Sustainable Investment Tool (SIT) for built heritage

The ability of the sector to demonstrate its continued value and impact across a changing landscape, and the importance that investment in built heritage and the historic environment has for Scotland, has never been more significant.

Investment in our existing buildings and heritage contributes to positive outcomes for people and places across a huge number of areas, including employment, the environment, good places for communities, healthy town centres, and homes. Sustainable investment is also important as current economic conditions and climatic impacts increase the challenges felt by all, including our existing built environment.

The Sustainable Investment Tool (SIT) enables visualisation around decision making for projects and investment in built heritage. It will help organisations as well as community and interest groups with heritage assets to explore sustainability, enabling greater resilience for Scotland’s places.

The SIT is released by Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS), with the support of Historic Environment Scotland, on behalf of the Our Place in Time – Built Heritage Investment Group (BHIG) and supports the new strategy for Scotland’s historic environment – Our Past, Our Future.

Using the SIT will help support the decision-making process by demonstrating the Economic, Cultural, Environmental and Social outcomes of potential investment in built heritage across a range of categories.

The structure the SIT provides can aid communication of the value heritage assets (and their related projects) can bring across a wide range of indicators – ultimately broadening the understanding of heritage value and heritage potential. It is not intended to be a definitive solution to prioritisation and investment decisions.

The SIT is useful across to wide range of users, including: community groups, asset holders, funders and practitioners. It will help start conversations about wider value, advocating for the benefits heritage assets deliver, and demonstrating how built heritage contributes to positive outcomes for people across wellbeing, net zero and the economy.

The SIT is available digitally – with the full pack free to download from the Sustainable Investment Tool website:

Ailsa Macfarlane, BEFS Director said  “This has been a truly collaborative piece of work, created through an iterative process of consultation and discussion with input from across the heritage sector and beyond, with discussions around difficult decisions as the starting point. We would like to thank all those who engaged and brought their expertise, knowledge and enthusiasm to the many conversations and consultations.”

Emily Tracey, Head of Policy, Strategy and Systems at HES: “We welcome the launch of the Sustainable Investment Tool, a collaborative effort which showcases the industry’s collective commitment to innovation and sustainable development. It will provide a valuable framework for making informed decisions that sustain and enhance the benefits of Scotland’s historic environment for people and communities, now and into the future.

 “This will be an important tool for those involved in the management of historic sites and for the sector more widely, and we look forward to exploring how this innovative resource can be applied as part of our work to manage the assets in our care, to further understand and maximise their cultural, social, environmental and economic significance.”

 The story of the SIT:

Principles for prioritisation 2018-2019

The project to develop the SIT began in recognition of the difficult decisions to be made for our existing built environment, in the face of economic and climatic impacts.

Many organisations and individuals gave their time, views, methodologies and valued critique to develop a suggested set of Principles for Prioritisation. These Principles were discussed at a public event in Edinburgh in February 2019 – slides from that event can be accessed here.

These discussions determined that:

  • Principles in themselves cannot change the competition for funding – but they are designed to perhaps help level the playing field and make decision-making more transparent.
  • Principles themselves cannot answer specific questions – such as the VAT concern, but they should enable greater clarity over how this generation wishes to frame the arguments to continue lobbying on such issues.
  • Other questions arose, including mainstreaming heritage across Scottish Government departments. This is something BEFS will explore in relation to the data gathered for the Built Heritage Investment Group about investment in heritage already occurring across the vast majority of ministerial portfolios.
  • Climate concerns should be at the top of any agenda and any resource directed towards the historic environment will contribute to the sustainability of the existing environment and is therefore implicitly addressing climate change be it through adaptation or mitigation.

Informed by events and feedback from participants and interested parties, BEFS produced a short questionnaire designed to aid progress of this valuable work. A final iteration of the Principles for Prioritisation was produced.

Following this, throughout 2019 and early 2020 BEFS, on behalf of the OPiT Built Heritage Investment group, led on the development of the prioritisation work.

Further events, feedback, and consultation refined the thinking around prioritisation and, through the lens of sustainable investment, the project developed into the Sustainable Investment Tool (SIT).

The SIT was due to be released by Historic Environment Scotland (on behalf of the OPiT group) and tested by the sector in March/April 2020. Due to COVID-19 this consultation did not happen.

Evolution following Covid-19

Retaining the essential measures, some aspects – such as the re-definition of ‘environmental benefit’ to ‘net-zero contribution’  – have been updated since the SIT wording was originally drafted. This is to be expected; the SIT is designed to be flexible and adaptable, and further development is expected over its lifetime.

Over 2022 further testing took place, informed by the work the National Trust for Scotland and their extensive approach to using a version of the SIT adapted for their estate. More information can be found on the NTS website, here, and also on the following NTS page.

The Sustainable Investment Tool, launched in Autumn 2023, is the culmination of all this work. With thanks to everyone who contributed to its development.

More about the Our Place in Time : Built Heritage Investment Group

BHIG members represented over twenty organisations, including:

Built Environment Forum Scotland, Church of Scotland General Trustees, Community Ownership Support Service, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Federation of Scottish Theatre, Forestry and Land Scotland, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Historic Houses, Museums Galleries Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Network Rail, NHS Scotland, Registers of Scotland, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Royal Town Planning Institute, Scottish Canals, Scottish Futures Trust, Scottish Land and Estates, NatureScot, Scottish Property Federation.