How the pandemic has pushed social impact up the agenda

The health crisis has helped push ESG issues to the fore, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s ESG – The new driver for CEE briefing, which was held online recently on the REALX.Global platform.

“The pandemic has made the transition easier, because it has opened minds to new ways of working and thinking about the impact we are having on the planet and on society,” said Monika Rajska-Wolinska, chief executive officer, CEE, Colliers. “The design of buildings is now human-centric.”

Monika Rajska-Wolinska.

The importance of the social impact aspect is increasingly being recognised, to the point that the European Union is trying to set up definitions and regulations.

“Social taxonomy is not finalised, but the attempt to focus on social activity and its impact is interesting,” said Michael Nauta, senior associate, CMS. “But it is a challenge to define what constitutes a positive impact on jobs and on society. Environmental criteria are based on science, but social issues are not so clear-cut.”

Regulation might be far off, but the growing importance of social impact is already leading to real practical changes in the real estate sector.

“The S in ESG is all about the wellbeing of people, so the focus has shifted to the people in the building rather than the building itself,” said Adrian Karczewicz, head of divestments CEE, Skanska Commercial Development Europe. “It has moved beyond certificates.”

Attention must be paid now to the quality of the light and of the air in a building, on services and amenities provided and on the safety and comfort of people. 

“Social impact is coming up as a subject and leading to big changes in the market,” he said. “If you want to attract talent to your company you need to provide better office solutions and also look beyond the building to employees’ health and wellbeing and also entertainment.”

Skanska only serves organic, healthy and nutritious food in its office canteen, for example, offers spaces for relaxation and games and provides personal trainers for exercise and to offer massage.

Colliers Poland will only provide vegan food to its employees, said Rajska-Wolinska, because “we need to look beyond the buildings to our impact on the food chain and the planet and reduce emissions as much as we can.”

The picture has become a lot more complex, said Karczewicz: “There are so many more things to be taken into account now.”