Saul Humphrey's B Corp journey

As Chair of the Institute of Directors in Norfolk and as the Managing Partner of my eponymously named, B Corp certified Construction Project Management Consultancy, I feel privileged to be able to support the latest IoD B Corp alignment.

Saul D Humphrey LLP was set up with the sole purpose to deliver more sustainable construction solutions. Too many businesses were continuing to offer old solutions to old problems without an appreciation of the net zero carbon agenda or the negative impacts of construction on the environment and biodiversity. The entire raison d’être for the creation of the practice was to shift the paradigm towards sustainable construction. Every development it leads, or consultancy it manages, has sustainability at its heart. Construction professionals have a choice: to continue being part of the problem or to become part of the solution.

Construction and the built environment are responsible for (an estimated) 40% of global carbon emissions, with 11% arising from construction projects themselves. In addition, the sector uses roughly half of the raw materials extracted and it creates around a third of the world’s overall waste. Hard infrastructure is also thought to be the second largest driver of man-made pressure on biodiversity. That said, more sustainable interventions are not only possible but imperative.

Interventions, such as committing clients to shift their development agenda towards more sustainable and net zero carbon buildings, helps them to achieve planning consent, obtain funding/support, and attract tenants/sales. It reduces whole life costs and raises asset values. The strategy of demanding sustainable development interventions complements the practice’s own agenda and facilitates successful, sustainable growth.

Decoupling growth from carbon emissions is critical to this mission. We live on a planet with finite resources and we are already transgressing too many planetary boundaries, risking feedback loops of unimaginable impact. The construction sector is critical to the environmental/social agenda.

Aligning sustainable interventions supports the wider business strategy: ‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (1987 Brundtland Report).

Construction is a vital sector that provides infrastructure, shelter, and economic opportunities for people all over the world. However, it also has significant social and environmental impacts that need to be balanced with ethical and professional standards.

The demand for raw materials continues to increase worldwide. Consumption of raw materials is set to nearly double by 2060. The construction industry is one of the largest producers of waste. Reusing materials reduces the consumption of raw materials and represents   part of the transition to a circular economy which is essential to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty on climate change, adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2021. Recognising the need to build less, and refurbish/retrofit more, is at the heart of this strategy. Balancing the compelling de-growth rhetoric with the aspirations of the sustainable development goals is complex.

Addressing the impact of every project, mapping and quantifying every measure against all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals will reduce negative impacts substantially and enable positive interventions to be implemented.

Such interventions do not need to be seen as a cost. Former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney’s book and his Reith Lecture on “Value(s)” predicted a correlation with premium sustainability and premium values.

In a 2013 report by the World Green Building Council making the ‘Business case for green building,’ it was found that certified green buildings have sale prices increased by up to approximately 30% compared to conventional code-compliant buildings.

According to the same report, BREEAM certification, the market-leading validation and certification system for the built environment, increases rental rates for buildings by up to 24.9% compared to conventional, code-compliant buildings. A 2014 DLA Piper report suggests that 38% of survey participants identified value preservation or increase as the prime benefit of sustainable real estate, followed by reputation (18%) and reduction of energy costs (15%). All SDH projects are targeting BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ or equivalent accolades.

Such buildings/developments are already becoming exemplars of best practice and will undoubtedly achieve premium values. The value(s) of such assets is fast becoming more and more appreciated by ESG conscious investors.

Aligning a businesses’ core purpose, its values and its strategy is important. For a business wanting to meet the highest standards of environmental and social performance, being accepted into the B Corp movement is perhaps the very highest accolade. The UK has the second largest B Corp community in the world. B Corp certification is seen as the gold standard of sustainability credentials, enabling companies to have a more positive impact on the planet and its people.

B Corp certification is unique because it measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. From supply chain and input materials to charitable giving and employee benefits, B Corp certification verifies that a business is meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

Achieving B Corp certification is a comprehensive and rigorous process and it takes time to get through the rigorous review process – but it is worth it. Gaining B Corp status independently demonstrates that a business is committed to making a positive change, treating people, communities and the environment respectfully, sustainably and ethically.

This month was the ninth month in succession that global temperatures have exceeded previous records. If we are to avoid the worst impacts of catastrophic climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, then we must adopt a more responsible and more sustainable approach to everything that we do.

Has there been a better time to shift the paradigm and focus only on sustainable business and sustainable developments? Whatever your sector, I’d advocate that every business should look at its core purpose, its values and ask what will tomorrow’s investors, customers, staff and stakeholders value most?

If you think strong ESG credentials, backed by a sustainable approach to business and the Net Zero agenda is important, then why not go the extra mile and seek B Corp accreditation – but only if you mean it. No ‘green wash,’ no false promises but genuine, authentic sustainable business. Embedding the values of sustainability, solidarity and responsibility into all decision-making is integral to all that we value most. We can channel the dynamism of the market to turn intractable problems to create enormous opportunities.

Aligning your IoD commitments with B Corp accreditation can create a better future for all.

Dr Saul Humphrey, Managing Partner of Saul D Humphrey LLP (certified B Corp),Professor of Sustainable Construction Management at Anglia Ruskin University and Chair of IoD Norfolk

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