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On your bike

Andrew Brown argues that a key way for FMs to embrace sustainability is to encourage people to ride their bike to work

One of the common themes in FM right now is responsibility. There is widespread acknowledgement – of a climate emergency, which clearly indicates we need to mix responsible business ethics with a moral duty to combat the threats to flora, fauna and our planet.

Unless you’re a government then the answers are to take small steps. One small step is to embrace active travel – especially consider how the humble bicycle might impact FM.

The data from Transport for London and cycling lobby groups point to more people choosing to ride a bike to work – particularly in London. Developers and owner occupiers – many of whom are FM clients – are reacting to this. Commenting on the 2017 BCO report, The Market Cycle (by Neil Webster of Remit), Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the British Council for Offices, said: “One of the key findings of the research is that, compared to five years ago, cycling provision is increasingly becoming accepted as an integral component of Grade A office specification. As cycling continues to grow in popularity, workplaces now need to provide facilities which can cope with rising demand, and technology is likely to play a significant role in addressing this. UK businesses must also ensure that their service provision for cyclists meets the evolving expectations of today’s worker. In the same way that reception spaces in many office buildings are beginning to resemble concierge desks, showering and changing facilities are taking inspiration from high-end gyms. To encourage more employees to cycle to work, this level of attention to detail will be as important as the providing the basics.”

Neil Webster pointed out that as cycling continues to rise in popularity the most pressing issue for businesses will be finding the space for bikes, lockers and storage. He argued in 2017 that the focus needs to be on the quality of the facilities offered, not just the quantity. Alongside safe storage and showers, there is a clear demand for towels, hairdryers and complimentary toiletries. This kind of service provision may not just encourage existing employees to cycle to work, it could also act as a market differentiator for prospective employees, and even have a positive impact on lettability.

Doesn’t that sound like a business opportunity for FMs? Especially now everyone in FM is falling over themselves to reinforce the link between facilities and workplace. However, the standout providers of these solutions are not FMs. They are specialists like Five at Heart who deliver exactly the services Kauntze and Webster suggest but direct to developers and owner occupiers such as Evans Randall, Fore Partnership, Lasalle Investment and M&G Real Estate.

Isn’t it time that the facilities sector took the lead and was in the driving seat (sorry, saddle) of this trend? Shouldn’t FMs and workplace managers be encouraging occupiers and end users to adopt an active route to work? Isn’t that a moral and ethical responsibility? After all, if the end of route facilities being designed and installed by specialists are adding to the value of the property asset, shouldn’t the FM team responsible for the management take a lead on the whole idea in the first place?

That bicycle might have gone, passed by like a peloton of riders, but what about adopting the bicycle for operational work? How radical is that? Innovative? Yes. Feasible – well, let’s look.

FedEx, DHL and other delivery organisations – let’s not focus on Deliveroo right now – are all using cargo bikes for the last mile of their deliveries. Co-op, the Royal Mail and the NHS (for blood supplies) are adopting e-cargo bikes. The Department of Transport has provided a £2m fund to encourage their uptake.

So, deliveries and movement of goods – yes. What about office moves? Would that work? In May, Sustrans, the UK sustainable transport charity completed an office move entirely by bicycle. No vans. They hired PedalMe, the electric cargo bike company to move their 53 London based employees and a 117kg printer, 100 storage boxes, 50 crates full of IT equipment, three cupboards and two smoothie bikes. The relocation was from Farringdon to Tower Hamlet – around three miles in total. That’s one task that FM companies could do right there – delivered by bike.

Benjamin Knowles, Director at PedalMe argues that the high-tech e-assist cargo bikes and trailers piloted by highly trained staff allows them to out-compete motor vehicles in London. He says that “Our competitor analysis shows that we’re significantly cheaper than alternatives for large deliveries up to 150kg, which can be moved by our bikes without trailers (allowing them to maximise their speed advantage). Where we’ve done big moves before, we’ve come out at less than half the nearest quote – because we can get our vehicles closer to the pickup or drop off building, can move similar amounts to a van with our special trailers, and we can get to the drop-off quicker. Our purpose is not to provide just a CSR bump – but to offer a more practical alternative to motor vehicles that are hopelessly poorly adapted to use in cities.”

This is not just PR either. The numbers tell a story. PedalMe has gone from two employees to forty in 24-months of growth. There’s research that claims e-cargo bikes could replace some 20 per cent of all delivery vans currently operating in large cities. Academics from Amsterdam and Rotterdam Universities spent two years working with freight companies, municipalities and other experts to compile the 121-page City Logistic: Light and Electric report. This argued that cities are being strangled by trucks and vans. In the UK, van traffic has grown by 71 per cent over the last 20 years, compared to growth of 13 per cent for cars.

So, are any facilities service companies looking into this at all? How many white vans are their being driven around our cities by FMs as they undertake planned and reactive maintenance? If it is planned, could it not be scheduled in such a way to mitigate the use of a vehicle and potentially swap some of the tasks to a lighter, cleaner, greener bicycle? How hard can it be? Think differently. Just ride the bike.

This opinion piece is dedicated to the memory of Richard Byatt, a keen cyclist and advocate of green solutions and never afraid to challenge convention.

About Sarah OBeirne

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