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Embracing Sustainability Strategies: a Talent Management Imperative

Interviewed with Swire Properties


As the recipient of the Excellence Award for environment, social and governance (ESG) (Organisational Category) at the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management HR Excellence Awards 2021/2022, Swire Properties explains how a comprehensive sustainability strategy provides a lens for decision making through which the organisation is able to create value in ways that benefit all stakeholders.

Recognising the importance of the interconnected relationship between sustainability practices and the employee experience enables Swire Properties to forge an engaging bond between people and work.


As a leading developer, owner, and operator of mixed-use, principally commercial, properties in Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland, for Swire Properties, its sustainable development strategy (SD 2030) encompasses five pillars that focus on Places, People, Partners, Performance (Environment) and Performance (Economic)to achieve its sustainable development vision (SD vision).


Outlining how SD 2030 strategies are central to Swire Properties business philosophy and company culture, Patrick Ho, Swire Properties Deputy Head, Sustainable Development said the SD 2030 initiatives have been designed to articulate the direction the company is taking to become the leading global sustainable development performer in the industry sector by 2030. Crucially, Ho said, the SD 2030 Strategy helps Swire Properties to ensure that sustainable considerations are an integral part of all operations and business decisions, including building workforce skills and knowledge capabilities. Ho said Swire Properties had been building achievements made since the launch of the SD 2030 Strategy in 2016,and while there will inevitably be challenges ahead, the companyis in a good position to advance to the next target levels for 2025 and 2030. “As we strive to achieve our SD vision, it will require innovation, creative thinking and considerable effort,” Ho said. To keep in lockstep with SD "big picture" issues, Swire Properties regularly engage with stakeholders to understand their priorities, expectations and perceptions.


Ensuring that sustainability is an integral part of the employee experience


With sustainability concepts embedded across every aspect of Swire Properties business and operations activities; the contribution made by employees to the implementation and success of SD 2030 Strategy is indispensable, said Jodi Kwok, Swire Properties Head of Human Resources and Administration. Kwok believes the key to creating a vibrant and sustainable company, is to focus on ways to ensure that all employees—from top executives to new joiners—are personally engaged in day-to-day corporate sustainability efforts. For example, elements of SD 2030 are incorporated into the workforce performance development review process. As such, staff at all levels are required to relate their annual performance goals to SD 2030 by choosing the appropriate SD 2030 pillar(s) that fit(s) their goal(s) and to provide a description of how to measure if their goals are being successfully met. Conducted at the beginning of 2023, , Swire Properties People Engagement Survey revealed that 89% of employees feel engaged and 92% of employees believe in the company's corporate vision and values. “The survey results demonstrate a high level of trust in the company, which is significantly higher than the industry norm,” Kwok noted. The survey results also exemplify how Swire Properties SD 2030 Strategy has the potential to generate value in talent attraction and retention.


Pointing out the aim is to create an environment where employees will be healthier, happier and more productive, Kwok said to develop a diverse and industry-leading team the company invests in employees and provides them with rewarding career path opportunities. Career options and development opportunities are emphasised through the company's employer branding (EB) strategy, which aims to position Swire Properties as a great place to work. “We endeavour to attract and retain people with the mindset and determination to deliver the creativity and quality for which the company is known for,” Kwok said. By highlighting a compelling employer branding strategy the aim is to attract target candidates, uplift current employee aspirations and credibly reflect the company’s vision, values, ethics, culture and approach to the future. “By integrating our corporate vision of Creative Transformation, our EB strategy positions Swire Properties as a place where people can Be Part of the Transformation,” Kwok said.


To further integrate the SD 2030 Strategy across the business landscape, the Swire Properties HR function works collaboratively with the SD Communication and Engagement Committee as well as the SD Team to gather support of employees and other stakeholders.“Our training team works closely with the SD team to empower our employees by providing them with a choice of learning and motivational opportunities,” Kwok said. Online and offline programmes focus on a broad range of SD-related topics and issues. In 2023, Swire Properties launched the new SD 2030 e-Learning Programme, an online interactive course to refresh and enhance employees’ understanding of the Company’s SD 2023 Strategy and achievements; and learn about how individual can be involved in the Company’s industry-leading SD initiatives. SD performance-related metrics have also bee established for all employees across the company.


