An Interview with Adrian Penfold, Head of Planning and Corporate Responsibility, British Land
Adrian Penfold joined British Land in 1996, following his time in local government and at the London Docklands Development Corporation. As Head of Planning and Corporate Responsibility at British land, Adrian has dealt with a number of major mixed use development projects in central London, including the award winning Regent’s Place in Camden, York House in Westminster and in the City, the Leadenhall Building (“the Cheesegrater”). He was a member of the Barker Review of Land Use Planning Panel of Experts and led the independent Penfold Review of Non-Planning Consents which reported in July 2010. He is also responsible for Public Affairs at British Land.
1. AccountAbility: What’s the biggest challenge you face in your role as CR leader at British Land?
Adrian Penfold: Engaging with others, particularly with our own employees, to ensure that they are consistently aware that corporate responsibility is part of how we do business. Externally, it’s working with our wider stakeholder groups to understand what interests them. And even more challenging, what are the things that they’re going to be interested in two, three, or four years down the road.
2. AA: How do you embed CR into people’s daily work experiences so it is viewed as part of the organizational DNA, and not, glorified philanthropy?
AP: You have to go through the broader exercise of thinking about what is it that’s important to the business. What are we trying to achieve as a business? What are our values, in terms of the way in which we’re going to behave towards each other and towards the rest of the world? It can’t just be something that flies in occasionally from the side when we produce a corporate responsibility report, or we have our awards ceremony, or we do a bit of training or whatever. It needs to be part of the corporate culture.
Making it part of your culture comes about through leadership and communication. Two-way communication. For example, we have a green suggestion box which we introduced about a year ago. It’s fascinating, the stuff that comes through that, and quite a test. Because if you have a suggestion box, and people keep coming up with suggestions and nothing gets done, then you’re sending out a pretty clear message to people. If you do take those suggestions seriously, then you’re also sending out a clear message.
We’re also focusing more on the staff appraisal process. As our appraisal systems become more sophisticated, we’re able to introduce more consideration of sustainability into the overall process.
Training is important too. We do a fair bit of CR training to make sure there is a level of awareness that everybody has. But we need to do it in a more structured way in terms of people’s particular needs for the jobs that they do.
3. AA: Have you had any success moving the needle on your employees’ understanding of what CR is, how it affects the business, and why it’s important from where it was a few years ago?
AP: We did an employee survey earlier this year and the results were very positive. But that was the first time we’d actually done a company-wide employee survey so we had nothing to measure it against.
What we do have, though, is evidence over the last few years from the Sunday Times Green Business Awards. This year British Land went from 51st place to 22nd. Part of that score is based on an employee survey, which is specifically about people’s attitudes to corporate responsibility and its importance for the business. And there, we could see a clear shift.
Of course, there are always going to be people who are quite cynical, and who are very much bottom line people. If you can’t show me the immediate payback, then I’m not interested. Don’t tell me all this stuff about brand and reputation. But that would not be the consensus view here anymore.
4. AA: How else do you measure the success of the CR operation?
AP: We have a series of KPIs that we report on quarterly and then annually to our board. But what catches people’s attention is how we do on the broader benchmarking surveys and the awards we win.
Everybody likes winning awards, from the Chairman through to the kitchen staff and the porters. People want to feel proud of where they work. And external recognition can really help make people see the importance of what we’re doing in CR.
Let me emphasize. This is not about ticking all the boxes on whichever survey it is that you’re dealing with that week. Our target is to be the best at the things that we think are important and that our stakeholders think are important. If we are the best in those sorts of areas, then the awards will come.
5. AA: What’s the business value of winning an award?
AP: Of course, it’s very difficult to quantify, but I think it helps people feel good about doing business with British Land. The people we do business with tend to be big financial institutions, law firms, professional companies, major retailers. And CR really matters to them.
With government, it’s very helpful because we need all sorts of permits from local government. If we’re going before a local council for a permit, we can say, look, at Regent’s Place, where we won the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Sustainable Community Award. This external validation gives us an advantage.
