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What does an ethical property developer look like?


Chris Brown, Executive Chair & Founder Igloo Regeneration




Only 2% of people would trust a property developer to behave honestly according to a YouGov poll. Not many industries would remain profitable in the face of such terrible reputational damage.


It could be so different. Property developers create the buildings, and places, that shape us. They (we, because I am one), have the power to do good. We can help build community, enhance health and wellbeing, protect the climate, reduce flooding, increase biodiversity and much more.


That we don't is an example of market failure. There is no money for the social good of enhancing health and wellbeing despite its value to society, and the reduced cost of running the NHS, that we could deliver. So there is a race to the bottom, and, as Grenfell teaches us, the bottom is a grim hell.


The current restructuring of the NHS around sub regional integrated care systems (ICSs) will give the NHS a statutory public health mandate this year. The ICSs will partner with local authorities, and then will be grasping for levers to influence population health and wellbeing improvements. Property developers are one such lever.


We know what needs doing. Determinants of health include exercise, proximity to green space, pollution (air and noise in particular), healthy homes and community, all of which can be influenced by developers.


In housebuilding, the widely used benchmark, Building for a Healthy Life, provides a simple checklist for doing this outside the building. There is a parallel tool for the interior of buildings although that hasn't seen the light of day yet.


Planning, transport and energy policy can also all play a part. Only policy, regulation or incentives, can correct market failure. The Holy Grail would be the health budget being used to invest profitably in improving public health.


As in the fight for climate, governments often need to see industry leadership before they act.


So it is fantastic to see that at least some developers take their impact on health and wellbeing seriously. British Land recognise the need to 'design for life'. Grosvenor are investing in measuring, and improving, wellbeing.


Igloo is the UK's first real estate profit for purpose BCorps. Our purpose is to deliver positive impact for people, place and planet.


Our igloo footprint process, our DNA, has a focus on people, and specifically on community and wellbeing. We see the keys to this as being able to measure community wellbeing and social capital at the beginning of a project, to understand, from the local community, what the most positively impactful things we can do to improve social capital and wellbeing, and then measure how impactful those activities have been and feed back success or failure to continuously improve our effectiveness in future projects.


It's not easy and we are only at the start of this journey despite two decades of learning and we are keen to be joined by the new wave of positive impact developers, like Stories, Town and Joseph Homes, to be able to learn more quickly from each other.


Together we might not be able to restore trust in the whole property development industry, but we might just build a core group of developers that can demonstrate to Government, and the public, the positive benefit of property development.



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