash’. But do you sense, throughout the best parts of the industry, a real commitment to deliver and the need to collaborate and communicate?
“There is still an element of green washing within the industry. Companies such as us who are highly proactive are doing so because it’s good for business. Our customers want to buy and live in green homes, and we want to deliver the very best for them and the environment.
“Our supply chain is rising to the challenge and helping us to drive real change – ahead of the curve. Collaboration between developers and suppliers is vital to decarbonise the built environment and innovate at a fast pace.”
ESG and all that feeds off it is no longer simply an agenda item at board meetings; how does it flow through the whole organisation and embed in the business?
“In 2019, we established our internal Sustainability Committee, which is led at an Exec Board level. Our whole business is driven by our eight step ESG strategy and Sustainable Procurement Policy. It’s also part of our onboarding process for new employees and supply chain partners, while new innovations are communicated to all site and office-based staff.”
The industry appears somewhat overwhelmed by data requirements, regulations and the need to report and assess. Is there a sense that housebuilders and manufacturers are forced to spend too much time reporting and not enough time improving and innovating?
“At present, every Local Authority we are working with stipulates differing environmental requirements. Similarly, across the business, we deal with 15 governing bodies with contrasting standards. It is easy to see how the industry is overwhelmed by the varying requirements! As all new Hayfield homes are being built to a zero carbon ready specification, it enables us to deliver brand consistency, while exceeding environmental targets.
“By 2023, all PLCs have to report on their carbon emissions as a business. We are already doing this, as data capture and analysis enables us to innovate and improve.”
Is there a bit of ESG data gathering duplication in terms of what is required? Be it reporting carbon emissions, water usage, biodiversity targets etc?
“Local Authority Planning and Building Departments currently have separate standards, but in future the intention is for all environmental requirements to be governed by Building Regulations, which will help to irradicate the current duplication. In addition, we understand that the NPPF will be introducing national development management proposals to create much-needed clarity for housebuilders.
“There is a marked difference in the way ESG data is presented by various companies. For example, Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three groups or ‘scopes’ by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. ‘Scope 3’ - which includes supply chain purchasing - is outside an organisation’s control, resulting in ambiguity in quantifying and reporting.”
Are employees and job candidates testing the climate change commitment of companies, and similarly, investors? If a commitment to climate change, sustainability, ESG, biodiversity etc is not there, are you not relevant to either investors or employees?
“It’s clear that prospective employees are doing their research before applying for job vacancies. A proactive commitment to ESG is a significant factor in the war for talent that the housebuilding industry is currently facing. Companies that don’t commit to ambitious environmental goals are unlikely to be able to attract the best candidates.
“Our eight-step ESG approach is a fundamental part of the business reporting we share with our stakeholders and investors. Earlier this year we took the decision to deliver the Hayfield Grove development in Worcestershire as an EPC-A rated scheme, which has been very well received, as only 2% of UK homes are currently being constructed to this standard.”
Are candidates, at all levels, asking about ‘more than the money’ at interview?
“Our investment in placemaking, biodiversity enhancements, public realm, and wellbeing is frequently commended during the interview process. Similarly, these distinctive features are remarked on very favourably by the many Parish Councils and community organisations we work with too. It’s a key point of differentiation for the Hayfield brand and reinforces our commitment to investing in the environment.”
Can a housebuilder balance people, planet and profit?
“Yes, definitely. We have recently made a significant investment in MMC to reduce CO2 emissions. In turn, the resultant programme efficiencies are accelerating our build timeframes by several weeks. MMC can be viewed as an expensive alternative to traditional build methods, but it is delivering cost certainty, alleviating the risks of material and labour shortages, and is a key strand of our ESG strategy. The investment is good for the Hayfield business, and an illustration of how we are balancing people factors, the planet and profit.”
Do industry training platforms and opportunities for likes of apprentices and graduates need to be adapted and reformatted to educate on sustainable development, with that training perhaps offered and consumed in a more modern, dynamic way to appeal to young recruits, especially in the face of the skills shortage?
“Yes. First of all, the industry needs clear direction and effective support from Government. The chronic shortage of quality, eco-efficient housing is not a focus of the current political debate, which is both disappointing and yet another missed opportunity.
“A sustainable development training revolution should be led from a design and planning perspective. Having delivered many developments with exemplary public realm and biodiversity enhancements, we can see that there are instances where the biodiversity priorities of areas of wildflower meadows can be at odds with the social desires for the maximum amount of landscaped open space. We are currently instigating innovative ways to create SUDS balancing ponds that can be utilised as public open space when the land is dry.”
Is sustainable construction an opportunity not only to improve business culture and reputation, but also to promote the sector and its supply chain as a proactive, inspirational, challenging driver at the wheel of environmental change?
“The potential for innovation in sustainable construction is very exciting. Our own initial investment in MMC involves a panelised system utilising large aircrete blocks, which is being used at five Hayfield developments, while a trial of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) is underway at another scheme. This is just scratching the surface of what could be possible, without making any design compromises. The future is bright – for developers, homeowners and occupiers, and crucially planet Earth. “
Are we at a pivotal point in the industry, with the imperative to embrace a new way of doing business and the opportunity to shape housebuilding as a force for good?
“ESG has never been higher on the agenda, and if you look back only three years, the change in mindset across the industry is considerable. Housebuilding can absolutely be a force for good, and it is crucial that the sector is given political support to enable the appropriate number of homes to be built each year – both meeting demand and to support the growing economy.”
Is it not just about being a housebuilder, being a ‘good ancestor’ leaving the planet and our communities in a healthier, more sustainable place than we found it?
“Hayfield is wholeheartedly committed to being a good ancestor and delivering legacy homes to all our customers. While the majority of housebuilders are still instigating trial eco plots, we are delivering zero carbon ready homes across our portfolio.
“We are proactively installing air source heat pumps, underfloor heating, EV fast-charging points, 100% renewable energy, and fibre optic broadband into all new developments. The energy savings our homes are delivering is something we’re immensely proud of. The industry at large must now follow suit.”