Sustainability in property management has become a paramount concern in recent years, as individuals and organisations recognise the urgent need to address environmental challenges. Property managers play a crucial role in promoting sustainability by implementing eco-friendly practices. They prioritise energy efficiency by adopting renewable energy sources, implementing smart technology, and optimising resource consumption. Waste management strategies, such as recycling and composting, are integrated into daily operations. Additionally, property managers focus on creating sustainable communities by promoting green spaces, encouraging alternative transportation methods, and fostering a sense of environmental responsibility among residents. By prioritising sustainability, property managers contribute to a greener future, reduce operational costs, and enhance the overall value and desirability of their properties.
Corporate change isn't happening fast enough. I would say that's probably the main one. I've been here two years now and despite all the internal communications, programmes we do, despite dedicated pages and links of pages on the intranet, we have a definite hard core of interested people who are always involved and always try and do things. But two years in, it's still not that big a snowball because my colleagues want to manage properties. They don't-- this isn't a priority necessarily for them. They want to manage the budget so we keep residents happy, residents safe.
Hello and welcome to today's Rethink What Matters. The podcast dedicated to aligning the economy, with the ecology and everyone for improved business performance, stronger families, and a greener, cooler planet.
And today, I'm joined by Christian Phipps, Sustainability Manager at Emeria and we’re going to be talking about sustainability in Property Management.
Can we just start off, Christian, with getting a better understanding of your role as Sustainability Manager at Emeria and the scope of it.
Yeah. Sure. Absolutely.
I was recruited two years ago almost exactly to what was a company called FirstPort who have subsequently been purchased by Emeria in the last twelve months. So I've moved over to the above sites and the above group division into the Emeria role.
Initially, my role was to help with the rollout of ISO 14001 and to coordinate a lot of the carbon reporting. So that's the second report that the company was required to do for its third year due to its size and turnover.
In addition to that, there was a number of opportunities to do biodiversity projects around some of the developments that we managed that have interesting grounds and interesting locations.
So there was some good news is when other communications as well and cultural changes required across most industries and most organisations at the moment, it was the same for FirstPort, stroke Emeria.
So what's the scope? I mean, what's the size of the job that you've got there. How many properties and tenants?
Well, it's interesting. That's a movable target and movable number that's probably changed since we've started this conversation. But roughly speaking, we have a move of five thousand eight hundred developments we manage. It's roughly two hundred and fifty thousand tenants on those developments.
We are the largest in the UK. And across Europe as well now that Emeria have purchased FirstPort and the FirstPort group. So, yeah, it consists of considerable scope of operations.
It is. It is. And how big is your team?
You're talking to it. We're all here.
Just so can you give us an idea of how diverse those properties are?
Yeah. Absolutely. We have various different divisions. So we have a retirement division whereby we have a large number of pretty uniform sized buildings with forty to fifty units in each.
That's dotted around-- that's which we've catered for elder residents, they're not care homes, but some they do have for the most part live in managers.
We also have another end of the spectrum, a large and complex division, which manage top end high rises in major cities that can have things such as pools and gymnasiums in and all sorts of interesting district heating systems, etcetera.
And everything in between, really, we have some estates, but we also have a number of developments that have been built into listed buildings and around listed buildings. So put example, Royal Earlswood Park in Redhill is an old mental hospital. We have an old school for the deaf children in Scotland we look after in Edinburgh. So there's some quite diverse locations.
Right. Yeah. Absolutely. Fantastic. So really right across the UK.
Wow. Fantastic. And do you get to travel with this job? Do you need to go and visit these places?
I do travel to a degree. Obviously, the role itself doesn't encourage you to be on the road twenty-four seven. But yes, you do need to go around and visit. We do need to see people and to see the sort of size of people's issues and when we'd roll specific programmes and projects. I like to actually be there as well. So, yeah, there is some travel.
Right. Great. And so there's such a variety of properties there, and you can imagine, you know, a variety of challenges that face you on a on a day to day basis you know, Sustainability Manager for such a large enterprise. Can you give us a bit of a feel for what that role entails on a day to day basis?
Well, the underlying and fundamental feature of residential property management is that we don't physically own anything ourselves. So we don't own the offices that we use (or) utilise. We don't and neither (are the) developments.
So we're very much the middlemen. We work for clients, we work for land owners, and we work for the freeholders, and we're paid for by leaseholders, by the residents. So it's a fine balance of relationship management as well at the same time because they're not our properties, we can only have a certain level of influence as to items such as there's renewable installations and EV charge points installation, etcetera.
So we can assist, we can facilitate, but we can't go ahead and just do things because at the end of the day, it's not our money either. You know? It's the resident's money.
We manage service charge accounts on all our locations, and there are certain checks and balances that you do, you need to go through to suspend that money.
