Louise Ellison, head of sustainability at retail property developer and investor Hammerson, discusses the low carbon issues affecting the business ahead of her appearance at the Large-Scale Solar UK conference in Bristol.

How do you see the future relationship changing between business and sustainability?

I would expect leading businesses to look increasingly at how sustainability will impact their operating environment in the short, medium and long term. Businesses with long term assets and complex supply chains will face different challenges to those with perhaps a more short term business model, but we will all be affected in some way. As the risks presented by the very broad agenda that sustainability covers, from extreme weather to ethics, become more tangible, businesses will move more quickly to establish mitigation strategies. I expect they will also increasingly look for clearer leadership from national and international governments and their agencies to support an orderly transition to a carbon efficient economy.

What’s surprised you most in 2014 in your role with Hammerson?

The savings you can still make simply by good management. The willingness of colleagues to participate in and support what can be pretty disruptive process for them. The enthusiasm and creativity of teenagers who spent a day at our offices working on a place making project (and their unbridled joy at free chocolate.)

What opportunities do renewable technologies offer businesses?

Security of energy supply, predictability of cost, reduced risk of exposure to rising carbon taxes. Does one need to say more?

What do you see as the biggest challenges related to these technologies?

Scalability – we need a lot of it – grid infrastructure, acceptability within communities, ESCO [energy savings company] arrangements, uncertainty around carbon, embedded old technologies… There are many challenges to really scaling up renewable technologies and I am not convinced all the right players are participating yet. Whilst we need energy security which is provided by traditional fossil fuels in the short and medium term, we need a much clearer direction of travel in terms of government policy for development of renewable technologies. It is very difficult to invest, particularly to the extent that we need, without some reassurance that there is continued support for the sector. 

What single piece of advice would you give to businesses looking to cut carbon costs and improve energy efficiency?

Work out how much you are using, where your biggest consumption is and start switching stuff off. It’s the same as going on a diet – weigh yourself and then stop eating so much cake and get off the sofa. It’s amazing how much money you can save (applies to both!).

What are you most looking forward to about Large-Scale Solar UK 2015?

Finding out about new technologies and developments and connecting with other companies who are facing similar challenges to Hammerson but from different angles.

Who are you most looking forward to hearing speak at Large-Scale Solar UK 2015?

At the moment? Jaguar Land Rover.

What’s your favourite thing about Bristol? 

Well Cabot Circus, obviously!

Louise Ellison will be speaking at the Large-Scale Solar UK conference in Bristol, 28-30 April.