Building sustainability knowledge and competencies


To ensure ESG/SD2030 literacy amongst HR practitioners and the People working group members, the company organises external expert speakers to share relevant topics at the regular working group meetings or lunch time seminar. A good example, said Kwok, is a lunch time seminar on the topic of HR Role in ESG to talk about why and how HR practitioners should keep up with the ESG agenda through day-to-day operations, HR policies, and governance. To set ESG targets and to measure key performance indicators, about thirty members from Swire Properties' HR function and various business units were invited to join the company's People Working Group. Sub-groups meet quarterly to report to the People Working Group on progress and achievements, which in turn reports to the ESG Steering Committee.


Aligning employee and corporate values


In a move to enhance communication and employee engagement, in 2020, more than two hundred Swire Properties employees were asked to rank SD issues they believe are the most important to business continuity and development. The subsequent results and feedback was reviewed to ensure that material issues are properly addressed in the SD 2030 Strategy. A “Sustainability We All Count” campaign was also launched in 2020, which aimed to encourage stakeholders, both internal and external, to play a part in achieving Swire Properties SD 2030 vision. Building on the success of the 2020 campaign, under the theme of “Fighting Climate Change, We’re All In”, in 2021, a campaign was launched which included the creation of eye-catching mascots designed to pique a wider interest in climate change. Via offline and online channels the campaign highlighted Swire Properties pioneering SD initiatives and community engagement programmes. The campaign also sought to encourage employees, tenants, key stakeholders and the general public to take action in pursuit of the company's ambitious goal to become the first real estate developer in Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland to have their 1.5°C-aligned Science-Based Targets approved.


Global recognition for sustainability performance


In recognition of Swire Properties ESG and sustainability strategies and achievements, the company has been ranked highly on several high-profile sustainability benchmarks and indices both locally and globally. Accolades include: being ranked first in Asia and fourth on the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World) among leading real estate companies worldwide; maintaining the Global Sector Leader position in the Mixed Use Developments category of the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) for the sixth consecutive year; ranked first on the Hang Seng Corporate Sustainability Index for the fifth consecutive year. In addition to being placed in the top four since 2017, Swire Properties was named the Most Attractive Employer in the Randstad Hong Kong Employer Brand Research 2020 and 2022. Swire Properties was also the recipient of the ESG Excellence Award (Organisational Category)) at the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management HR Excellence Awards 2021/2022. The award recognises an organisation for demonstrating the positive influence made by factoring ESG initiatives into its overall HR strategy and deepening the sustainability and ethical impact of a company.


ESG and SD performance has also helped Swire Properties to benefit through pioneering green financing strategies. For example, Swire Properties was the first company in Hong Kong to launch a financing mechanism with an interest rate indexed against improvements in year-on-year ESG performance. The agreement converted an existing five-year revolving credit facility of HKD500 million into a sustainability-linked loan, with the interest rate being indexed against year-on-year improvements in ESG performance. “We received a reduction in the interest rates for our signed sustainability-linked loans by achieving predetermined sustainability-linked performance targets,” Ho explained. As of 31 December 2022, approximately 60% of current bond and loan facilities came from green financing.


Raising ESG awareness and providing solutions


Amid rapidly evolving ESG regulations and disclosure requirements with which Hong Kong companies need to comply, through activities such as pulse surveys, webinar and seminars, the Hong Kong Institute of Resource Management aims to provide a practical guide to help members to become familiar with ESG practices. For example, a recent pulse survey conducted by the Institute highlighted while 38% of respondents are quite familiar with ESG, 47% are not so familiar, only 9% are very familiar and 6% are not at all familiar with ESG practices. With much depending on the industry and industry sector a company operates in, the pulse survey also highlighted how there is not one set of ESG topics that are relevant to all companies. With organisations increasingly realising the important role the HR function plays in communicating and implementing ESG strategies, the Institute is committed to helping members and the HR professionals to put ESG principles at the center of their human capital management capabilities.


“Sustainability We All Count” campaign which was launched in 2020

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