Swedish estate agent franchise, Fastighetsbyrån, which has seven offices along the Costa del Sol, is running a project with a view to being the first environmentally friendly property company in Spain. While Lise Lotte Hallman, franchisee at the Torre del Mar branch and one of the key members of staff behind the project, admits that it's "impossible to be completely carbon-neutral," the company has set itself the target of becoming as carbon-neutral as possible by 2024.
The Spain-based team met in Alicante in May, where representatives from all 25 offices agreed to the plan. Lise explains that the idea came in part from a customer survey which asked how important sustainability policies were to their clients, in which 67 per cent replied that they "expected" a professional company to include sustainability as part of their business model.
CEO of Fastighetsbyrån Overseas, Daniel Nilsson, says that all members of staff are really engaging with the project at all levels, and are keen to make it work. "For us as a company to be more sustainable, and not just do 'corporate greenwashing,' it is crucial to involve all members of staff at all levels, and also at an early stage. We have to 'live' this new sustainable agenda to really make a change, otherwise it will end up being just another top-down management initiative ignored by the people in the company."
A big driver for Lise, 54, is her background as an environmental scientist. Before moving to Spain six years ago, she spent seven years studying Environmental Science at university in her native Sweden, and went on to lecture on the subject. She also worked for many years in the field, in Sweden, New Zealand and Tanzania, where she supervised different sustainability projects.
Lise explains that she has a "lifelong concern about the environment," which she says really started when she was about 15. She was brought up to be aware of the importance of sustainability and points out that many key events relating to environmental issues have happened in Sweden, including the first major conference on the environment in Stockholm in 1972 and far earlier, the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, was the first person to use basic principles of physical chemistry to calculate estimates of the extent to which increases in carbon dioxide increase the Earth's surface temperature in the late 19th Century. This discovery led American scientist, David Keeling to demonstrate that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are large enough to cause global warming in the 1960s.
When Lise moved to Spain and started working at the estate agents, she says that she wanted to apply her knowledge to the company to ensure that it became as sustainable as possible. She explains that the changes that the company are making can be "simple things" like switching off lights, to ensuring that appliances such as air conditioning units and refrigerators have the highest energy efficiency rating (A+++) as well as filtering tap water instead of using plastic bottles. Lise wants the company's offices to be fitted with sustainable materials and reduce the amount of plastic. They already have a footnote at the end of emails sent to customers to ask them not to print something unless it is really necessary and have stopped providing prospective buyers with printed information about houses and instead email everything they need. She says that she has managed to show colleagues that by being environmentally friendly, the company can save money too, "switching lights off is really simple and the electricity bill is obviously lower," she says as an example.
Lise points out that many of their clients travel to Spain by plane to view and buy houses and therefore the company has a compensation policy, whereby they offset all journeys made by customers via their social responsibility programmes, which include supporting charities like the UNESCO funded SOS Children's Villages International organisation and other initiatives. Locally, Lise is keen to get the company involved in events such as beach clean ups.
While Lise admits that the company does not go as far as to only sell sustainable houses, they do make sure that as part of the information pack each new homeowner receives, there is information about how and where to recycle and where to buy sustainable items for houses, as well as giving information about using alternative energy. The company is looking at brokering arrangements with sustainable energy companies based in Spain to encourage their buyers to use sustainable energy where possible.