Our Perspectives

Environmental sustainability: Bridging the ‘knowledge-doing’ gap


Nicholas Bewes, Howard Group CEO, on how Howard Group is evolving from ’knowing to doing’ when it comes to environmental leadership.

We are right to be concerned when it comes to the pressing global issues of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss - there is a lot to be worried about.

Many people are all too aware of the environmental challenges we face, yet there is a gap to be bridged when it comes to practical actions in response to the facts. But we must not lose hope; things are changing. Furthermore, this is an issue which both affects us all and where we all have a role to play, large or small. 

While we often notice stories of ‘climate doom’ due to their significance and potential impacts, we often overlook the seemingly smaller stories of green innovation, eco breakthroughs and climate successes. In short, there are reasons for optimism and hope.

If you search these out, you’ll find thousands of individuals, charities, companies and governments all developing their own initiatives, products and legislation to protect our planet with demonstrable results. Such as:

Closer to home, scientists at Cambridge University are working on a number of initiatives, including an eco-friendly alternative to air conditioning, which consists of a plant-based film that stays cool when exposed to sunlight, and using solar power to transform plastic waste and greenhouse gases into sustainable fuels.

These are just a handful of the positive environmental stories I’ve read this year which have given me continued hope and optimism for the future.



At Howard Group, we are taking great strides in developing a business which has as a priority the nurturing and protection of our environment. As a family business, our aim is to hand the company on to the next generation when the time comes, in better shape than when we started – and this is far from simply a financial viewpoint.

For us, success also means creating a lasting environmental legacy for generations to come, making sure that everything we do - both within our property and capital ventures divisions - is viewed through the lens of the sustainable benefit it has for the communities within which we operate.  This is a fundamental part of how we will measure our success in the long term - positive impacts upon society.

It really comes to life though in what we actually do and measure. At Unity Campus, our new urban innovation district in Cambridgeshire, we are ensuring this aspiration is translating into action and achievement. It’s a campus that takes planet first, purpose linked decisions at every stage.

In Phase 1 of the development, we saved 1300 tonnes of carbon by repurposing retrofitting an old industrial unit into modern workspaces. Already on Phase 2 - three new wet laboratory buildings - we have saved more than 253 tonnes of carbon by making intelligent carbon choices at design stage. It’s the only campus in Cambridgeshire that is currently using this unique type of carbon optioneering.

Intelligent carbon decision making in design has also safeguarded the performance of these labs beyond the build. Innovations like passive purple (an airtight vapour control membrane), intelligent building management systems, and thermal performance criteria will deliver buildings that far exceed building regulations and will therefore reduce our building occupiers’ future energy consumption and costs.

From motivation to momentum
Here are just a few of our own recent contributions to the collective effort to protect our planet and its natural resources at Unity Campus:

99% of Phase 2 construction waste so far has been diverted from landfill.

There will be a 130% increase in plants and trees on Campus.

The up front carbon savings to date equate to that of carbon sequestered by a hectare of trees for 30 years.

Although seemingly small-scale in the grand scheme of things, they rally behind historian Howard Zinn’s famous quote: Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world”.  We do indeed all have our part to play. 

From knowing to doing
Unity Campus is not the only focus of our activity in this area. Environmental sustainability is a fundamental problem of our time and one in which we are determined to lead the way to drive change within the property industry. In fact, we are steering our entire portfolio towards net zero carbon by 2035 - the year of Howard Group’s centenary.

Our Centenary Vision commits to ensuring that everything we do will have a positive social (people), environmental (planet) and economic (performance) impact. Our approach is to balance these three strands equally as we navigate a changing and challenging world.

Our commitment to sustainability is not just a tick-box exercise; as a responsible business it is the right thing to do given the profound challenges facing us as a global society. We recognise that we are at the beginning of this journey, and having understood the importance of action across everything we do have therefore made this commitment a priority.  We are certainly learning a tremendous amount as we go. It is imperative that we all play our own part in making a difference because our collective efforts are creating real change for the better now, and for future generations.


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