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Changing ideas

Think differently was the overriding message of the Workplace Trends Climate Change and The Workplace: Towards Net Zero Carbon event. Andrew Brown one of the chairs of the day reports

As the Government is often keen on telling us: we are all in this together. But if we are to achieve the target of Zero Carbon by 2050 then we do all have a part to play. That was the point of a new event for Workplace Trends held at Herman Miller National Design Centre in late February. The message was clear. If you work in any aspect of the workplace and FM sector, then you can make a difference and do something constructive about the climate emergency.

But it does help to have the right facts. That was stressed by the first speaker, Alan Fogarty, a partner in Cundall who heads up its specialist environmental building physics group. As a chartered Building Services Engineer who has specialised in passive building design and low carbon systems, he has an eye for detail, and he explained that one of the problems facing us is that we might not be using the right data. Fogarty never strayed from the main point – something must be done, as soon as possible because the built environment is a major source of carbon emissions. Targeting the idea of reducing operational energy use he set out a number of very practical recommendations, each of which was balanced against a likely cost, but he did not once suggest avoiding acting because of any perceived short-term investment concern.

We still need to learn how buildings perform and there was a call from almost all of the speakers during the day that FMs need to connect with their colleagues in design, planning and construction. Fogarty stressed that we could design better, aim for natural light not electric light, specify the right heating systems that are low carbon and change our cultural habits. And we need to learn, beta test and apply the solutions.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Fogarty, like David Cheshire, from Aecom, both reminded the audience about the concept of soft landings – embedding part of the building team in a new facility when it is handed over, so they learn how it performs. That knowledge all adds up and will help prevent linear thinking, something that limits us as a society and therefore in how we manage the space we use for work.

Cheshire made a strong case for closing the loop and embracing the circular economy. Something that gained popularity and profile with Ellen MacArthur seems to have slipped past many people in the built environment but why not see waste as a resource. We need to design for life, design for purpose and seek to reuse the spaces and assets we have and not build new ones. Desai from UK Green Building Council and Andy Stanton from Atkins who spoke about the LETI – the London Energy Transformation Initiative emphasised again there is not enough measurement of how buildings perform now and how we use that data to learn and reduce carbon emissions. LETI has done a great job in creating a guide – building on the RIBA stages – for new buildings, but we have to work harder with what we have got.

REUSE AND USE WISELY
One clear message to take away was to limit how much refit and refurbishment is delivered. We should not be limited by the space in front of us. Offices, hotels even factory units can be converted and blurred to become different workplaces. They are, often (as Antony Slumbers has said) just boxes. Ann Beavis of Honeymaker, agreed with Cheshire but highlighted some very practical ideas for reuse of materials and spaces. Her mantra was pragmatism not environmentalism and pointed to the BiTC circular office guide as toolbox of ideas – “use less stuff generally but buy better stuff and use it wisely”. One story that resonated was an organisation IT department that had wiring, cabling and parts stored they had no idea what do with. Furniture too – why not repurpose chairs and desks and soft furnishings. This was something that happened at St. Bartholomew Hospital but not delivered through the procurement team who couldn’t or wouldn’t pursue it. Instead, the project team, thinking differently worked directly with the waste and recycling team.

Ian Baker and Clare Hawkins from EMCOR – sponsors of the event- gave practical FM oriented advice on mitigating carbon in the workplace. None of which is rocket science and many of the ideas are not original – but we choose to ignore them. After all, why not switch lights and power off when leaving the office. We do it at home. Why not at work? Why not adjust the heating and hot water to better reflects the usage of a workspace?

ACTIVE TRAVEL
And why not encourage the users of the spaces we are responsible for to take an active and healthy route to work? How we move around to and from work and during work hours and how services and products are delivered can be moved to lower carbon models. Elective vehicles, bicycles and electric bicycles and simply taking public transport and not using traditional vehicles all makes a difference. Megan Sharkey, a city change maker and Urban Studies Research Scholar at the University of Westminster made a clear argument that organisations of all sizes should be drawing up workplace travel plans for staff. Ben Knowles, founder of Pedal Me, the cycling taxi and logistics business explained that anything can be moved by bicycle across London – even a complete office move. Neil Webster, Property Consultant and Cycling Pundit rooted the conversation about active travel to practical measures. It’s healthy, it improves emotional and physical wellbeing and cuts air pollution and congestion. Why wouldn’t you?

TIME FOR ACTION

One action anyone can take is to sign up to the Climate Change Commitment http://www.betterbuildingspartnership.co.uk/node/877, something that was explained by Sarah Ratcliffe of the Better Buildings Partnership. If we are to make a change and move toward net zero, then making a commitment is a first step. Check out the link here and for further details about the presentations at the Workplace Trends Climate Change event go to: https://bit.ly/3ap1Jbk

About Sarah OBeirne

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