We must work together to get to net zero

The case for decarbonisation is strong, says Chief Sustainability Officer, Esther An, as City Developments Limited win the Net Zero Progression of the Year Award at the Environmental Finance Sustainable Company Awards 2022

Environmental Finance: What does decarbonisation mean to City Developments Limited (CDL)?

Esther AnEsther An: We first established our corporate ethos of "Conserving as We Construct" in 1995 and have remained steadfast in our commitment to greening our built environment. In February 2021, we became the first company in southeast Asia to pledge to join the World Green Building Council's Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. At COP26, CDL joined the pioneering 44 companies to extend our pledge towards a net zero whole life carbon emissions approach.

In today's global climate emergency, we have escalated our commitment by participating in the global Race to Zero, decarbonising through partnerships and collaborations with an ecosystem of stakeholders including investors, analysts, industry partners, and the wider community.

EF: Why is taking bold action so important to CDL?

EA: The planet is facing severe climate threats and we believe that climate risks are business risks. Businesses, investors, and financiers, large and small, are all facing the existential threat of climate change, alongside rising regulatory and consumer scrutiny. Climate risks are business risks. The cost of inaction will outweigh the cost of action. Integrating sustainability helps companies to mitigate environmental and reputational risks.

Whilst CDL has made good progress over the past two decades, there is always room to do more. We will continue to embrace change, transform our business, and champion innovative solutions to future-proof our business and create value for our stakeholders. Racing to net zero will remain the cornerstone for our sustainability strategy in this decade of action.

EF: What inspired you to adopt your leadership position on the issue?

EA: The built environment contributes around 39 per cent of the world's energy-related carbon emissions. The real estate sector has a significant influence on both the economy and communities, and we can use this to drive change towards a more sustainable future. Our commitment and hands-on experience in green buildings and decarbonisation has also allowed us to turn ambition into action by supporting the global transition to net zero buildings and a low-carbon future.

CDL was ranked 5th on the 2022 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World and is the first and only Singapore company to be included in the Global 100 for 13 consecutive years. This marks our long-standing commitment to advancing the sustainability agenda whilst still achieving resilient business growth.

EF: What are the main challenges you have faced pursuing both sustainability and growth?

EA: Today, key players in the global financial ecosystem have raised their expectations for credible and consistent ESG disclosures. Businesses are subject to more stringent regulations, such as an increase in carbon tax and more robust climate reporting. How companies make the push to navigate the transition to net zero in the years ahead will greatly impact capital allocation, and thereby, the long-term growth and value of the company. A common belief is that going green is costly and companies may struggle to find sufficient resources and expertise to embed sustainability in their operations.

To overcome these challenges, business leaders must adopt a long-term view and forward-looking lens to transform challenges into growth opportunities. Catalysing this change requires a shift in mindset, leadership commitment, strategy, and skill set, putting ESG as a priority and competitive advantage. Firms that integrate sustainability and innovation to future-proof their business put themselves in a better position to achieve long-term growth.

EF: What advice would you give to other real estate conglomerates moving towards net zero?

EA: Companies must realise that they cannot achieve the transition to net zero alone. To do this, they must harness the power of public-private sector partnerships, and set short, medium, and long-term targets for reducing carbon emissions. Corporates need to build a larger ecosystem around them to rally support from stakeholders to accelerate action and impact. Businesses need to stay ahead of changing stakeholder expectations and align themselves with the evolving policies, regulations, and disclosure requirements that are increasingly being implemented both locally and globally.