Building sustainable retirement communities: our work so far
At Retirement Villages, sustainability isn't just something we talk about. Since the launch of our sustainability strategy in 2022, we’ve been committed to making real, long-term changes to make our retirement communities more sustainable at each step of the chain.
As our Chief Executive Officer, Will Bax, explained:
We’re resolute in our intent to make a real and lasting positive difference. We’re determined that this is not simply seen as rhetoric. Our words are being followed by very clear actions that will allow us to realise those ambitions.
To get us closer to this, we’ve focussed In on the targets that form the strategy. Now, we have annual, short-term targets that will support our overall ambition and help us to focus on reaching our goals. This way, we’re taking regular, impactful steps that allow us to bring our promises to fruition. Plus, we’re committed to transparency, which is why we’re benchmarking against all of our targets to make sure that the efforts we make are effective and clear to our residents.
So, as we launch our annual sustainability update, it's time to share what eco-friendly initiatives we've been up to and where we're headed.
Keeping our promise to the planet
As part of our sustainability strategy, we outlined a commitment to the planet. The commitment was one straightforward statement: we’ll become a regenerative business.
But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the statement - the actions towards it have been and continue to be a holistic, business-wide endeavour.
In 2022, we began the build of the UK's first net zero carbon retirement community in West Byfleet. With the success of our West Byfleet site, Botanical Place, we revised our design guide to embrace operational net zero carbon for all of our new developments, and, wherever feasible, during construction too. Tim Seddon, Chief property Officer, comments,
Over the last year we have made a great start towards our ambition. We have embraced new technologies and learning and begun to deliver sustainable homes for later living.
What exactly does that look like?
We appreciate they’re big words and big promises, so we want to make it clear how we’re achieving this.
One of the ways we’ve been carrying out our initiatives is using locally sourced bricks, like the ones we’ve used at The Wyldewoods in Chester. This not only supports the local economy, but reduces embodied carbon emissions (the amount of carbon emitted during construction).
We're also on a promising trajectory to enhance the areas biodiversity by 21.5% and we’re working closely with contractors to keep Botanical Place on track to reduce on-site CO2 emissions by 60%.
Wherever carbon is unavoidable, we’ve created our decarbonisation fund. This is made up of our contributions to offset any carbon we use. This will fund improving our existing 1,600 homes to help get them closer to net zero too.
In 2022 we conducted a study of our seven largest villages to find out just how to do this. In it, we identified how we can cut existing carbon by an average of over 60% for each village. And we plan on initiating this as soon as possible with as little disruption to residents as possible.
Our commitment to the planet also looks like setting Science Based Target Initiatives (SBTi). These give us defined goals to not only fight climate change now but future-proof developments so they’re sustainable long-term and operationally.
The SBTi is a collaboration of organisations including the United Nations Global Compact and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). To meet the SBTi’s science-based requirements, our targets need to be aligned with the latest climate science. And to keep on top of them, we’re setting short-term milestones that are monitored by our board.
Continuing our commitment to reducing waste
Last year, we took a hard look at our waste, both for our operations and residents. We found that there was a lot of packaging being used across both. We looked at what we were buying and how it was transported, and actioned change.
It started with a conscious review of our suppliers. We drafted a supplier charter to make sure they’re contributing to our goals to reduce waste. All of the key contractors on our new developments have now signed it.
Now, at Chester, any construction waste materials generated by the project are 100% recyclable. And for both The Wyldewoods and Botanical Place we're aiming for absolutely zero waste to the landfill.
Plus, we’re revamping our catering and Village shops to be even more eco-friendly. We’ve been working with partners to find creative ways to reduce waste and packaging, all the while supporting local economies and providing sustainable menus.
One of our main highlights for the year has to be our pop-up eco refill service at Debden Grange, curbing the use of single-use plastics. It’s been inspiring to see our community of residents get behind this too, with everyone excited about the difference they’re making.
Making better choices for communities
The third pillar in our sustainability strategy is a commitment to people in the communities that our villages call home. We want to make sure that we’re thoughtful and proactive about the ways we can contribute to the social and economic vitality of our local communities.
To help us get there, we’ve recruited 24 village residents (and counting) to act as sustainability champions, like Cedars Village resident, Wally James. He's been educating others on how to make small, yet impactful changes and even campaigning for the local council to create better waste facilities for the local area.
We love how enthusiastic our residents have been about becoming sustainability champions and we’ve benefited enormously from their wealth of skills, knowledge and experience. They’re committed to identifying opportunities and getting them implemented, feeling fulfilled, active and engaged while they do it.
In our mission to support thriving, integrated communities, we invited local schools to bury a time capsule that will be opened in 2030. We also asked them what sustainability means to them and published their poems on boards throughout the site.
By engaging the younger generation in discussions about sustainability, we're investing in a future where community and environmental responsibility go hand-in-hand. It’s a powerful way to bring our core values to life and enrich the community we're building.
And it’s rewarding to know our hard work has caught some attention - we proudly secured the title of Later Living Operator of the Year at the RESI Awards.
While we're delighted with our progress, we're far from done. In the words of Chief Property Officer, Tim Seddon, “We have focussed our efforts, so that we can make a real difference on our key impacts and help ensure a positive future.”
And with this new, focused approach and our yearly targets, we aim to keep making strides in the right direction. We’re excited to see what 2024 and beyond will bring.