Susan Ralphs

Sustainability at Work

Susan Ralphs our Managing Director was recently asked to contribute to The Kingdom at Work bulletin on the subject of sustainability at work, some very thoughtful insights on how we work as a company and what motivates her.

Ethical Property Company is one of the largest social businesses in the UK – supporting about 1,000 organisations primarily through the provision of serviced office space, but also by providing conferencing facilities and IT services.

Since 1998, we have shown that an ethical company can operate successfully, paying a dividend to our 1,300 shareholders, whilst at the same time treating our tenants and staff fairly; and doing all we can to create a sustainable world.

How does this happen on the ground?

We offer our tenants good quality space for a fair rent with flexible terms. This means they can vacate their space with little notice. A lot of our tenants are charities and have uncertain income streams; flexibility is critical.

Our buildings are intentionally designed. One CEO of a charity said to me recently that moving into one of our newest buildings had increased the confidence and ambition of the staff. Being in a beautiful building had helped them better achieve their own charitable objectives.

We treat our staff fairly, paying at least the living wage, and have under 1:6 pay differentials. This leads to an extremely high level of staff satisfaction, and low staff turnover. Within our portfolio are two Friends Meeting Houses which we manage, in Bath and Cardiff. These buildings complement the presence we already have in these cities. As custodians of these buildings we can ensure that they fulfil their potential as resources for the wider community.

In terms of sustainability, we encourage staff and tenants not to drive, by ensuring all of our buildings are on good public transport routes, with minimal parking and lots of cycle racks. We buy all our electricity from green energy providers and have solar panels whenever possible. All our new buildings are developed to very high environmental standards. Our newest and biggest building to date is being developed using timber to reduce the use of concrete and lower our carbon footprint.

What motivates us to do this?

We are as much values driven as faith driven as we employ almost a hundred people with multiple faiths or none. However, of all the places I have worked, there is a more consistent, strongly held set of values within Ethical Property than elsewhere.

The founders of the company believed in social change and wanted to create an organisation that supported other organisations fighting the causes of injustice. However, they also wanted to prove that you could do this and still make a profit. They created a company into which investors with similar values could invest their money and be paid a dividend. These values are described in a document called The Quintessentials. This outlines our values and how we work within them. For example, they say who we would not house as tenants and give controls over shareholdings. The Quintessentials are enshrined in our governing documents. All staff and directors of the company are familiar with this document and we use it in recruitment and induction. Our directors make an explicit commitment to following The Quintessentials.

What motivates me to lead such a company?

I am driven by values, based on a Catholic childhood, but strengthened by seeing the great inequality that exists and working for charities fighting poverty in the UK and overseas. I want to see a better, fairer society. I want Ethical Property to prove that it is possible to be a profitable commercial company, but do this in a way that is fair to customers, staff and the planet. If successful we will have an impact on the wider corporate sector and other organisations in all sectors will change how they operate for the better.