Managed space operators lead green revolution
Copyright: David Lawson
First published: Property Week March 2008
After years of denial, the property industry has gone crackers about sustainable development. The sheer number of conferences, seminars, newsletters, codes and puffy declarations about green credentials is mind-numbing. Yet the same old doubt bubbles beneath the surface: who will pay for all those world-saving extras? Not tenants. There is still negligible evidence that green buildings rate premium rents.
Managed space operators have no such qualms. All-in fees mean they foot bills for energy and tougher waste disposal rules, so they should be leading the charge into a sustainable future. Some big names are certainly in the front line but smaller ones could be in for a shock unless they catch up. Poorly rated centres face lower rents and falling values as a two-tier market emerges, particularly as Energy Performance Certificates come in, says Tom Stokes, who will spend the next year banging this drum as new chair of the Business Centre Association.
‘It is in our interest to go green,’ says David Alberto, MD of Avanta. ‘Utility bills have soared from £1.25/sq ft to £2.50/ sq ft since the Nineties and we will bear the brunt of the carbon taxes undoubtedly in the pipeline.’ He called in the Carbon Trust to produce action plans 18 months ago but is also looking beyond energy saving. Tenants are already demanding evidence of waste management, so all Avanta centres recycle plastic and paper, he says.
Stokes is also working with the Trust in his day job as MD of Evans Easyspace, and new developments are being built to top BREEAM standards. But he sees a wider role than just cost saving. Top tenants are demanding greener buildings but the industry has a responsibility to also give a lead to smaller businesses which don’t yet know how to fully embrace green issues, he says. This should be seen as an additional service, with advice on key issues such as carbon footprint reduction, recycling and green transport.
Yet it is likely to be pound signs rather than good intentions that interest operators caught between soaring utility bills and tenants reluctant to fork out higher fees. MWB Business Exchange chief executive John Spencer has shown that dilemma can be easily resolved. He has saved £100,000 - around 5% of costs - in the first year of a campaign to ‘green’ the firm’s portfolio. And that has relied heavily on simple techniques such as persuading tenants and cleaners to turn off unused lights. This will be less necessary in new and refurbished centres which will have motion detectors, high efficiency heating and ventilation and designs which maximise daylighting. Fit out consultant Works Space is extending the green message beyond cash saving to ensure sustainable sourcing of materials.
Teleconferencing is being promoted as a green alternative to live meetings but there seems an unquenchable need for face-to-face connections. Business centres are managing to tap into both trends. Corporate meetings rose 27% last year, the biggest rise since 1999, says the Meetings Industry Association. Planners predict a 73% increase in the number of events in the coming 12 months. The FutureWatch Survey found that although nearly 40% of respondents expect webcasts to reduce attendance, a third believe the total number of participants (live and virtual) will rise.
Web conferences and ‘live’ meetings satisfy different needs, says James Parris, manager of The Oriel, a Harvard Offices centre in Slough. The internet is a cheap way of sharing information among people spread over long distances. ‘But it cannot replace a face to face meeting for networking and building relationships, developing trust or team spirit and even brainstorming new ideas,’ he says.
Centres like the Oriel are developing a key role as ‘live’ hubs, with facilities ranging from large board meetings and seminars to small, informal sessions. But some operators are finding they can satisfy both needs. Regus has teamed with Cisco to create a network of big-screen teleconferencing suites to complement its meeting rooms.
The Green is an apt name for a 50,000 sq ft development of flexible office space for up to 62 businesses near Lancaster by Time & Tide Commercial. Units from 350 to more than 4,000 sq ft will be supported by a range of ecological measures including ground source heat pumps, passive ventilation, a grey water system, provision for solar power and a living sedum garden roof. Architects AFL (Manchester) placed the building to maximise natural heat and light and used sustainable materials. It will also be part of a live-work community involving 300 homes and 10,000 sq ft of commercial space. Time & Tide believes the innovative, mixed-use nature of the development will help tenants attract and retain staff, increase productivity and regenerate the area.