Live from COP21: Ask More of Business for a Sustainable Future

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JLL’s Dan Probst and Sarah Nicholls joined world leaders and experts from the private and public sectors at the United Nations climate conference – known as COP21 – this past week in Paris. To learn more about their experience at COP21, please click here

Stuart Thomson Gulliver, CEO HSBC, at the UN Caring for Climate event

It’s post-COP21 for JLL and I am exhausted. It’s the good kind, though. It’s the “there were so many inspiring ideas and stimulating conversations” kind of exhaustion. It’s the “I want to start making things happen yesterday” kind of exhaustion. And even better is that my exhaustion comes from momentum. From positivity. From leaders – big leaders (such as HSBC CEO Stuart Thomson Gulliver, shown at right) – who get it.

The ‘it’ here is climate change, and as Dan summarized yesterday, these big leaders speak about climate change in terms of business value, economic opportunity and innovation. They also speak about it as a way to stay competitive. And heck, as a way to exist in the long term as a business.

Make no mistake, the business value derived from climate change and sustainability is not the traditional value we’re accustomed to. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained, “People need to think about what the real costs are and do a better balance sheet.” In Secretary Kerry’s view, this is why companies like General Motors, IBM and Mars are making such ambitious pledges (these companies aren’t messing around – see for yourself).

Paris got me thinking about how JLL’s clients, investors, employees and industry partners will continue addressing sustainability today so that we all have a better world tomorrow. If we collectively start doing buildings differently – the Tesla kind of different – then we will stretch our role as sustainability leaders in real estate. To me, post-Paris begins with each JLL stakeholder recognizing that the threshold is higher. We therefore need to ask tough, strategic questions about climate change and sustainability:

  • For the many JLL clients and investors who have already asked us, thank you. Your questions are a significant internal driver for us to make sustainability happen (and this is true of both environmental and social initiatives).
  • For the many JLL clients and investors who have yet to ask us, please do so. Your questions will help us grow our sustainability expertise to better serve your needs.

…and it’s a two way street…

  • For the many JLL employees who have yet to ask our clients, start by figuring out what COP21 means to them. With a topic like climate change, our impact can and needs to be bigger.

As trusted advisors, it’s JLL’s duty to anticipate the values and forward-looking strategies that are fundamentally changing how our clients do business. These clients may not be asking yet about sustainability, but my belief is that the messages Dan and I heard at COP21 are starting to infiltrate the AT&Ts, the Mircosofts and the Googles of the world.

Our most progressive sustainability work to-date will have to begin now. Our future depends on it.


Nicholls, SarahSarah Nicholls leads JLL’s Global Corporate Sustainability (GCS) team. Sarah holds responsibility for JLL’s sustainability and integrated reporting, greenhouse gas emissions measurement, corporate sustainability governance, strategy and stakeholder engagement. As the inaugural GCS team member, she serves on the firm’s Global Operating Board alongside other corporate function leaders. She is currently pursuing a degree with the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

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