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Lettings Agents and the Green Agenda - why it pays to go eco

In this article, the team at The Lettings Hub - which aims to offer tech-driven solutions for the rental market - outline the case for letting agents going properly green.

Climate change is once again at the forefront of everyone’s minds as world leaders this week met at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. While they are discussing everything from deforestation to carbon emissions, it’s not surprising that our minds turn to our own individual carbon footprints.

While individually we have all become better at “doing our bit” in recent years, research indicates that SMEs are still struggling with the overall “green” agenda”. In fact, many see it as no more than a box ticking exercise or as more of a marketing ploy and something to consider as part of their branding messages.

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And, if the lettings industry’s statistics are anything to go by, then the corporate green agenda is quite a way down the average agency’s to-do list. When a small sample of lettings and estate agencies were surveyed earlier this year, over a quarter said that sustainability was just a box ticking exercise for them; even though more than half of them think that being eco-friendly could help their profitability and two thirds even went so far as to say that poor green credentials would harm their businesses. This tells us that there is still a chasm between intention and implementation.

SMEs play a vital role in helping the UK to reach its net zero target for 2050. But, when the advice being given to these small businesses is as superficial and obvious as “install LED lightbulbs, use eco cleaning products, move to electric vehicles and consider environmentally friendly packaging”, it is unsurprising that the green agenda is seen as a box ticking exercise.

However, the corporate world is yet to see the same legislative direction as has been given to individuals. For example, since its introduction in 2015, the single use carrier bag charge has resulted in an 86% drop in plastic bag sales. Councils changed refuse collection schedules to force households into a recycling habit and energy companies offered free LED lightbulb installation as an incentive. Simply put, individuals have either been forced, taxed, or “bribed” to toe the line and the results have been worthwhile.

Businesses are yet to see the same approach.

While, collectively, the corporate world needs to make an even greater commitment to the zero emissions mission, the reality is that it is not a one size fits all solution. Each industry faces its own challenges. What may seem like a simple change for a small office may be a hugely costly exercise for a large multi-branch agency, for example. Being green isn’t cheap. Therefore, the effectiveness of implementation will come down to the individual businesses and how easily, and affordably, they can respond.

Sometimes it is about changing the way you operate, which can lead to cost savings too. Clarion Hotels, for example, saved over $17,000 a year in water costs alone by asking guests to re-use towels. The butterfly effect from this one simple change in guests’ expectations has saved many millions of gallons of water, many thousands of kilograms of detergents and an inestimable amount of energy on top of the tens of thousands of dollars it saved them. Good for the environment, good for profit.

It’s interesting therefore that, conspicuous by its absence in the list of “green plan” credentials, is the utilisation of technology to reduce your carbon footprint. 

Let’s look at lettings and estate agents again as an example. By moving to electric vehicles, agents could significantly reduce their carbon footprint while travelling to viewings. Obvious, yes. However, by utilising technology and moving their viewings online, neither agent nor tenant need travel. It’s less of a like-for-like change, but the knock-on effects go beyond the miles travelled. Less time travelling allows for more viewings in the same period. More viewings equate to more tenancies. More tenancies create more opportunities for added services and commissions. Efficient, environmentally-friendly, and profitable.

What about printing? While printed marketing material may be becoming a thing of the past, many agents still print ASTs and legal documentation to obtain a physical signature. Recycled paper may be an eco-friendlier option, but by moving all paper forms online and utilising digital signatures, an even greater impact can be achieved. Plus, these digital files are now stored safely online. Data protection is taken care of and any storage issues in your branches become a thing of the past.

And what about the more indirect benefits to the business from similar changes?

An agent offering utilities services which includes the installation of smart metres will not only offer a greater service level to their landlords in terms of accurate billing and move-in move out procedures, but tenants will be more aware of their energy usage.

Moving to digital forms and ASTs, while reducing paperwork also reduces travel, makes your agency even more accessible and allows you to process more tenancies concurrently. Win, win.

In fact, digitising the lettings process makes the entire journey much more accessible for tenants generally…which reduces the demand on staff time. Perhaps this also makes it easier for them to work remotely; a further reduction to travel, an increase in utilisation rates and a greater incentive for the younger workforce that prefers a more flexible way of working.

As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. While there are the obvious and important actions that businesses can take to reduce their carbon footprint, being truly “green” requires a cultural shift as much as it does the physical changes. And sometimes the simplest and quickest changes, that will have an immediate impact, can be found in the least obvious places…with unexpected beneficial side effects to both the environment and the bottom line.

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