Placing a value on social and environmental change

Placing a value on social and environmental change

We recently held the fourth event in our Perspectives series at which we explored the potential of a radical new, well-evidenced approach that can place a monetary value on social and environmental change. The event was hosted and delivered in partnership with Hilary Berg Consulting and RealWorth.

The discussion was led by Professor Erik Bichard and Phil Higham, who have together launched the RealWorth consultancy. Through an engaging and interactive presentation, they covered the identification of sustainable value in development and the definition of social value, before opening the debate up around how it was possible to measure social and environmental change.

A passionate debate then followed among the attendees who were drawn from a range of backgrounds including developers, investors, social housing, local authority, health and banking. While the discussion was varied and opinions were divergent at times, a number of key themes emerged throughout the evening.

While there appears to be support for a longer-term approach to measuring social and environmental change in principle, it is challenging to implement in reality. This is underpinned by a number of factors:

  • The current approach to development is often short-term, and doesn’t support a longer term focus on sustainability, which reduces the attractiveness of adopting its principles.
  • There is very little by way of legislation to encourage developers to adopt a longer term focus on sustainability, which reduces the attractiveness of adopting its principles.long-term mindset through policy or regulation.

However, there are signs of changes in the market:

  • There is an emerging segment of the developer market that is adopting an increasingly sustainability-led strategy and using it to build competitive advantage through brand purpose and reputation.
  • A growing number of investors from overseas are taking a long-term view on investments and therefore becoming more interested in sustainable return on investment. Afforded by the scale of their operations, this type of investor is comfortable to see the return of an investment far beyond the typical frame of their counterparts in the UK.
  • A growing shift is taking place among corporates from traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the dawn of the ‘social purpose’ era, which is supported by a Government agenda encouraging social mission. This expects the private sector to contribute and collaborate in solving some of society’s wicked problems.
  • The devolution agenda may help by breaking down traditional funding/budget silos – which could enable policy makers consider a more sustainable approach to supporting communities.
  • The RSA has recently published a model for inclusive economic growth, which strongly supports the idea of sustainable development. This is characterised by investment in social infrastructure being an integral driver for growth and where as many people as possible can contribute to and benefit from a new kind of growth.