Real estate benchmarking and productivity claims under fire

Copyright: David Lawson 1999

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Benchmarking techniques and  guidance on best practice for construction came under fire at the British Council for Offices annual conference in Glasgow.

  Comparison with buildings in Europe and the US are flawed because they do not take account of different ages, cultures and legal background, said Derek Tuddenham of Roger Preston International. He clashed with environmental campaigner Tim Battle over suggestions that the widely-accepted  BCO practice guide ought to lead the industry to higher standards rather than be a lowest common denominator.

 Benchmarking was important but could not be done in a 'scattergun' way, said Tuddenham in a workshop which examined global views of specifications. RPI had audited overseas examples quoted by the BCO and found widely varying reasons for differences to the UK. In the Far east, for instance, higher densities of use were considered socially acceptable while Germany has legal controls on floor depth.

  The practice guide  was also questioned by Grant Brooker of Foster & Partners, who suggested it was 'a standard for what is used' and a 'lowest common denominator' rather than a forward-looking specification.  'You have to ask if you are going to follow or lead the industry,' he said.

  Battle, who is helping update the guide, insisted that it had to avoid 'blue sky' solutions and become prescriptive, or it would be ignored.  Surprisingly, he  also questioned claims that hard productivity gains could be proven for greener buildings.

 John Doggart of ECD pointed out that buildings form less than 4% of total overheads for occupiers but influencing the remainder - mainly staff costs - had massive potential.

 'Reducing absenteeism by eliminating building sickness gives a big bottom-line impact for the occupier,' said Doggart.

  But Battle, who is a leading campaigner for greener buildings,  pointed out that far more work needed to be done before hard figures could be quoted for productivity improvements.

 Productivity emerged as a key issue from several other  workshops. As one architect pointed out: 'Most people in the UK work in offices. We have one of the lowest productivity rates in the world. It is only logical that we should look at this issue seriously. But we need scientific studies rather than subjective impressions.

 'Developers don't care because they see property only as an asset and are not concerned  about the people inside. It won't change until buildings are judged by their long-term efficiency.'