We’re also finding that more and more new business proposals are specifically asking companies to explain what they’re doing in the CR space. And when we can report, “Well, we’ve won this award, we’re ranked highly here, we’ve reduced our energy consumption,” it’s clearly one of the things that companies are looking at when they’re awarding contracts.
Even if companies aren’t asking for it, we’ll put it in a proposal. It goes back to what I said earlier about embedding it in the day-to-day business of British Land. The guys who are preparing the pitches are not guys who are working on corporate responsibility every day. But they’re coming to me and saying, “All right, what can we say about this? What can we say about that?” They know that it’s important.
6. AA: What is the biggest CR issue for your clients?
AP: Energy management. When you get into discussions with tenants, particularly our big office occupiers, the energy bill is very important to them. We spend a lot of time working with them on reducing those bills. Often, they will have their own corporate responsibility strategies around climate change, and energy management is a key part of that.
7. AA: Are you doing anything differently in the CR space than your competitors?
AP: The area that people might be surprised by would be our focus on biodiversity. By and large, we’re not people who develop greenfield sites. Most of our development is in very urban, previously developed sites. So this is not about mitigating risk and concern about negative impacts and how you deal with them. It’s much more of an opportunity to do some really positive things and be proud of them.
Our Beyond the Hive project got such an extraordinary response. When we looked at our Website traffic, this is where everybody was going. Everybody wanted to know about the Beyond the Hive project. People were very interested in it. It got a lot of press coverage. Our peers, other companies, were asking us about it. Our customers were asking us about it. So, it seemed like a really good area to focus on.
8. AA: How does the “greening” of roof tops fit in?
AP: It’s fascinating, actually. The whole roof story could be the subject of a thesis, I think. There is a huge competition for the use of roofs these days. Historically, roofs have tended to be places you stuck cleaning equipment and chiller plant. But increasingly, they have all sorts of other functions. They can be locations for solar. They can be locations for attractive planting which is visible from the outside. They can also be the location for wildlife, for wildlife habitat.
We’ve also found that it’s attractive to our customers to have greenery on the roofs, so we actually find we get a better rent when we’ve got attractive planting.
9. AA: What do you think about integrated reporting? Is this something whose time has come?
AP: I certainly understand the view that if you have CR entirely integrated into the way you do business, you don’t need a separate report. I can see the logic of that. However, we’re not convinced that it’s the right way forward at the moment. Having only one report which has everything in it, and where corporate responsibility is embedded throughout the report, would not be attractive to a lot of the people who presently read our CR report. They wouldn’t want that. As a practical matter, we need a report that we can give to a community group, to a council, to an NGO that summarizes how we deal with these particular issues as a separate report. On the other hand we do work hard to ensure our Annual Report is as integrated as possible. So for us it’s not an either/or choice. You can do both.
10. AA: What do you see as the next emerging issue in CR?
AP: Climate change is not going away as an issue. But I think in a way, that’s overwhelmed the social issues. The riots in the UK have crystallized things a bit. People can see that there are real social problems. You can partly solve the immediate problem by locking lots of people up. But in the longer term, that’s not an answer.
We live in a very centralized country here in the UK. Over the years local government has been stripped of many of its powers and so local infrastructure is not very strong. But now we have a coalition government that’s come in with a commitment to localism — empowering local people and making local government strong again.
Companies like British Land are ideally positioned to be a force for achieving the kind of “Big Society” the government is championing. A lot of the development we’re doing, a lot of the sites we own, are hard up against socially and economically deprived areas. That contrast is potentially a source of huge tension. But also, potentially, a source of advantage for us, for our tenants and for local people in terms of job creation and community redevelopment.
We have experience working with communities on issues like youth unemployment, housing, and environmental issues. Also, because of our business model, we tend to invest and develop for the longer term. And that longer-term perspective gives us an opportunity to have a lasting impact in the communities in which we operate.
The Community Charter initiative we launched earlier this year sets forth British Land’s ten commitments to local communities. It recognizes the importance of local governments and the responsibility we have to be good neighbors – to listen, to respond, to keep our promises. That’s the way we can build trust and make a difference.
Read more CR Leader interviews here.