Luke Simmons, managing director of housebuilder Cora, explains why the firm is putting climate before profit. He says it is now up to businesses, industries and individuals – waiting for Government to bring in legislation could mean leaving it too late.
The housebuilding industry must take a leading role in the fight against climate change – because if we wait for the Government to take action, it could be too late. That may sound drastic, but unfortunately the clock is ticking.
There has been a lot said about the climate emergency already, so I won’t go over the science here. But I think by now we know it is a crisis we must all face.
World leaders got together in November 2022 at COP27, making some strong statements about how important an issue it is, but real change will have to come from outside of politics. Businesses, industries and individuals need to push for a massive cultural and social change, new ways of working that take the environment into account.
In my experience, it makes very little difference who is in Government, and would need a dramatic change to combat both the lack of sustainable housing across the UK and climate change. If we wait for outside bodies, like the Government, to tell us what to do and bring in legislation – it will be too late. Essentially, it is up to us.
That’s why Cora is transforming the way we work – to put sustainability at the heart of the company’s mindset. It’s not just a fresh new logo, but a new purpose and drive. We have developed new operating principles – our Sustainable Housing Framework – to embed sustainability, biodiversity and community engagement into all areas of our work. It is a completely new way of working, and one we are determined to deliver.
We can’t change the industry overnight, but we hope we can set an example to other companies in our sector.
As part of our new operating principles, we will be building homes with far less waste and carbon produced in manufacture. The homes we build and communities we create will be far more energy efficient too – far above and beyond current and future regulations. It is about planning for the future, creating homes, communities and environments that can flourish long into the future.
One of the biggest changes we have made is partnering with companies that help us deliver homes using offsite construction methods. Not only does this dramatically cut down on the energy we use to build our homes and reduce transport and logistics costs, the homes themselves are more airtight and energy efficient, keeping the heat in and reducing energy costs for those living there.
We also aim for new homes in the future to be fitted with photovoltaic panels on the roofs, tailored to each property to provide the maximum energy possible. We don’t just fix two panels on every roof, they are positioned carefully so to get the most sunlight. We have also started installing wastewater recovery systems onto new properties, recovering heat from hot showers so it can be reused to heat water rather than using additional energy.
Developers and housebuilders need to think about sustainability and climate change in everything they do – it must be at the forefront of every decision made.
Biodiversity is another priority, so Cora has partnered with consultants, experts specialising in biodiversity, to develop the planting around our sites. Planting is designed to provide as much biodiversity as possible to enhance the wildlife in the area – our planting is not just for aesthetics, but provides positive impact, encouraging more species of wildlife to make a home there too.
To boost this, every new Cora customer will get a choice of a wildlife box as a gift when they move in – a beehive box, a bird box or a butterfly box. This will encourage the communities we create to continue our quest for sustainability and biodiversity, each home adding to the rich array of wildlife we look to promote. We want to see a rich, vibrant diversity of wildlife thrive on the communities we create long after we leave.
This new strategy is not just a top-down, everybody who works with the company will be asked to participate. And these new operating principles don’t stop with us – we will expect our contractors and suppliers to join us in our mission.
We have our targets and are talking to our contractors to ensure they work in a sustainable way too. It will be a team effort, working together to achieve our ambitions. Because it’s new, it’s likely there will be times where it goes wrong. But whenever you are making, building (or cooking!) something, the first time you do it always takes a little longer.
For example, your first go at a particular dish always takes a long time as you slowly go step by step through the recipe – but the next time, and the time after that, you will whip it up in minutes. It’s a learning curve.
This may also mean sacrificing some profit to reinvest in green efficiencies, but that is something we are prepared to do. We understand our new way of working will cost more money, so the temptation will be for us to revert back because it is cheaper. But that isn’t as important as taking these steps forward.
Housebuilding, like a lot of other businesses, can become all about maximising profits. That becomes a measure of that company’s success – how much profit they make. It is often the first question people ask about a company, but it is not the be all and end all. Profits are important, we need to make a profit to survive, but I don’t think it should be the measure of a company and it is not our main driver.
Our driver is the excellent quality of the product we produce and our service, but also our operating principles. The more you delve into the subject of climate change, the more you realise it’s a massive ocean and that what most companies are doing is just a drop in that ocean.
But it has to start somewhere, and I believe the construction and housebuilding sectors are where we can see the most benefit in the least amount of time.
The industry is a polluter, and does contribute to the climate emergency. We must be clear about that – but it doesn’t need to be this way.
Through collaboration and new ways of working, the sector can be on the front line in the battle, making real positive change and showing other industries how to operate in a sustainable way. It is a gauntlet I hope other companies take on, and one we are excited to embark on. Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do.
Luke Simmons is managing director of Cora Homes