Heat pumps, you know, they're good, aren't they, for the tenants? But to the landlords, what do we invest?
The nature of regulations are that residents have a lot of protections in the UK. At least there was a lot of protections against potentially unscrupulous property management companies. So if you want to get anything installed quickly, if you want to get any kind of improvements in made, then you need to go down the set route of asking the residents formally and obtaining numerous quotes, etcetera. This is a process that can take some months. So you can't get everything done very particularly quickly.
Then as I said earlier, the ethics complication of the number of parties involved and the number of stakeholders involved. So all very well, for example, the residents deciding that they want something, but if that doesn't fit with the landlords or their particular plans, then it's very difficult to get things moving, and the sun goes the other way as well.
A good example is EV charge point installation. It's one issue around the UK that's publicly available. Charge points are not matching the amount of vehicles that are being sold. Right. So there's a gap there, but you think it would be straightforward that's you'd have residents, number of residents, perhaps in a multi-talented building that would want to own a electric car would need a charging facility for it.
Yep. And therefore you could quite easily just install two or three charge points, but it doesn't quite work like that certainly. There's, aside from you, the regulations around protection of the residents' moneys that I've already mentioned. There's other issues such as the existing power supply to the building whether or not if you install a charge point and you utilise it any available space on the distribution board, for example. If it's anything further, it'd be required down the line, then who pays for the additional energy to the site, for example?
Not only that. But there's also issues around - do you have shared car parking spaces? If you don't have shared car parking spaces, then you're asking residents to potentially pay for long pipe runs, cable runs, for example and also health and safety tied in with it as well. So it's a tricky thing to push through.
Well, what would you say drives your agenda each day, in the main? So I suppose there-- I mean, there's the operational side of things. Is your role into sustainability manager is that driven by operational problems, you know, day to day operational stuff or does it tend to be much more about building a more sustainable future?
Yeah. It's not so much operation. I do go down that particular rabbit hole from time to time. And you know, I was going to say, for example, at the moment is the government's energy bill discount scheme that's in the process of rolling out whereby heat network, heat suppliers of heat networks are some of our buildings which we do fall into that category are required to identify and notify the government of the location of these heat networks and district heating systems so that the residents can take advantage of reduced rate.
But there's quite a knowledge gap around where heat network is, where they actually are. So on an operation level, I'm spending time talking to the teams trying to locate all of those and trying to identify all of those. But on the other hand, I spend time doing communications, and I'm also doing a lot of updates around biodiversity net gain requirements that are coming down the line in November, which I'm going to affects us as a business.
Because, yeah, all our teams will be required to for the most part, manage the biodiversity in that game on new locations.
I was just going to say-- because it's new stuff, isn't it? I think that--
It is new stuff. It is. And at the same time, I'm involved in another around getting better visibility around the half early metre data and the electricity use that we have on our site so that we can identify anomalies and highs and lows and trying to reduce those as well as anything else that's coming along and holding to view because as I say, we've been purchased by a French company there. So we are subject to EU regulation as much as they are now, and they're required to report the same levels as they do. So to all the corporate sustainability reporting directive and its associated bits of legislation coming down the line and I'm going to directly affect us. So I need to make sure that everyone is aware that.
And how's your French?
(Laughs) I can get by on holiday.
I don't you know, when French companies buy, you know, when they acquire a company, they want you to speak French, I think.
Well, they have mentioned that. I'm more than happy to spend six months in the South of France.
Get some training in the south of France. I'm interested in what's driving your task list each day? Is it, you know, is it projects that you've got to implement because of various environmental legislation that's coming down the line or what is that picture for you today?
It's a combination of the both, I would say. We have ISO 14001 certification. And we also-- I chair and run the internal ESG committee from the organisation. And as part of that, we have a sub policy around the environment, which I look after as well. And just this week, we had a meeting and we identified a number of gaps around how corporately we dispose of waste. It's not just our offices with bins outside for example, on the occasional clear out, it's all about individual locations and specific one-off events and record keeping and where it's all of this meant to be based, who's looking after it, who's reporting it, etcetera.
So we've identified a specific project there, which we will be scoping out and spending some time on and then communicating. Because a lot of the city earlier, a lot of this is about communications and maintaining a constant stream of updates to my colleagues. It's predominantly, to start with, around such things like that. I constantly am spending time gathering data for carbon accounting purposes, for example, and which is quite onerous, if I'm honest, it's difficult getting such items as internal mileage usage and travel corporate travel details as well as we have a number of a number of office locations and we've acquired some businesses recently whereby one of the key factors for me is identifying energy usage, identifying what their conditioning it's to have on-site whether or not there's any fugitive gases from the minor gas leak.
So they're to gathering their usage of pool cars, their purchasing of cleaning equipment and material. So it's not particularly complex, but it is extremely high volume amount of information that takes a lot of time to gather.
