For goodness sake

What is the broader purpose of a property company? We heard from a panel of experts championing a new way of doing business which benefits people, the planet and profit.

Is corporate social responsibility a prerequisite of leadership? Lynette Mayne, co-chair of the B Team Australasia, thinks so. “If you aspire to be a leader, then you have no choice” but to think about people and planet alongside profit, she said.

Property legend Greg Paramor AO noted that yesterday’s leadership – particularly around sustainability – is now “just what you do”, and that leaders must continue to strive for better and bolder.

While investments in energy and water efficiency delivered clear paybacks, Paramor said, actions to address social issues were harder to measure. It was up to each board and executive committee to “take a view” on how they would approach this, but “more shareholders are asking the question: what are you doing about the social side of your business?” Big sovereign wealth funds, in particular, “don’t just measure the dollar return,” he said. Instead, they were looking to balance the financial and human returns.

Bruce Harper, AVID Property Group’s general manager, worried about boards adopting “contested social issues” and “virtue signalling”, emphasising that actions must be more than “self-serving PR exercises”.

But Davina Rooney, CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia, was emphatic. Emerging research was demonstrating the value of social sustainability efforts. She pointed to “higher footfall in retail”, “greater referrals in retirement living” and “stickier tenants as examples”. The metrics that were once lacking are now emerging, she said.

“When you speak clearly in this space, change follows,” Rooney said.