• Paul Foster

Now or never: how can the care sector triple its bottom line?

While this last year has felt like ‘The Great Pause’, in other ways the fast-forward button has been set to x20. The things we were going to “get around to eventually” are now upon us and we have very little control over the remote control.

The almost cataclysmic impact of the pandemic has made the world sit up and realise that we are not invincible. And so the ‘S’ word has gone from being bandied about with very little substance to being the number one priority for governments, organisations and people.

In many ways, our sector reflects sustainability in its simplest form, its primary aim being to allow people to sustain healthy, happy and fulfilling lives for as long as possible. The social aspect of sustainability is ingrained in the sector’s DNA and many care providers realise the role played by the built environment on people’s health and wellbeing.

But what about the other two aspects of sustainability; economic and environmental? The need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, eliminate waste and maximise resource efficiency needs just as much attention.

It’s unfortunate to see so many care facilities making little financial sense for operators and investors, while there is an Atlantic-sized gap for the mid-market. The opportunity is there, but it needs to be approached in a different way.

Then there are the added pressures of net zero carbon targets, which are not only aspirational but essential. The CO2 levels in the earth’s atmosphere are today still 50% more than before the industrial revolution. The operation and construction of buildings produces 40% of the carbon emissions in the UK, so by transforming the way these built assets are planned, created, and operated will have a huge impact on society’s environmental footprint.

When creating new care environments, we cannot approach them with the next 20 years in mind. Ensuring cost efficiency in the context of not only the initial build but a building’s foreseeable lifetime. Investing in quality to minimise maintenance costs and repairs, and design solutions which minimise energy costs, such

as passive heating, natural light, air movement, conserving water sources and thermal mass. These measures can help us reach our net zero targets, too, along with use of renewable energy sources, by re-using existing spaces rather than creating new ones, and by finding opportunities to encourage biodiversity through landscapes and buildings themselves.

There is one thing that all of these approaches have in common. They must be addressed at the design stage, when a project is first conceived. The best time to reflect on the future is the present, not when the future has passed you by.

The care sector is often felt to be ‘forgotten’, but to affirm its place in the present it must respond to these very significant world issues. Ahead of the COP26 UN climate summit this November, it would demonstrate leadership for care providers to embrace the restoring nature and promoting biodiversity, creating long-term value for society, and improving quality of life. These are key drivers for business leaders in a post-COVID world.