Yeah. So you do look at scopes one, two, and three?
Predominantly one and two in the moment, but we have been doing three as well because we don't actually own our own fleet of vehicles, for example. And all the staff use their own cars and claim mileage. They forward to us as scope three as they're rightfully. So right, we have that. We're also looking at-- we've been collecting data for all that cloud usage from our cloud supplies.
This year, as well as some wastewater data we've managed to locate from a couple of our locations. And another item such as our IT procurement, furniture procurement with all our direct FM, bits and bolts that we buy.
But we have also started to assess the top twenty by-spend suppliers to use calculation around where we think the best place is to target our-- to directly get in, engage with them and to speak to our biggest suppliers around what their plans are, how they're controlling or planning to control their carbon. We're doing that. We're trying to start. So Yeah. But again, that that is it's quite a daunting task. We have thousands of suppliers.
What's the reaction of your suppliers when you say to them, what are your carbon emissions? What are your carbon reduction strategies?
Some are perplexed. Some will send me an environmental policy statement, which you could have got ChatGPT to write. They're pretty similar. They say a lot and they don't necessarily mean anything.
I think it's more about showing. I think today, it's particularly just about showing intent rather than actual action, isn't it? And we're almost just happy with that, I think.
But, yeah, the larger they are, the more susceptible they are-- more receptive they are, sorry, to the question because they're being asked by other people as well.
And you, you've got people asking you, I guess.
Exactly. Yes. We've started to see requirements for various sustainability standards to some of the tenants that we apply for.
Two hundred and fifty thousand tenants – how do they fit into this picture?
That's a very good question. Obviously, depending on who you talk to, the built environment accounts for between ten and twenty percent of the UK's carbon emissions.
And we have, I think it's been quite widely publicised recently, we have quite the spread of buildings and quite requirements for upgrades and for just basic insulation. So some of the things we are doing is trying to target where people feel, you know, where people with fuel poverty potentially or cost of living crisis might affect them more directly than others. So sometimes in the retirement areas that we've got buildings whereby we're having them thermally scanned to make sure that they actually have correct amounts of what-- and functional amounts of-- it's just basic, such as insulation to start with. Again, because of the requirements that are coming in regarding rental properties and DPC standards. And the fact that the government's new ECO4 scheme is also quite heavily tied in VPC levels.
When you have a multi tenanted building, particularly this one that's physically connected as a block of flat star, you can have you can have a multitude of different VPC values in the same building, which doesn't seem to make much sense. But if you think about it, you've got different levels. You've got different external wall coat types, locations. You've got two bit in flats, one bit in flats, so look at different levels. So you can't take a blanket approach to one building and get everyone to enjoy the same free scheme, for example. So it's helping to assist and facilitate introductions as well because, as I say, this government schemes-- the last thing you want is someone turning on saying, this is a free government scheme because no one believes that. It's strange. First and foremost, have to you have to maintain trust as well. So you can to establish that some of these things are real. So helping them out is where we fit in with them at the moment.
So what would you say, if you're allowed to say, what was your biggest frustration, your biggest challenge, or, you know, the thing that you wish if you could wave a magic wand, something would get fixed.
That's a good question.
Corporate change isn't happening fast enough. I would say that's probably the main one. I've been here two years now and despite all the internal communications, programmes we do, despite dedicated pages and links of pages on the intranet, we have a definite hard core of interested people who are always involved and always try and do things.
And as you can see, this could be more down to the fact that, you know, maybe I'm personally a little bit too impatient to get things moving. I mean, I know a lot of failures.
Giant snowballs start with as tiny snowballs. And once you get momentum going, things get larger very quickly. Yeah. But two years in, it's still not that big a snowball.
So it's a question of going back and reassessing how we communicate again, reassessing what projects we get involved in just getting out there because my colleagues want to manage properties. They don't-- this isn't a priority necessarily for them. They want to manage the budget so we keep residents happy, residents safe.
Yeah. Yeah. You have to create this sustainability mindset within Emeria then by the sounds of it.
I mean, since we've been bought by Emeria, we've-- I mean, that every business has silos, but the group companies have split off into separate entities. So it's an additional challenge trying to keep hold of-- in touch with all the different developments and different buildings and different businesses now that we've become—
And is there a lot of competition in the property management industry? You know, in terms of green credentials? Is it something which landlords are looking at?
Less those in my experience direct residential property management at the moment. I do have regular calls with our business development team, and they do come to me regularly with specific questions that they've had pop up. They said they would like or require an answer to, but we're talking one or two questions in that a massive tender. So it's starting, but there's no tsunami of them at the moment.
We do need to-- I mean, I'm looking also myself to see that there's more conversation in business around sustainability and net zero. Net gain, as we would really like to Ideally. So that's our goal, net gain because net zero just keeps everything the way that it is. Right?
