21 July 2016

Judith Everett: Thinking big in a time of uncertainty

Judith Everett, Chief Operating Officer of real estate business The Crown Estate, reflects that in a time of uncertainty business has a strong story to tell in driving forward the sustainability agenda

That we are living in uncertain times has become a bit of mantra over the last few weeks. And while we continue to be in a period of political and economic flux, it would seem more important than ever that we in the business community take a step back from the daily speculation and reflect on the purpose of responsible businesses into the long term.

Whatever your opinion of the EU, the sustainability agenda is one of the areas it has had the most recognisable traction: from providing overarching legislation and renewables targets through to stimulating regeneration and investment in low carbon technologies. What our future legislative and investment framework looks like remains to be seen, but it has caused me to reflect that business has a strong story to tell in this vacuum.

In many ways, businesses are better motivated to think long-term and drive the sustainability agenda than their political counterparts. It’s not news to say that consumers – whether individuals or large multinationals – are increasingly looking for products and companies with responsible and ethical brand values that reflect their own. As a result, many businesses know that by demonstrating a sustainable approach they can deliver an advantage in a globally competitive market.

More fundamentally though, businesses are increasingly considering their actions beyond their day to day activities, considering their very purpose in the wider communities and markets in which they operate to secure their long term viability.

Take London for example, where we have around half the value of our real estate business across Regent Street and much of St James’s, and where we have been investing around £1.5bn to secure its position as a world class retail, office and leisure destination. At the same time, we know that London’s continued success brings challenges which could erode its pre-eminence as a world city, congestion and air quality being just one example.

For us, that has meant trying to be bolder and more ambitious in our thinking, working in partnerships to deliver solutions that would not be possible on our own. Seven years ago, no one thought that we could transform the congested crossing at Oxford Circus. We worked with Westminster City Council, TfL and others to make it something that worked for pedestrians and vehicles alike. That radical change was only possible by being determined to solve the problem in partnership with others.

Today, we’re going even further to reduce congestion and improve the West End experience for everyone, from working with retailers to consolidate the number of delivery vehicles through to bringing together landowners to cultivate over a hectare of new green space between St James’s Park and Regent’s Park.

As businesses with a long term interest in the continued success of the UK, we have to look through the uncertainty and think bigger about how we create value to achieve resilient and relevant businesses. Not least by demonstrating how our investments and activities are shaping the country and helping meet some of its most fundamental challenges.

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