Building London’s future sustainably

September 21, 2007

London is now at the forefront of worldwide economic change and its financial sector is booming and competing on a global stage. But at the same time, businesses need to respond successfully to environmental and social concerns for the City to continue to grow and succeed in the longer-term.

At the London Development Agency, we work to deliver Mayor Ken Livingstone’s vision for London to be a sustainable world city with strong, long-term economic growth, social inclusion and active environmental improvement. We share an agenda with the City of London, the financial hub whose Lord Mayor, John Stuttard, was recently in Brazil exploring ways to improve the role of markets in reducing carbon emissions and whose chairman of policy and resources, Michael Snyder, this spring launched the London Accord research project into climate-change economics.

Together our aim is to help businesses become sustainable, that is, to operate in an environmentally and socially responsible way, whilst delivering their core services or products. As well as bringing benefits to the community and environment around them, companies that understand their links with the communities they operate in and their impact on the environment are most likely to prosper in the long-term. This is as true for the City-based firms as it is for those in wider London.

There is also now clear consumer demand for responsible corporate behaviour. A recent Mori poll showed continued public appetite for companies to consider how what they do affects society and the environment. The overwhelming majority (93%) said companies should be responsible for improving the social impacts of their products and services. Some 83% said that a company’s social responsibility was an important consideration when buying a product or service.

The London Development Agency has a business engagement programme designed to generate wealth and economic impact by influencing London’s strategically and economically important businesses, as well as by intervening to address areas of market failure, to encourage entrepreneurship, develop a skilled workforce and ensure social cohesion.

We think that business can influence around 7 agenda items that would lead to the position of a sustainable business:

  • Places of employment
  • Workforce and supplier diversity
  • Community engagement
  • Employee recruitment and development
  • Employee health and welfare
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Marketing/positioning in London

The Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards on October 10, of which I am a judge, celebrate excellence in corporate community involvement and are a direct benchmark of a business’ community engagement. These awards reward and encourage the innovative work of companies and public offices in social and economic regeneration of their local communities across the whole of London. The awards are given to businesses and public offices who have achieved excellence in corporate community involvement in any one of the following six areas:

  • Education
  • Economic Regeneration
  • Community and Social Inclusion
  • Heart of the City
  • Lord Mayor’s Award
  • Volunteer of the Year

As well as expecting businesses to contribute to social regeneration, consumers are demanding that they act on reducing the negative impact they have on the environment. The Mori poll found that 44% (34% in 2001) of people wanted the environment to be a priority focus for companies. In addition, a survey conducted in 2004 (Climate Change A corporate impact survey 2004, New Economics Foundation) found that Britain’s largest listed companies were concerned about climate change and its impacts on their business – 100% of companies thought that global warming was a major or significant problem and 93% thought that climate change would increase their costs. The survey also found that many businesses were unprepared for the potential effects of climate change, with 37% of companies not considering environmental risk factors such as extreme weather and flooding when choosing business locations.

At the London Development Agency, we are already doing many things to help businesses tackle climate change. We are leading on the delivery of a zero carbon development in the Thames Gateway – the regeneration project from Tower Bridge to Thurrock and Bexley. This will demonstrate the commercial feasibility of zero carbon developments and influence other developments to be zero or low carbon. We have set up the London Environmental Support Services, which will act as a first stop shop for businesses with enquiries about environmental issues and help raise awareness of the financial benefits of resource efficiency and waste minimisation.

We are currently in the process of setting up our Green Organisations programme, which is a major new investment aimed at supporting and incentivising businesses to introduce changes that will make a difference in tackling climate change. Through our Green Organisations programme, business engagement programme and our Diversity Works for London programme we will work with businesses to help them become socially and environmentally responsible.

Mary Reilly is Chair of the London Development Agency.