20 Mar 2020

This year's Scottish Property Federation (SPF) Conference focused on the theme – "building sustainable and inclusive growth". Achieving a carbon neutral economy is the stated aim for the Scottish Government and stakeholders in the real estate sector are quickly following suit. At Womble Bond Dickinson this is an important issue for us and is reflected in our company policy and targets - just last year we achieved a 20% reduction in our carbon emissions across all our offices in the UK and our goal is to keep reducing year on year.

Keynote speaker for the event was newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes MSP. She spoke diligently on the need for more collaboration from the public and private sector to make Scotland a more inclusive and sustainable economy. The Cabinet Secretary noted the need for accountability on the Scottish Government by applying metrics to measure the population's access to green space, employment opportunities on the living wage, clean air and the gender pay gap. Kate was well received and was forgiven for rushing off after questions as she was preparing for her first budget speech later in the week!

Following on from the Cabinet Secretary we heard from the Chief Executives of the British Property Federation (BPF) and Scottish Power. Keith Anderson of Scottish Power gave an enthralling summary of the state of renewable energy in Scotland and the ambitious target for the country to be carbon neutral by 2045. The Scottish Power CEO made it clear that in order to reach this target much more work needs to be done to decarbonise heat, transport, electricity and agriculture. On housing specifically, Keith commented that houses being built today will not help to achieve the net zero target. As a result retrofitting housing will be needed which is very costly and is difficult to raise funding for. As the property industry moves towards the carbon neutral economy by 2045 it needs to start doing things differently and find more competent and cohesive responses to "green challenges".

All speakers recognised the role of public authorities and the significance of real incentives and bold and innovative steps (not just regulations). In relation to funding, the speakers agreed that while the green energy is funded by tariffs on our bills there is a big gap when it comes to funding the property industry. It was accepted that the national and local governments and the property industry must work together to close that gap and provide answers. The public funding was acknowledged as vital to the economy and the delivery of green targets. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes MSP was greatly in favour of collaboration between the public and private sectors.

The conference also underlined the importance of social sustainability. The property industry needs to shift public perception of what it does. It needs to encourage proper and meaningful engagement of local communities and let them be a bigger part of conversations on what may happen around them in the future. The industry needs to educate and inform the communities but it also needs to listen to what they say and offer. We need to understand how to work with communities towards common goals as opposed to working with them in conflict.

All in all it was terrific day out for the real estate sector in Scotland with stakeholders across the board attending the event. It is clear more needs to be done to make Scotland a more inclusive and sustainable society, but with the right collaboration between the public and private sector, our ambitions will be realised. We all need to something, however small, to embed the change we want within our culture. We are in a period of uncertainty to get to carbon zero but it is within our reach. We need to do things a bit differently but with positive attitudes the "green challenges" will become "green opportunities".