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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): An Architect's Blueprint for Sustainable Real Estate

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the real estate sector is like the architect's blueprint for a sustainable building, providing the framework and guidelines to construct an environmentally, socially, and economically viable structure.

I. CSR, a Lever for More Sustainable Real Estate

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a voluntary approach that each company can initiate and maintain, in compliance with the seven pillars of the ISO 26000 standard, namely: the environment, labor relations and working conditions, fair practices, consumer issues, human rights, organizational governance, and community and local development. In the real estate sector, CSR is a lever for greater sustainability, as it guides companies towards more environmentally friendly, economically and socially responsible practices.

The environmental impact of the real estate sector is significant. Globally, the real estate sector is responsible for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, of which 70% come from the operation of buildings. In addition, 30% of the waste produced also comes from this sector. Faced with these figures, the adoption of CSR by companies is not only a necessity, but also an opportunity to innovate and renew themselves. By encouraging the use of sustainable materials, waste reduction, optimization of building energy efficiency, CSR is a lever pushing each company to minimize environmental impact and increase the resilience of their real estate assets.

II. Incorporating CSR for the Sustainable Design and Operation of Buildings

The implemented CSR policy is therefore a lever for a more sustainable operation of buildings, but also for their design. Several tools can then be used by companies for different purposes.

Different labels and certifications of tertiary buildings can be obtained to attest to different building performances. Generalist labels, like BREEAM and its variations, cover both environmental, societal, and economic aspects in the design and operation phases. More specific labels also exist: on the environmental side, one can think of LEED and EDGE labels. On the societal side, WELL and Fitwell labels will ensure the comfort and health of occupants, while attesting to good governance and responsible management within the company.

Also, the financial dimension of buildings can push companies to invest in greener assets. Today, there is a range of labels touching the sustainable finance sector and pushing companies to invest responsibly: one can think in France of ISR (socially responsible investment) labels or even Greenfin. This dimension has taken on even more importance with the adoption of the European Taxonomy, a classification of assets based on their sustainability, touching the real estate sector by targeting both the built heritage and real estate investment funds. Finally, it is not without recalling that a label or certification will add immaterial value to a real estate asset and one can then advance that these allow it to act as a link between the physical and financial dimensions of buildings.

CSR, by promoting the adoption of good practices improving the sustainability of tertiary buildings but also by pushing companies to invest responsibly, is then a very interesting lever in favor of the sustainability of the real estate sector.

III. The Challenges of Integrating CSR for Companies

Despite the many benefits of CSR, its integration into the real estate sector is not without challenges. First, CSR is not a regulatory tool. Companies are free to choose how and to what extent they integrate CSR into their operations. This can lead to a wide variety of practices, some companies strongly committing to sustainability, while others may be content to meet the minimum legal requirements.

Another challenge is the cost and complexity of implementing sustainable construction and operation practices. Indeed, the use of environmentally friendly construction materials or the installation of renewable energy systems may require significant initial investments that can discourage smaller companies. In addition, sustainable resource management during the operation of buildings may require specific technical skills and knowledge, which can also lead to additional costs.

Finally, there is a risk of "greenwashing", i.e., some companies may use CSR as a marketing tool without truly committing to sustainable practices. According to Novethic, greenwashing is a marketing method consisting of communicating to the public using the ecological argument, the aim being to give oneself an eco-responsible image, quite far from reality. This practice can deceive consumers and investors and harm the credibility of genuine sustainability initiatives. A survey conducted in 2022 for Mouvement Impact France has indeed shown that "75% of French people express mistrust towards committed companies and estimate at 42% that it is 'most often a superficial commitment', with actions 'that are not costly and do not last over time'."

In conclusion, CSR can be a powerful lever for the design and operation of sustainable buildings in the real estate sector. However, its integration presents challenges and requires real and authentic commitment from companies.

Are you planning to label one or more commercial buildings and need some support? Contact us today to find the right solutions for your needs!

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