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Viewpoint: How can London drive sustainable investment in infrastructure?

Arguments may still rage over the extent of mankind’s contribution to climate change, but in 2011 progressive businesses everywhere recognise that sustainability makes good business sense.

Dearer by the day

Sustainability is about the most efficient use of resources which are almost without exception becoming dearer by the day. Take oil. Its price is driven inexorably higher not just by fears of instability in the Middle East but by the demands of the new BRIC economies which were virtually non-existent only 20 years ago.

With the price of road fuel rocketing, businesses are looking more keenly at when and where their employees drive, the efficiency of the vehicles that they use and what less expensive alternatives might be available.

Ten years ago commercial agents reported that green buildings failed to attract a premium from occupiers.
Now such buildings are highly prized.

This is not because business leaders have gone soft. Quite the opposite. Hard commercial logic is what underpins the sustainability agenda. Taking cost out of your business is good for your bottom line. In 2011 no serious enterprise can afford not to be green.

And what does this mean for Europe’s greatest city?

“As those energy bills rise the issue goes from one most householders and business owners care little about to one they are prepared to devote time, effort and money to”

Mayor Boris Johnson has encouraged investment in decentralised energy infrastructures that reduce our reliance on fossil fuel. London is working on smart power networks and on diverting waste from landfill, again with energy saving in mind.

Refurbishing commercial and domestic buildings incorporating effective insulation is one of the most effective areas for improvement. If all the 13M homes in the UK that could benefit from loft and cavity wall insulation were treated, that alone would be enough to eliminate the estimated future demand for additional generation.

Ignore at your peril

And as those energy bills rise the issue goes from one most householders and business owners care little about to one they are prepared to devote time, effort and money to. This is a huge business opportunity for London and one we dare not ignore. We should aim to become world leaders in sustainable investment and sell our knowledge and experience around the world.

The public sector will play its part too, whether renewing London’s transport infrastructure to provide more sustainable and energy efficient connectivity or by greening London’s many beautiful public places.

This is a challenge for a generation of Londoners and London businesses large and small. But it is a vital one if we are to grasp the chance to turn potential adversity into strong commercial advantage.

  • Steve Norris is a former transport minister and a former London mayoral candidate and chairman of BASELondon

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