The rise of social purpose across the real estate sector

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Discover how leaders in the property industry are aiming to fix some of society’s big challenges and why more companies want to be a force for much greater social good.

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The rise of social purpose across the real estate sector

Business has long recognised that fundraising and volunteering can generate employee engagement, and can improve reputation with clients and prospective employees. But a significant change in emphasis is underway across the real estate sector.

Companies lead with purpose

Firstly, across all types of business, we are seeing an increase in explicit social purpose. In real estate one of the best examples comes from Legal & General with its intention to “help our customers achieve financial security while being economically and socially useful”. Meanwhile, the property industry’s charity LandAid has the same underlying desire for impact by setting its goal “to end youth homelessness by 2026”.

A volunteering renaissance

Secondly, volunteering and pro-bono programmes have been coming to the fore.  Behind this trend is a recognition that volunteering supports better engagement with diverse communities shaping our workforce, and with the communities whose lives real estate is shaping.  Getting out of the office to see social challenges through the eyes of a charity volunteer teaches new skills and perspectives.

There is also a financial driver at play. According to YouGov, employees actively engaged in community programmes are more satisfied in work, with 85% saying their perception of their company had improved and 71% citing volunteering programmes as key to improving personal wellbeing. This is backed up by JLL’s own experience: 73% of staff who responded to JLL UK’s feedback survey last year reported that volunteering had increased their pride in the company. This is surely why organisations such as Lend Lease and British Land target and achieve volunteering rates in excess of 80%.

As an another example, it is also why the Build the Ark project for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice in Barnet has received incredible support from construction and property firms, including JLL, through providing services either pro bono or at a discounted rate to help drive build costs down.

A closer look at what’s been achieved

Finally, we’re seeing more real estate companies assess their community investment, and considering how that money, staff time and in-kind contributions of space can be used to generate the best community outcomes. Each year, JLL UK contributes the equivalent of £700,000 of staff time and money to charities, in addition to the over £300,000 per year raised by staff through fundraising efforts. However, at JLL, we want to ensure this circa £1 million achieves the greatest community impact. This has led to us identifying four areas – housing & homelessness, urban regeneration, education & skills and access to the profession – where we are now focussing our efforts with organisations like Crisis and Enabling Enterprise in order to achieve the greatest social impact we can.

Linked to this, smart companies are catching on to the long-term economic gain of creating socially-useful developments that add to local economies and help transform areas around them. JLL’s Upstream Sustainability Services team has measured the socio-economic impacts of over a thousand property assets. The sheer scale indicates that we are at the tipping point whereby assessing – and improving – the socio-economic impact of an asset could become mainstream.

The future looks purposeful

Undeniably there are major societal challenges facing the UK. The industry has huge potential for social good if it sets its mind to and if it goes about its business with social purpose and dynamism. Leaders in the property industry are alive to this. From here, the future looks purposeful.

Article written by Sophie Walker, UK Head of Sustainability at JLL.

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