A monthly exploration into the world of sustainability in the built environment with commentary and input from UCEM’s Vice Chancellor and academics.
How sustainability influences my work: Interview with alumnus and UCEM academic David Hunt
Posted on: 7 June, 2023
David started his journey in the built environment by studying for a BSc in Real Estate Management at the University of West Scotland. He then completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Property Investment with UCEM and an MSc in Infrastructure Planning and Sustainable Development from Oxford Brookes.
He started his professional career as a Graduate Surveyor with the Valuation Office Agency in the UK but later moved to Central and Eastern Europe where he held various roles with DTZ and Cushman & Wakefield, spending seven years in Ukraine, Romania, and Poland. He joined UCEM in 2015 as a tutor on various valuation modules and now leads the University’s access programmes, as well as being an Academic Delivery Manager.
What were your experiences of sustainability at UCEM and how do they differ now as a member of staff?
My studies at UCEM (then named CEM) were over ten years ago and so much has changed since then both in terms of how we teach, the built environment, and the world in general. Back then most professionals understood what sustainability was and there was a broad agreement that we were heading towards sustainability in terms of the environment, however real estate degree programmes rarely offered any modules that concentrated on the topic.
I joined UCEM’s academic team back in 2015 and since then we’ve cut down hugely on international travel and moved away from in-person exams, which as you can imagine, took a lot of resources to post out and return the papers, before sending out to markers for review. I was working in Kyiv, Ukraine when I sat my first exams as a UCEM student and to see the change as a member of staff has been welcome.
Shortly after starting with UCEM we moved into our newly refurbished HQ, Horizons, which was recognised as ‘Excellent’ on the BREEAM rating scale (you can access a case study of our office). The change in offices reduced our on-site parking facilities considerably, but the upshot is that this has encouraged a lot of staff (me included) to walk or take public transport and since the pandemic, staff have had further flexibility in the way that they work.
I presented at our first Sustainability Symposium last September on the topic of the RICS recent sustainability guidance note. It was great to see and hear from many other colleagues about their research and knowledge of sustainability in the built environment.
For our Responsible Futures reaccreditation last summer, we mapped our modules to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The most significant SDGs for each module have been incorporated into the module pages so that students can clearly see topics related to their learning. This exercise has also supported me and other colleagues in identifying additional opportunities that we might want to consider in the future.
What do you hope to do or see the sector change?
The RICS sustainability guidance note evaluation that I presented at the symposium will heavily inform my own research and scholarship for at least the next six months to a year. I’ve also got a couple of conferences that I’d like to go and present at and that will trickle down into what we teach as well so I’m very much looking forward to it. RICS have produced advice about how to incorporate ESG factors into real estate valuation and I’m interested in finding out what is happening in practice and identifying any potential barriers to incorporating this new way of doing things.
It’s a shame that most improvements or innovations happen when people have a shock and need to move and act. Changes are far too often driven by money rather than ideology, for example, the pandemic and energy crisis. I would love to see a shift within the sector and policymakers so that we can take a more considered and prepared approach rather than knee-jerk reactions. We have the knowledge and capabilities to make drastic changes to the built environment we just need to act.
Last year I presented at a conference in Warsaw and had the opportunity to chat with ex-colleagues who are still professionally practicing. There was a consensus that we need to continuously look for ways to improve sustainability accreditations and rankings, through collaboration with academics and professionals in the sector. The way we rate buildings on sustainability might not always reflect all factors, so I think it’s important that the ratings that we use within the sector should be explored and improved.
What do you think UCEM needs to do next?
From my experience, UCEM is an institution that embraces change, and we have a continued responsibility to do so in terms of sustainability and the climate emergency.
I would like to see the academic team increase engagement with the wider industry, not only in terms of bringing more industry practices into our programmes but to increase our influence outside of UCEM to hopefully instill positive sustainable changes. I am on the judging panel for a real estate investment awards ceremony, looking at how large investors such as pensions funds are incorporating ESG into their strategies. Many are moving into other assets, such as public transport in developing nations or purchasing large areas of rainforest to protect it from deforestation. Many of our students will work in this field, or for firms that are making these investment decisions, which is also why it’s important for us to connect with the sector.
Excitingly, we’re launching a new MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environments and a webinar series called Building Perspectives and I hope we continue to take steps to increase our sustainability offering. Our students are very aware of what’s happening in the world and I look forward to teaching more students in the years to come about sustainability in the built environment.
If you are a UCEM alumni and would be interested in sharing your experiences in this series, please email UCEM’s sustainability education & engagement officer, Jessica Gordon-Calvert via email@example.com.