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My sustainability journey: Richard Batten

18th May 2022

A 40-year real estate veteran, Richard Batten, chief sustainability officer at JLL, has moved from property transactions and advisory work to setting the sustainability agenda at one of the world’s largest professional services companies. As a family man with five children and more grandchildren, his concern for the environment is rooted in his concern for people.

How has the real estate industry’s approach to sustainability developed over your 40-year career?

I don’t think the real estate industry was even aware of the word sustainability when I started in 1982. In 2005, I think, King Sturge took on its first head of corporate social responsibility, focused very much on charity, community and gender equality, but the environmental side was growing until 2008 when the GFC put it on the back burner.

However, from around 2013, people began focusing on environmental sustainability again and the pandemic led to a massive acceleration of concern, which is interesting. Both the GFC and covid hit revenues, but the environmental response was totally different. I think covid reinforced the belief in science and in the predictions scientists have made about what will happen if we do not work to improve our environment.

What prompted the switch to your current role in 2017?

I saw that sustainability was something we weren’t addressing globally, and especially in the US. In my experience at JLL and more widely, I have found that if we can’t get the US on board, it’s not going to work anywhere. I saw one of my biggest roles was to make sure that we adapted a sustainability strategy for the US, because Europe was already leading. Now, with the new SEC reporting proposals, the US is poised to move ahead.

What major steps has JLL take in sustainability during your tenure?

The first step was to bring internal transparency to our efforts with clients, staff, the environment and the community, with measurement and targets. In 2018 we adopted an initial carbon emissions target under the Science Based Targets Initiative. That science-based progress demonstrated that our data wasn’t good enough! There was too much estimation. Many firms face this challenge, but we are working to make our carbon reporting as clean and detailed as our financial reporting. Since then I am proud that we were one of the earliest firms to move to a science-based net-zero target, to reduce emissions by 95% by 2040.

What is the biggest challenge you are negotiating today at JLL?

Reducing Scope 3 emissions is a huge challenge; they represent around 98% of JLL’s emissions, primarily through the buildings which we manage for our clients. Supply chain carbon is a big challenge for all companies. To make progress you need: a commitment, an action plan, and pathways to measure yourself so that every year you know how far you are along the path to net zero.

How has your sustainability policy evolved since the pandemic?

We carried out a materiality assessment in 2020 which showed that health and wellness, especially mental health, and diversity and inclusion, ranked in importance alongside the environmental piece. So we have relaunched our strategy this year to focus on climate action, healthy spaces and inclusive places.

What is the next big thing in real estate sustainability?

There are three things that are growing in importance. Embodied carbon and how to bring older buildings up to standard is going to be steadily more important because many are going to become obsolete. Around 70% of existing buildings will still exist in 2050, so we need to focus on them. Nature and biodiversity has not had the focus it ought to and we also need to consider impact – how do we measure the social impact of what we do? These are matters JLL will be examining this year.

What motivates you to keep working for change?

I didn’t have a ‘light bulb’ moment with sustainability, but my research and investigations brought home the enormity and urgency of the challenge we face. It became urgent for me because I have five children and grandchildren and the world they will inherit will not be a good place to live unless we act. We have not been good custodians of our planet. A person of my generation, were he or she to die today, would leave the planet in a far worse state than when they entered it. So, we have a personal obligation.

How much do you try to live sustainably?

I drive an electric vehicle and have installed an air source heat pump at home, replacing an oil-fired boiler. I have also stopped eating beef and lamb because of their environmental impact. Cows generate methane, by burping by the way, not farting! And sheep have a tremendous footprint, mainly due to their numbers. I try to be aware and make others aware.

Are you optimistic real estate will be doing substantially better on sustainability in five years?

Yes, we were behind the curve for a long time, but we are moving in the right direction because of the weight which is behind this drive to be more sustainable. We have shareholders who want this, clients who want this, banks who want this – JLL has a $2.75 billion sustainability-linked credit facility and our people want this. Two-thirds of JLL staff are millennials or younger so this is very important to them. If we want to attract and retain staff we need to do this.

Richard Batten biography

Batten started his real estate career with UK property adviser King Sturge in 1982. His early career focused on transactions, but he later moved into public and listed sector advisory work.

In 2005 he became joint senior partner of King Sturge and took the firm into a merger with JLL in 2011, becoming UK chairman. He became chief sustainability officer in 2017, leading the firm’s global ESG strategy. 

He is a keen triathlete, gardener and choral singer and is secretary of the HUGE Partnership, a charity which funds a 125-pupil primary school in Uganda.

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