Seeking enlightenment around ESG: the Haute Café interview
he Haute Café is a place where we raise big issues around the future of real estate in Vancouver from ASPAC’s point of view. As VP of Sales & Marketing, Environmental, Social & Governance issues land squarely on Ryan Laurin’s desk. We caught up with RVL over a delicious fair-trade blend in the Haute Café to find out more about how ASPAC is facing up to the challenges ahead.
HAUTE: ESG HAS BECOME QUITE THE BUZZWORD IN SOME CIRCLES IN THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
RVL: ESG is still a bit esoteric outside of publicly quoted company boardrooms today — everyone has heard of it but everyone also has a very different idea of what it is and why it’s important. ESG is a set of metrics that defines the non-financial elements of a company’s operations which might, or should, have a positive impact on the business, its stakeholders and the environment it operates in.
These metrics will become more important from the perspective of meeting statutory requirements in certain jurisdictions and in terms of a public company’s compliance requirements. But, more and more, ESG metrics are becoming the deciding factors in areas like vendor selection, decisions around business strategy, where people place their investments; and even the larger decisions about where capital flows.
HAUTE: WHAT ABOUT FOR A PRIVATE COMPANY LIKE ASPAC?
RVL: This is an important question. Companies like ASPAC that are privately held, and entrepreneurial in spirit, have few statutory drivers to follow ESG direction. I mean there are no legal requirements, but the reality is that it’s the right approach and I predict soon many if not most private companies will begin to make this information public.
When Company X sees that the competition is transparent they will start to implement this thinking themselves. There may not be a legal requirement to disclose, for example, board remuneration or staff diversity but companies in the near-future will. At the end of the day, it’s not about the metrics, it’s about the approach and the thinking. As I said, it’s just the right thing to do.
HAUTE: IS IT THE SAME AS CSR OR “SUSTAINABILITY”?
RVL: They are related, but not the same.
Our team is continuously looking at ways to make our projects better. Things like incorporating sustainable elements, looking for suppliers to discover these types of initiatives internally — and we offer and communicate them externally. Our brand promise at ASPAC is Enlightened Living which is about helping our homeowners live the best version of their lives possible in the homes we build. These kinds of actions deliver on our brand promise and also are CSR [corporate social responsibility] in nature. ASPAC is committed to being more sustainable and responsible.
ESG would be the layering on of measurable goals such as percentage increases in use of recycled materials within a certain number of years. Maybe a simpler way to put it would be: CSR is the ideal and gives direction to corporate responsibility culture. ESG is the measurable outcome.
HAUTE: SO IS SUSTAINABILITY ABOUT BEING ‘GREENER’?
RVL: That’s part of it. I mean, the writing is on the wall when it comes to how we all deal with the planet and the environment. We’ve done extensive surveying of the few thousand or so homeowners that live in ASPAC homes. Mainly in the context of ‘What is New Luxury?’ One thing that is clear is that environmental consideration is now table stakes in our industry. Part of luxury today is about how you treat the environment as an organization.
Vancouver is one of the most pristine and beautiful places on the face of the earth. We all need to continuously be thinking of how we keep it this way. I believe that ASPAC can be a part of that — and has been over the years because we are creating many more homes per acre of land than single-family homes, for example.
I’ve asked my leadership team to think even broader. I look at sustainability as having a number of other tenets in addition to Environmental:
Take Health and Safety. We work with companies that put the health and safety of their teams, and in turn our team, paramount. Ledcor, our constructor, is in a never-ending pattern of aiming to have zero health and safety issues on their sites. As we have gone through the past two years of Covid, our Hollybridge site had extremely low numbers of infections, and we didn’t have to shut down our construction site at all due to very high safety protocols on a huge footprint. This is paramount to us and something we are very proud of.
Or take Culture. The culture at ASPAC is always top of mind for me. We aim to have a highly engaged, diverse, and inclusive workforce. I don’t mean quotas for certain types of people or anything like that. But I do mean that we hire the best people wherever they come from, irrespective of their background. I’d be happy to let everyone know how many women we have in senior positions in our company, for example. But to me, that’s just the beginning. We need to reach out into different communities so that the best candidates think of us.
Let’s look at Social Impacts. Vancouver has been very good to us and I like to think that we’ve been good to Vancouver. We built one of the most sought-after communities in the city at Coal Harbour. And it contributed massively to the notion of Vancouverism, which is known the world over as the benchmark for responsible city development.
Furthermore, we give back and we give back often. It is extremely important to me that we are contributing to the community. We support community organizations like BackPack Buddies, Vancouver and Richmond Hospital Foundations, Ronald McDonald House, SUCCESS, Canuck Place, and soon we will be supporting Sarah McLachlan School of Music. These organizations are responsible for ensuring that everyone has access to health, food, music, art, sport, and care.
HAUTE: TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEE WELLBEING.
RVL: Our approach has been a continuous process of creating an amazing place to work. At the end of the day, the office is the place where we spend most of our waking hours, so it’s important to
get it right.
Our leadership team has always had carte blanche when it comes to putting the team in a good spot. The best health and wellness benefits, both physical and mental. But that’s the starting point. We are always reviewing things like work spaces, flexible scheduling, team feedback and collaboration, leadership and strategic skills training, equity and diversity direction. On top of that we have a really empowered and enabled team who can participate in the purpose and direction of the company.
HAUTE: WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO HOMEOWNER IMPACTS?
RVL: Two words: Enlightened Living. Modern luxury is less about adornment and exclusivity and more about mental and physical well-being. It’s fundamental to how ASPAC plans its projects. Looking at air quality, water quality, biophilia connections, light and sound mitigation, creating supportive communities through our buildings, the movement in our buildings, the technology we integrate, the amenities we install, the materials we use, and how accessible our buildings are. These are huge commitments.
Our aim is to help create moments in our homes and common areas that have a net positive outcome for the people that trust us with their largest investment. If we can help in the creation of places and spaces that connect people and create healthy communities, everyone wins.
HAUTE: LAST QUESTION: WHAT HAS PRIORITY —THE PHYSICAL BUILDING OR WHAT GOES ON IN THE BUILDING?
RVL: You saved the easiest for last!
Of course we aim to use technology and innovation through every stage of a project’s life cycle in order to reduce energy and waste. Aiming to use renewables, recyclables, to reduce waste and conserve resources, and to follow sustainable practices wherever possible builds value.
But buildings don’t exist in isolation, it’s about the people that live, work and play in our buildings. We plan projects and communities where people can live healthy lives. Think gardens, waterfront dike walks, filtration. Somewhere people can work, so we try to build areas superior to WeWork. And, where they can play, with the best wellness amenities available for fitness, swimming, stress-reducing steam and saunas.
Our goal isn’t about building healthy buildings for people. It’s about building healthy people in our buildings.