Interviewing Zoopla's CMO on how the property market is tackling the climate crisis

In this interview we speak with Chief Marketing Officer at Zoopla, Gary Bramall, about how climate change is shifting our attitudes to buying and building a home in Britain.

Wolff Olins: Can you tell us a bit about behaviour changes in the property industry? 

Gary: It’s interesting to look at things that are getting press right now like virtual viewings - which are certainly growing during the pandemic and which might encourage people to view properties more efficiently and with lower climate impact. But ultimately, this is a trend that has not exploded at scale yet. If you actually look at the property market in total, less than 2% of the population are actively considering buying a home at any one point. So people interested in virtual viewings is a tiny subsection of that small percentage. For us, what’s really interesting is thinking about a more sustainable housing market - in the economic and ecological sense.

That’s because the main problem - and opportunity - in the UK property market is around supply. There’s a shortage of quality properties in the UK. The government has tried to introduce tax and partial ownership schemes to incentivise people to get into the property market and make it less attractive to own buy to let properties, but the problem persists that there’s just not enough places to go round. It’s partially because we’re a small island and geographically constrained, but also because housing reforms at scale take time. Having over 10 different housing ministers in as many years also slows down radical transformation. So we need more new affordable and sustainable homes. 

Wolff Olins: What can be done to drive more sustainable choices? 

Gary: In the last five or six years there’s been a real change in the architectural standards that builders have to abide by. This is definitely a move in the right direction. In Scotland, the government is consulting on potential legislation that before homes are sold they need to meet a so-called minimum energy standard. It’s their push to ensure the whole housing market plays its part towards moving the country to being a low carbon economy. 

At the individual level, I think people are beginning to understand more about environmentally conscious buildings - the idea of conscious construction. 

There’s so much information out there about the CO2 emissions from steel production, and heat from concrete. People are becoming more and more interested in the impact of their properties and the decisions they can make to improve the sustainability of build methods. The key is to get this sort of thinking working at scale across the property sector, rather than it being left up to enlightened individuals to put pressure on their builders. It’s something we think Zoopla can help with too in terms of celebrating and raising awareness.

Wolff Olins: How do you see the role of Zoopla in driving the change you’d like to see? 

Gary: Zoopla can play a role in educating people on things that matter to them. In terms of education, we have a huge amount of data. We understand things like where the most demand is right now and the population’s travel patterns. We can predict with a huge amount of accuracy where the next ‘Shoreditch’ will be. We get lots of research around people and their weird behaviours in regards to their homes. Most people who are buying a home (84%) will buy within 10 miles of where they currently are, and 42% of buyers already know the road they want to live on. But people do think deeply about changing homes. Many do drive-bys of their dream house and will even knock on doors to speak to future neighbours. It’s crazy, but 40% of people who buy new homes were actually against buying them before they entered the property market. Given how deeply emotional - and heavily researched - choosing your home is, we can be a voice for more sustainable choices that benefit individuals and communities.

Wolff Olins: Who are other ‘Zero Heroes’ you admire? 

Gary: It used to all be about company purpose. The thing is, purpose is great but it has to be about utility; what real actions you’re carrying out to improve the community. An example of a brand walking the talk is Levi’s. I hadn’t realised how water-intense the making of jeans was. Levis educated me on this. It’s great when brands can teach customers something new. Across their site they now score their jeans according to environmental impact, and provide information about how water is being consumed. Some jeans are zero water and they use laser technology to etch this information into the jeans. Brands that look at ways to slow the fashion cycles should also be celebrated. Depop is another interesting example - celebrating the curation of clothes as a mode of self expression. They support sellers to create and craft their identity, in a sustainable way. 

You can read the full Zero Hero report here.