So I think too many people don't want to think how big a challenge it is. And how potentially wrong it’s all going to go if we're not careful.
Does food come into your remit at all?
Yeah. Anyway, what is the forthcoming rollouts of residents’ collections of segmented food based that everyone's going to have to do at some stage relatively soon. How would you do that in a block of flats for starters?
It's because a lot of these blocks of flats have got two waste chutes, one for general waste and one for recycling. You can just imagine what would happen if you start pouring food down one or an equivalent one. It's going to create all kinds of issues around smell and pests.
There's more and more coming online all the time. I know the government are keen that they become a pivot, well a base, of four of their net zero targets of 2050. And we manage somewhere in the region of a hundred at the moment. And I say manage, we are the heat supplier means that we arranged the billing. We arranged the compliance to the heat metring and billing regulations.
And we run the power rooms. So, yeah, it's our responsibility to maintain boilers and make sure that the plant’s efficient so that we're not wasting energy. There's a lot of challenges that are coming down the line, for example, decarbonising tall buildings.
I mean, we just touched on them and how they're supplied by heat networks at the moment. But how are you-- these are the most point, these are gas bonds. So at some stage, we're going to need rethink that. So what do you do? Do you upscale massively large amounts of air source heat pumps? Is there a ground source heat pump opportunity there? There's, obviously, every individual location is going to have its own challenges, location wise, space wise, etcetera.
You can't-- you've got a tall multistory building. You can't put enough solar panels on the roof to provide enough energy because it's just the footprint of the building isn't big enough.
So there's legislation that's coming that's going to ban gas boilers.
And it's certainly going to be a challenge for the industry, yes. I think there will be developments on a legislative front before then because it's going to be very difficult otherwise.
So what about green roofs and living walls and rain gardens?
The green roofs that we look after, we-- the term we maintain and they do need maintenance, and they tend to be bequeathed to us rather than required by us and they tend to become part of planning process whereby they are added on as a green sort of addition to help the planning process come more smoothly.
And it's not just green roofs. That happens with all sorts of things like certain pounds as well. But we do look after a few of those and they are very good, and it will become more and more important as the temperature starts to rise to prevent heat islands and to naturally cool some of our urban spaces. And as I said earlier, we do have a number of developments that are a little bit different to the norm and they do come with large areas of open green land and the water courses, etcetera.
And a number of projects going with local of nature conservation bodies and volunteers to maintain areas and to help improve areas for residents and for wildlife. And also we have one particular development in Hazelmere, where we've partnered up with a local college in Guildford. And we let them utilise the grounds to facilitate their degree studies. And it’s a lovely mix. It's not massive, but it's got woodland, grassland. It's got a pond. And there's lots of interesting things going on there which is great because they get to study it.
They get to produce management plans, etcetera. And we can share that information with residents. We can share information with their colleagues as well and everyone benefits.
So bringing biodiversity, bringing green spaces into your developments and into your properties is a part of what you'd be thinking about as well.
Absolutely. Yes. And we have resources of examples of such little things, little projects happening across worldwide developments as well. We've got quite an influx of Urban beekeeping that seems to be breaking out at the moment, which is interesting.
Is not switching a part of what you're looking at as well? So whether that (is) internally within the buildings themselves or maybe smart switching to the grid when it's a windy day and it's actually quite green to use electricity from the grid?
Yeah. I mean, we procure gas and electricity for the common areas in several developments. So not for obviously the residents themselves, but the areas that that we look after. Not also for our offices that all comes via the land tours that we deal with.
For the second year running now we've procured green electricity tariffs and green gas tariffs as well. So it was important to us that we maintained that after we first achieved it last year.
It was also important that when we choose suppliers that the supplier will plough that particular funding straight back into renewables and to provide lots of other benefits and add ons that are above and beyond rather than just saying, here's your REGO, here's your renewal certificate.
And are landlords asking you to do their foot prints for them? The landlords need to submit a footprint for their properties.
Yeah. We're starting to see that. Whereas we haven't been directly asked for that yet, that is definitely an area that will be a lot more popular, I think, moving forward.
Are there one, two, or three things that we could suggest to other property managers to be thinking about?
I would definitely suggest to property managers to look to start calculating your carbon footprints if you're not doing it already. Secondly, get in touch. It will be great to share best practices and to share knowledge with each other. And thirdly again, share any good news stories you've got. Let’s all sort of talk about it together.
Christian, thank you very much for your time on this podcast. It's been really exciting, really interesting to hear the challenges that you've got there. I mean, it’s such a big job.
Thank you very much for inviting me, Paul. It's been a great pleasure.
If somebody wants to get a hold of you, Christian, what's the best way for somebody to reach you?
I would suggest contacting me via LinkedIn.
Alright, Christian. Once again, thanks very much.
Thank you all. Cheers!