Hong Kong Park, Hong Kong

+ Corporate investments must extend well beyond the factory gate or the office reception if the organisation aims to create a truly sustainable business.

If corporations want to compete successfully in their markets, then clearly they must invest in the territories where they are located. Yet there is a strong case for arguing that this investment must extend well beyond the factory gate or the office reception if the organisation aims to create a truly sustainable business.

To me, it’s common sense. If the city, town or neighbourhood where you operate is competitive and attractive to staff and clients, then it is more likely your business will be more competitive and sustainable in the long-term as well.

Anyone can throw a lot of companies together in a business park. But to be sustainable and competitive in the long run, a sensible investor will look beyond the perimeter and into the community. To maintain a competitive edge, the territory must be able to offer an integrated and sustainable plan for providing the hard and soft infrastructure of skills, schools, utilities, healthcare, and a positive working and social environment – all the key factors that go toward forming an economically sustainable whole.

Historically, it has been up to the public sector to provide this infrastructure. However, the financial crisis has put this model under huge pressure. At the same time, some of the more forward thinking players, especially those involved in the knowledge economy, have recognised that they have to play a bigger role in shaping their environment if they want to attract the brightest and the best.

The result is that more corporations are investing directly in these territories or collaborating through public-private partnerships, because they are finally beginning to understand that places and people represent as much of an asset as a high-spec office.

To me this is a win-win strategy that creates a virtuous circle for both private organisations and local communities.

The As Pontes masterplan is a good example. Leading Spanish Energy Company Endesa has developed a strategic masterplan to make this Galician town stand out through its commitment to sustainable development, environmental protection and community development.

Through the masterplan, Endesa aims to create jobs, improve infrastructure and restore the environment of its coal mine and slag heap. By restructuring the As Pontes production model more than 50 new companies will be created to contribute to the local economy.

The project will not only generate new opportunities for the region; it will also shape a long-term vision of sustainability, viability and capability. By reaching a consensus on the needs and expectations of different interest groups, the project will help to establish partnerships with public authorities and other private stakeholders.

I hope this is a model we will see far more of in the future.