Beyond Certification – Innovation and Wellbeing

ULI UK – Sustainability Council Day Summary  4th June 2018

Author: Enzo Giovanetti, La Française

While the word is often associated with greenwashing and meaningless statements, sustainability is actually measurable and encompasses more than energy performance and greenhouse gas emission measurements.  Thus, this year’s ULI UK Sustainability Council Day focused on the relevance of certifications as proxy for driving forward sustainability in the built environment.  It was also the opportunity to explore how innovation in wellbeing has the potential to make sustainability revolve around users.  Bringing together professionals from across the property management, investment management and urban planning sectors on the 4th of June at Cundall’s London office, the ULI UK Sustainability Council has provided a forum for practitioners to derive future best practices from the past decade’s lessons.

After ULI UK Sustainability Council Co-Chairs Vicki Lockhart & Erik Ruane’s introduction, a panel and audience debate reviewed challenges and future developments of the certification universe.  Through different lenses, the panellists have drawn up a mixed picture of certification benefits and highlighted the need to shift from design performance to operational excellence and user-centric approaches.

Ed Dixon, Sustainability Insights Director at Landsec, gave the audience an inspirational introductory talk.  Drawing upon the thoughts of investment moguls such as Warren Buffet or John Doerr and a real business case, Ed stressed that our industry is the last to embrace customer capitalism.  As a result, he noted that developers and managers could benefit from a change in performance measurements in order to “delight customers”.

Robert Cohen, Technical Director at Verco Advisory Services, presented key takeaways of an evidence-backed comparative study of energy efficiency between the London and Melbourne office markets.  Robert illustrated the improvements achieved since the launch of NABERS rating system in Australia by pointing out that Melbourne average office energy use has halved between 2002 and 2018, while today’s London best performing buildings are not even as efficient as Melbourne’s minimum standard.  Moreover, where the industry agrees on the notion of a brown discount, Robert introduced evidence of a green alpha.

Helen Newman, from TFT Consultants, summarized today’s certification rationales and opened up avenues for enhancements.  While certifications mostly focus on design performance, Helen advocated for greater emphasis on in-use assessments.  She also raised related challenges, i.e. the lack of data that would help identify benefits; and potential misalignment between unprepared tenants and ambitious operational objectives.  Helen concluded that “certifications cannot be a substitute of a proper sustainable corporate approach”.

Chris Bennett, Managing Director at Evora Global, walked the audience through his recent energy optimization project of a 6,300 m2 office space in Glasgow to illustrate the benefits of collaboration between stakeholders.  Questioning the relevance of certification to tenants, Chris demonstrated that the installation of more technology infrastructure within buildings helps to achieve leaner energy profiles.  His informed strategic metering approach promotes the comparison between initial and in-use energy models to better identify operational gaps.

This was followed by a group discussion where the following points were made:

  • Quality data and insights remain a scarce resource and systematic data collection would benefit all industry participants;
  • The diversity of certifications creates confusion and the work burden it represents discourages many potential users;
  • The industry focus needs to shift to in-use assessments in order to achieve real operational improvements;
  • Asset managers/owners should address wellbeing and health considerations as they drive tenant expectations.

Before the site tour of Cundall’s London office – Europe’s first WELL Certified Project – Alan Fogarty, Sustainability Partner at Cundall, briefly recapped the objectives, opportunities and challenges of going through the WELL certification process.  Among the seven dimensions WELL evaluates (Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, Mind), Air, Light and Mind required a significant reflection and implementation process.  From floor to ceiling, Alan detailed the entire office fit-out during our visit.  Demand-driven air control through CO2 sensors, bio-sourced furniture, proprietary air monitoring devices, yoga classes, standing desks and biophilic design were all part of the equation in achieving and outperforming WELL Standard.  Plants and mosses, as part of Cundall’s experimental biophilic design, were an interesting feature of their office as they offer a twofold benefit: improving air quality and creating a feel-good factor by reconnecting employees with nature.  Overall, Cundall largely reaped the benefits of its wellbeing endeavour as confirmed by very positive results of both the post occupancy survey and HR metrics (i.e. absence rate and staff turnover).

Natalia Ford, Sustainability Advisor at the UK Green Building Council, gave us an industry-wide overview.  Where sustainability applied to the built environment should embody a shared vision, Natalia asserted that industry participants continue to question the value of sustainability.  She went onto demonstrating the positive impact of sustainable business practices on profitability and investability as she pointed out the growing number of institutional investors committed to responsible investments through various industry initiatives (e.g. the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures).  Natalia finally introduced us to the key value driver metrics developed in Capturing the Value of Sustainability – a research publication of the UK Green Building Council.

After a well-deserved lunch break, we were impatient to start the Wellbeing Investment Workshop as we touched upon the subject in the morning and agreed on its materiality to drive customer satisfaction.  From two different perspectives, the panellists expounded their approaches to health and wellbeing across different projects, and shared with us some best practices and market engagement initiatives

Jane Wakiwaka, Sustainability Manager at The Crown Estate, set out The Crown Estate’s health and wellbeing strategy, supported with concrete examples and initiatives.  At the heart of The Crown Estate vision, health and wellbeing considerations are incorporated into the Development Sustainability Principles – a reference document prepared by the landlord, establishing a series of sustainability KPIs.  Applied during development and post-occupancy phases, this methodology includes building design, customer engagement and evaluation dimensions.  Jane illustrated this with three projects and most notably Heddon Street in Mayfair that was transformed into a pedestrian dining hotspot taking into account factors such as acoustics, lighting, amenities or look and feel.  Amongst the different partnerships and collaborations mentioned, the Wild West End project links sustainability very effectively with wellbeing objectives in the urban environment and offers the opportunity to raise public awareness during the Summer Streets festival.

