Economic sustainability is butting up against its environmental and social cousins in the post-pandemic landscape.
Six months ago, few bar a select group of evangelists would have predicted that so much typical office work could be achieved remotely. Yet here we all are. For sure, the jury remains out on the long-term consequences – but the sky hasn’t fallen in and the productivity boost has been a welcome surprise. But now come the tests. As furlough money ends, economic reality is about to hit viciously. We are already in a potentially catastrophic recession, but the broader Covid-19 impact on business cannot be delayed further.
Business leaders and politicians now warn that if we don’t return to our city centre offices, firms on those offices’ peripheries will go the wall. Clubs, cafés, coffee shops, key cutters, all gone. Business leaders may be just self-interested, but in different times these same politicians would be lionising the kind of innovative thinking that is seeing many firms considering a future in local hubs and remote teams, big city leases be damned.
What’s going to be really fascinating is seeing economic sustainability butting up against its environmental and social cousins. Because what now counts as ‘economically sustainable’? Mass commuting? Low pay? Older, less green ways of heating buildings? Therein lies the intrigue. The pandemic has seen economic convention dismissed in favour of some pretty effective state intervention, and sustainability in its other forms has benefited from government intervention in recent years. The UK’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 has started to change radically the corporate real estate market. Legislation has also been changing the social value landscape. Public and private sectors, investors, developers, operators, tenants – a pretty remarkable amount of collaboration has been going on, all with government legislation forcing fundamental shifts in what we can all expect of buildings in terms of their energy and wellbeing performance – with FMs a key part in delivering it.
Can environmental and social sustainability survive the economic buffeting? Throughout this pandemic, many have suggested that if we can change so much, so significantly in such short order, we can surely do similarly with other critical goals. That’s about to be tested, and tested hard.