The importance of transparency

For real estate businesses wanting to play a positive role in society the importance of transparency is paramount, but ‘being earnest’ is not as easy as it seems.

The importance of transparency in business and how “being earnest” is not as easy as it seems for real estate businesses.

“I don’t play [piano] accurately – anyone can play accurately – but I play with wonderful expression” Algernon Moncrieff opens Oscar Wilde’s play by immediately showing his wit and charm. He also hints at his selfish and amoral tendencies. He is not, in any way, earnest.

Using insight to inform strategies to improve local areas is key to the long-term viability of assets and their tenants.

Matt Stavrou, Socio-Economic Impact Expert, Upstream Sustainability Services, JLL

As Wilde took aim at the heart of Victorian notions of ‘proper’ society, his messages resonate as clearly today for real estate businesses wanting to play a positive role in society as they did for high society at the turn of the 20th century. Some of the messages are:

1) Societal norms can, and should, be challenged

2) Pretense of earnestness will be exposed as deception

3) Earnestness should not be at the cost of self-awareness or perspective

We all know there are megatrends shaping our personal lives and the built environment from the climate crisis, to demographic shifts and technological innovation. There are also huge political and cultural fractures occurring in many places around the world which add to social unrest and detract from positive collaborative efforts and optimum operating environments for real estate businesses. In the face of the changing nature of our society, how can these three messages help us?

We understand the societal norms which form part of the bedrock of our day-to-day lives

They can be both good and bad. For example, Victorian attitudes towards homosexuality, in the case of Wilde, and hypocritical earnestness and deceitful irreverence in the case of his play. A more contemporary example may be unsustainable or ‘fast’ consumerism. The high-aspiration, next-day delivery, easy access culture, conflicting against what the planet is able to provide.

Challenging this norm is the new(ish) trend of the circular economy. While the best advice is to incorporate circular thinking into business models, organisations may overlook it as a tool to leverage wider social change in their value chain. Developers, managers, occupiers and suppliers can use circular thinking to engage their value chain and bring them together to share resources, borrow instead of buy, upcycle, use second hand items and breathe new life in to local communities.

Algernon & Co’s escapades are exposed as deceitful and not earnest, pushing them to breaking point with the other characters

After the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s perceived deceptive use of personal data, social media networks have been battling over how to be earnest when it comes to political advertising, whilst being transparent. The real estate sector and its stakeholders are following the same trend of demanding transparency and honesty. Organisations are being lobbied to clearly report progress on their own strategic targets, and the governance that supports them. Stakeholders are demanding easy-to-understand communications on the impacts of buildings on the communities and places in which they operate. Failure to do so can add fuel to the fire of larger social fissures and create a sub-optimal operating environment for the building and its tenants.

The resolution of earnestness, honesty and perspective

The play sets earnest characters as lacking in humour and perspective, against irreverent characters who are self-indulgent and lacking in honesty. As our business practices evolve, finding the right mix of earnestness and perspective will be required in understanding the impacts of real estate businesses and their buildings… warts and all. Many real estate businesses are now trying to understand the social and economic contributions and impacts of their assets. Using this insight to inform strategies to improve the local area is key to engaging in the long-term viability of the asset and its tenants. Being earnest in these efforts and retaining perspective will be necessary for transparent reporting against progress to a variety of stakeholders in a clear and engaging way.

This article was published as part of “Transforming real estate: our views”, a digital magazine where our sustainability experts shed a light on how to navigate the current transformational path, giving you the tools and knowledge to ensure your business is future ready.

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