Marco Treglia, Environmental Designer at Elementa, illustrated the Fitwel certification process.  Fitwel is a new building certification that promotes healthier workplaces through a series of evidence-based assessments.  It includes, amongst others, the indoor and outdoor environment, indoor amenities such as vending machines or cafeteria, emergency procedures and shared spaces.  Beyond reaching the standard, the second challenge of his project at 80 Cheapside, London was to keep the wellness-oriented refit budget constrained to £4,500.  Supported by the project’s design sketches, Marco detailed the depth of the retrofit, from the kitchen and lunch space – which was significantly improved – to the open space and meeting rooms.  The audience could draw parallels between Cundall’s London office and this project since standing desks, biophilic design, green purchasing, air quality control and fitness activities were also implemented.  After a 30-to-60-hour effort to fill the Fitwel scorecard, Marco’s project was eventually the first Fitwel certified workplace in Europe.

Following these case studies, Vicki Lockhart moved the flow of conversation around the group. As conclusion of this workshop, we agreed that health and wellbeing investments could deliver positive human outcomes – provided that the real estate industry undertakes lasting commitments.  We also agreed that addressing health and wellbeing issues is the most effective angle to raise the general public awareness on wider sustainability concerns.

In the last part of the afternoon, the second occurrence of the ULI Asset Innovation Series 2018 focused on health and wellbeing technologies in the urban environment.  Anne-Claire Barberi, International and Innovation Manager at Immowell Lab, drew upon a few introductory observations and the World Health Organization’s definition of health to lay out Immowell Lab’s vision, methods and scope.  Joint venture between startups accelerator Impulse London and real estate consultancy ARP-Astrance, this accelerator dedicated to health and wellbeing in real estate serves as a catalyst for innovations.  Sourcing, rating, coaching and promoting the most promising ventures, Anne-Claire was proud to announce that Immowell Lab has already seen 60 contracts signed by its mentees after successful pilots.  Anne-Claire continues to tour all major European industry events such as MIPIM, Proptech or REIN, to promote the best-of-breed startups.

The following Lightning Round was a great opportunity for Anne-Claire’s “protégés” to shine a spotlight on their innovations.

Aïda Berrada, Founder of GreenMe, noted that occupants are not usually consulted on their definition of a high-performance or comfortable building, and presented a smart device that measures indoor environment parameters linked to an app that allows occupants to rate their perception of the environment.  Aïda’s solution allows management to take appropriate actions based on both these perception votes and the actual quality of the workspace environment.

Stephanie Dawson, Director at Runnin’ City, stressed that the urban environment could represent a source of motivation to encourage urban dwellers to exercise more.  This was the main rationale behind the Runnin’ City app, a vocal GPS, multi-media audio-guide and open data ready that offer “sightseeing” runs in more than 150 cities in the world.  This culturally enriched running app could attract untapped jogging rookies.

Tako Werts, Founder of Office Vitae, underscored the main causes for dissatisfaction encountered by office workers, and introduced Office Vitae proposition: an integrated solution for measuring and improving sustainability in office buildings as well as health and wellbeing of occupants.  Supported by sensors, a selfreporting app and wearable trackers, the startup creates workspace profiles and personal profiles, and compile both into individual indices.  This allows taking appropriate actions and keeping track of improvements at the workspace as well as individual level.

Alex Storey, Director at Disruptive Technologies, focused on presenting his next-generation sensor solution that monitors, collects and aggregates data and makes them available through open APIs to any analytics platform.  Alex insisted on the simple installation and operation of his lightweight, unobtrusive sensors.  Scalable across the property management value chain, Alex’s solution could create live health and wellbeing improvements as it can remotely monitor lighting, heating and air conditioning.

Following the Q&A session, Benjamin Kott, Founder of web-based energy and resource consumption tracking platform Fabriq and moderator of the debate, wrapped up our discussion by encouraging all participants to engage with and implement innovative solutions in the field of health and wellbeing – as it will increasingly drive building attractiveness and thus performance.

As the regulatory landscape becomes progressively more stringent across Europe, the property industry has reacted and got the basics right.  However, developers, managers and owners should see beyond certification standards and ask themselves what delivers real energy efficiency and occupiers’ satisfaction.  Engaging with tenants and end users will definitely facilitate this endeavour, both because there is a need to build awareness on sustainability best practices and because collecting health and wellbeing expectations will help implementing relevant solutions.  Innovation and technology will also be key to delivering scalable, yet flexible, answers.  Forward-looking certifications, such as the industry initiative Design for Performance or WELL and the likes, emphasize in-use performance assessments and human health considerations in order to reduce the performance gap and to foster greater stakeholder engagement.  Altogether, sustainability and health are intertwined topics that will only be answered through collaboration, innovation and evaluation.

The ULI would like to thank Cundall and Alan Fogarty for providing the event venue and insightful site tour. ULI is also grateful to all panellists and moderators for their participation.

Click on the below links to view presentations from the day

1 Beyond Cetification and Value of Sustainability- Presentations

2 Wellbeing Investment Workshop
Crown Estate
Elementa – Fitwell

3. Asset Innovation – Wellbeing
Immowell Lab
Green Me
Runnin City
Disruptive Technologies

For further details about the Sustainability Council visit: ULI Sustainability Council

Click on the below image to view photos from the Sustainability Council Day

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