Liberty Two Degrees asset management executive and head of Good Spaces, Brian Unsted has stepped forward as the new chairman of the Green Building Council South Africa board.

Words Robbie Stammers

Brian Unsted

“In his role as vice-chair, over the past 18 months Unsted has already made a substantial contribution to the GBCSA. He has an exceptional passion for the green building agenda, and I look forward to the GBCSA making great strides with him at the helm,” says GBCSA CEO Lisa Reynolds.

Unsted takes over the reins from Giles Pendleton who steps down as chair to take up a remarkable opportunity as executive director at NEOM – a 36 000km² economic zone in north-western Saudi Arabia.
+Impact magazine asked Unsted a few questions about himself and his new role:

Congratulations on your appointment as the new chairman of the GBCSA Board. Can you tell our readers what your vision and objectives are in this role?
The first objective is to try and ensure continued stability of the GBCSA, which is paramount to being able to implement the vision. We need to actively drive sustainability initiatives into the built environment and promote certifications. Historically, good progress was made in the rating of new builds in the office sector, and this changed over time to rating more existing buildings.

There is a massive opportunity to target more ratings in both the retail and industrial sectors of the property industry. Certification can play a significant role from an investor’s perspective, especially considering the growth of ESG reporting. There is also significant effort that is being placed on public sector assets, who are the largest owners of properties in the country. This broader reach into other asset classes and ownership is probably the main thrust right now.

Coming from a mainly retail focused property background myself, I also know the massive impact that retailers can make within the built environment, and I’ll be promoting activity with retailers. We also need to ensure that the ratings tools are upgraded and remain relevant and challenging.

Can you give us some background on yourself?
I am not a typical “greenie” in the sense that I come from a finance background. I have always worked in the property industry, starting out in finance and then moving across into asset management. My formal studies were a BCom and MBA. I have spent quite a lot of my working career within the property sphere of the Liberty Group in different roles and divisions that included Liberty Properties, Liberty Properties Developments and STANLIB Direct Property Investments. I have been at Liberty Two Degrees since the listing in 2016.

I drive all environmental sustainability (Good Spaces) initiatives at Liberty Two Degrees, and I chair the related governance committee, ensuring that both retail and office assets in the portfolio have a minimal impact on the natural environment.

You are also an author who has published a book. Can you tell us about that?
I co-authored a book called Sandton Places with Gerald Garner and Heather Mason, which was published in 2014. It is probably best described as a travel guide. We saw an opportunity to tell the story of the history of Sandton and surrounding areas, as well as provide ideas on things to do and places to go.

One of your passions is sustainability? Can you tell the readers what drives you in this category?
There is urgency required in recognising that work needs to be done in every sector of the economy, in every country across the globe and in every single household in the world. This sounds enormous and overwhelming, but it certainly drives my passion. At a more local level, I can make a difference in the actions of the South African property sector along with hundreds if not thousands of other committed people, as well as in my own household. I feel more empowered to be able to make a difference.

Where do you rate South Africa on the green building front compared to the rest of the world?
We have made some good progress but have some way to go. Many companies have really stepped up to the challenge and actioned change, making bold commitments in the process. It is unfortunate that we are in a position where some have not made enough changes. We look forward to working collaboratively with the public sector to start seeing significant progress in that space.

In some areas such as waste management, because of a variety of factors, especially high unemployment and relatively low wage rates, South African recycling rates are high by global standards. In other areas, sustainability-related activity needs to improve.

Certification can play a significant role from an investor’s perspective, especially considering the growth of ESG reporting.

What significant changes can be made locally and abroad to combat climate change?
Attitude and commitment are the first steps. Governments and companies must all consider their impact on the environment. Funds need to be made available, and in some cases, this will adversely affect short-term returns for longer-term reward. However, in many instances, the business case for projects such as solar exceed hurdle rates.
Banks can also play a role by implementing stricter lending criteria at an institutional and private level. Stricter legislation would make a big difference in driving the pace of change, such as all new building having to install solar power, dual plumbing systems, and waste recycling facilities. All new commercial buildings should also have to achieve a green rating.

What are your favourite pastimes outside of your working roles?
I am quite a simple guy who enjoys sport, braaiing, spending time with family and friends and being part of a church community. I enjoy running and mountain biking. The Gauteng Lions and Springbok rugby teams will always have me cheering them on. I also love to travel, locally, into other parts of Africa and overseas. Experiencing new cultures makes me feel alive.