Sonae Sierra: Sustainability within the business strategy

Sonae Sierra, the international company dedicated to develop and service vibrant retail-centred properties, has been committed to the principles of sustainability for over 20 years. The company’s first activities in the field of sustainability began as early as the mid-1990s. Today, sustainability is a central part of Sonae Sierra’s corporate culture and is anchored in all areas of the business. As a result, the company has received acknowledgement around the world. But Sonae Sierra is keen to not rest on its laurels, instead continuing to develop its sustainability strategy.

In 2011, Sonae Sierra recognised that its previous efforts were no longer sufficient to meet the future challenges of retail and real estate. Simply concentrating on reducing the effects of its own activities on the environment and society was no longer in tune with the times. The company therefore adjusted its sustainability strategy to meet future challenges.

“Creating shared value” for the next 20 years

Basis of the new strategy is an approach called “Creating shared value”. Sonae Sierra views the areas of business, environment and social justice over a long time horizon of 20 years. The company aims to find solutions for today’s and future environmental and social challenges, while creating value for its business, society and the environment.

The company focuses on three main areas. They address the most significant sustainability risks and opportunities facing our business as a retail real estate company.

  • Safe people and resources (it covers the range of activities that align with our Safety, Health and Environmental Management System - including climate and energy, water, waste, biodiversity and safety and health, and captures value creation for our clients by delivering safety, health and environment related services. The goal is to develop and manage sustainable buildings, increasing its resilience in a long term perspective)
  • Fit future retail (to anticipate emerging retail trends, pioneer new concepts that respond to changing consumer expectations and promote sustainable behaviour through retail innovation)
  • Knowledge (to leverage the knowledge of our people by building it in our human and intellectual capital while ensuring high levels of staff productivity, attracting and retaining the best talent. Also, by embedding more sustainable lifestyles among our employees we aim to contribute to higher levels of employee resilience and productivity through improved health and wellbeing.)

Central part of company management

Sonae Sierra’s sustainability strategy occupies a central part in the company business strategy. That is why sustainability is also reflected in the management structure. A Sustainability Steering Committee supervises the strategy definition and implementation. The Committee is chaired by the CEO of Sonae Sierra, and includes the directors responsible for the individual business areas. A Sustainability Office supports the Committee activity and holds responsibility on the Safe People and Resource resilience focus area. In addition, the company’s Marketing, along with its Innovation Office, is also responsible for the Future Fit Retail focus area, and HR Department for the Knowledge focus area.

This helps align the sustainability activities with the respective roles and goals of the individual business units. Sonae Sierra’s latest Economic, Environmental and Social Report also shows how this approach creates value for the company, the environment and society.

Good eco-balance for shopping centres

Sonae Sierra’s shopping centres achieve an impressive eco-balance. The company currently owns 48 shopping centres in Europe and South America. In 2016, it was able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 200 tonnes compared to the previous year (-85% since 2005). Its retail properties saved around 8.5 million kilowatt hours of energy (-46% since 2002). Water consumption was reduced by almost 15,000 cubic metres (-21% since 2003). Sonae Sierra also succeeded in reducing waste by over 5,000 tonnes (+241% recycling rate since 2003). These efforts also have a positive effect on the bottom line, with the costs avoided in 2016 totalling around 22.9 million euros.

As far as figures and results regarding sustainability are concerned, Sonae Sierra sets itself strict standards. The annual Economic, Environmental and Social Report follows the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), compliance of which is verified by Deloitte.


Independent partners verify success

Sonae Sierra’s role as pioneer in the field around sustainability and its successes are repeatedly recognized in the market. The company regularly achieves top ratings, Green Star, in the GRESB, an international benchmarking that assesses the sustainability of business practices in the real estate sector. “The Sierra Fund”, for example, achieved fourth place in the current report among unlisted retail funds in Europe. Among all retail funds, “The Sierra Fund” comes in sixth place in Europe.

The company’s achievements are highly supported by the local efforts of shopping centres and development projects. 93 percent of the company’s centres are currently certified with ISO 14001. This rises to 100 percent for project developments. This norm is the globally recognised and applied standard for environmental management systems. 84 percent of the centres also meet the criteria and standards of the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS 18001) for occupational health and safety. With LOOP5 and Münster Arkaden centres in 2012, Sonae Sierra became the first company in Germany whose properties met both of these standards at the same time.

Sonae Sierra has developed a system for sustainable planning, construction and operation of shopping centres. It is based on many criteria and ensures that the strict requirements on sustainability are met. Furthermore eleven percent of its centres also are certified according to BREEAM, the British-developed assessment and certification system for ecological and socio-cultural aspects.

Sonae Sierra has so far received over 160 awards in various countries for its business achievements and its commitment to sustainability practices. In the future, the company will continue to expand its efforts to make its business activities socially and ecologically responsible, in order to secure its place among Europe’s most sustainable retail real estate companies.

An article by:

Elsa Monteiro, Sonae Sierra Head of Sustainability and Corporate Communication

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