Chapter 5
Taking the Long-Term View

No Sustainability = No Business

Student housing stakeholders often question: “How can our industry promote a more sustainable lifestyle for people living, working and learning in our facilities?” In order to truly embrace sustainability, we need to start from where we are now and turn the focus towards our own business models and strategies for the future. Sustainability is shifting from being a brand-enhancing nice-to-have feature for Gen Z residents to a fundamental, future-proofing business strategy. In a survey done by Ungdomsbarometern (Youth barometer) on 2 500 persons age 18-35 years - 83 percent states that companies should work for a more sustainable development. They specifically demand more sustainable business models. A large amount (84 %) also believes that it is the companies that have the possibility to make the biggest impact and needs to act on it.

An old water tower is now home to hundreds of students at SGS Studentbostäder.

The Nordic countries are known for being at the forefront of environmental sustainability. Extensive usage of renewable energy, green innovation, high legislative aims, and school strikes for climate are some of the common examples. For Nordic housing and education organizations, the public opinion and demand for sustainable choices are driving the progress towards fully sustainable business models. The change is driven by both customers and employees driven and also shaped by authorities with ambitious levels of energy (de-)consumption, green subsidies, and innovation grants. For younger generations, tackling environmental concerns are essential for ensuring healthy future living conditions. As global talent seeks for living, working and learning opportunities that are well in tune with their personal beliefs, an eco-conscious business focus is becoming essential to stay ahead in market competitiveness.

Beginning: Construction

K2A, a Swedish housing and construction company, has embedded sustainability into their brand and product since their founding in 2013. With their own modular factories producing prefab student housing units with wooden structures, they have full control over the supply chain and can keep the level of sustainability high and the CO2 emissions low. Taking it to the next level, they introduced a green certification of their shares earlier this year, making their climate footprint fully transparent to all shareholders.

“Since we started K2A, sustainability has been a way of future-proofing our business model. The property business is responsible for large CO2 emissions and by introducing green shares we want to take responsibility,” says Johan Knaust, CEO, K2A, in a press release earlier this year.

A prefab wooden student accommodation unit by K2A is transported to its destination amongst others.

Building Blocks: Renewable wood

With vast forests in the north, several of the Nordic countries have renewable construction material just outside the door. In Finland, the student housing companies are leading the way in wooden frame constructions. In fact, the two tallest buildings in Finland that are constructed entirely from wood are student housing projects.

Incentive: Government ambition and support

Over a third of the CO2 emissions from the Nordic countries comes from the property and construction industry. About a year ago (Oct 2019) the Nordic ministers for housing and construction declared a joint ambition to become the most progressive region internationally for solutions to reduce the emissions in construction.

It is no longer enough to merely build for a sustainable lifestyle, we need to reduce the emissions of the actual materials for construction as well.

This student accommodation by SGS Studentbostäder is a reclaimed shipyard forge.

Lifestyle: Facilities embracing sustainability

SGS Studentbostäder, a non-profit company in Gothenburg, has taken sustainability to heart for student housing. During the past 15 years they have repurposed water towers, a military hospital, education facilities and a repurposed shipyard forge from the 1940’s into attractive housing for young talents. Mixing shared living with private apartments, they not only add units to a market in much need of it. They also help regenerate parts of the city with the influx of energy and innovation of young talent.

The driving force for a sustainable business is no longer corporate responsibility or marketing benefits. It is much simpler: without an environmentally sustainable product, there will be no future business.

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