Collaborate for climate change

David Fuller-Watts, managing director at Mallcomm, explains what the climate crisis could be the catalyst that brings retail landlords and tenants closer together

The IPCC’s report released in August was a shocking reminder of the urgent action needed to address the climate crisis, and underlines the huge challenge facing the property sector with the built environment accounting for around 40 per cent of all UK carbon emissions.

The challenge is particularly acute in the retail property sector, with the development boom of the 1970s and 1980s meaning many of the UK’s 700 shopping centres are older buildings which are less energy efficient and do not achieve the highest environmental standards.

Over the coming years we will see a number of centres modernised and repositioned as mixed-use destinations and this is a huge opportunity to utilise more sustainable materials, reconfigure centres to run on renewable power introduce more green space and biodiversity to try and achieve net-zero retail places.

However, while building design is evolving rapidly there is still a need to develop best practice around how we track and manage the day-to-day performance of buildings over their life cycle.

Landlords cannot do this alone: if we are to reduce the carbon footprint of shopping centres there must be closer collaboration between landlords and tenants to understand how a building is being occupied and utilised and how this impacts energy consumption.

The good news is we are starting to see this happen. When we launched the Mallcomm tenant engagement platform in 2014 it was primarily used to drive efficiencies through day-to-day operations at shopping centres. Today, one of the primary use cases is to enable landlords to track environmental performance in real-time and gather data from tenants that can inform carbon mitigation strategies.

For example, by tracking and sharing data in real-time landlords can understand how a change in opening hours might impact energy usage; whether there is a need for more energy-efficient or intuitive lighting in common areas; how natural ventilation may reduce the burden on heating and cooling systems; and how much water is being used, and how much could be recycled.

The sharing of data is vital if we want to create more sustainable retail places – and make them more efficient and cost-effective for retailers to occupy. We also see it becoming a key factor in attracting shoppers.  Today’s conscientious consumer will choose to shop in places that reflect their own values on the environment, and indeed, may choose to shop in physical places rather than online if the environmental benefit is clear. Centres that operate efficiently and have strong sustainability credentials could have a significant advantage if they can tell that story in a compelling way.

As such, the climate crisis is an enormous challenge but also an opportunity for the retail property sector to grasp. It may be the catalyst that resets the landlord-tenant relationship and drives closer collaboration, which will benefit shopping centres in the long-term.

This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.

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