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SUSTAINABLE OFFICE


IMPROVING THE SUSTAINABILITY OF OFFICES IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR


A


s central government announces that it has given up two million square meters of property since the Coalition took power, the equivalent of 20 percent of its estate, it seems more pertinent than ever for the public sector to consider whether it is making the best use of


its office space.


When any organisation downsizes, it must consider how to configure its office space most effectively to ensure it enables its workforce to be as productive as possible. While the immediate environment and provision of space is vital, one element which many organisations overlook is that a sustainable building can have a positive impact on the satisfaction, well-being and productivity of the workforce.


The British Council for Offices’ (BCO) recent research paper, Improving the Environmental Performance of Offices, found that an energy efficient office can be used to motivate employees and, as a result, improve the efficiency of the workforce. For example, if the public sector engages with its workforce to understand which environmental factors are valued by them, they can also gain an understanding of which environmental factors negatively affect them. This enables technical issues which are affecting performance to be addressed, based on employee feedback. One example could be replacing energy inefficient and dull lighting, which will not only improve a building’s environmental performance, but also improve employee wellbeing and productivity, by providing people with a better lit workspace. In addition, with energy costs typically accounting for little more than 1% of an organisation’s costs, compared to staff costs which often amount to around 90%, a one percent improvement in productivity will easily cover the cost of updating any utility provision, and could represent a saving of as much as £50 per square meter.


Most organisations use employee surveys to understand the impact that environmental factors have on the workforce. However, the results of each survey should be put in the context of buildings of a similar age, size and specification. It’s always testing to get all aspects of a building right, and this is particularly true in the public sector, where many buildings are several decades old. However, by comparing aspects of each building with buildings of a similar age or size, through tools such as the Building Use Studies (BUS) methodology or The Leesman Index, this will enable the sector to understand which features are above average and those where improvements are required.


At the BCO we have seen many public sector buildings embrace improvements to their environmental performance over the last few years. At this year’s National Awards ceremony, Number One Riverside - the new home of Rochdale City Council - won our prestigious ‘Best of the Best’ award. The building is now held as a benchmark for the redevelopment of semi-public buildings and


commended in particular for its introduction of open plan and high quality break out areas, which not only increase interaction between employees, but also reduce the costs of running the building, as there are fewer rooms to heat and cool. Another public sector building which is leading the way in terms of environmental performance is The Council House in Derby. Winning the ‘Refurbished Workplace’ category in the BCO National Awards, the judges felt the sustainability credentials were cutting edge. The council has managed to achieve both high levels of user satisfaction and comfort through energy efficient lighting and controls, as well as an improved building fabric and heat recovery to create an energy efficient environment.


While these two examples have achieved high levels of energy efficiency through re-development, the sector can improve its performance by tweaks to its existing building stock. Facilities managers should ensure they are constantly ‘fine tuning’ how the building is operating against its design criteria to ensure the space is operating at maximum efficiency. By analysing the outputs from the building’s management systems, as well as any data gathered from how employees are using the building, facilities managers will be able to understand if their building is performing as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. For those organisations within the public sector which lease their property from a landlord, facilities managers should consider incorporating sustainability service-level agreements when agreeing new leases. This should help introduce a business-supplier arrangement between the public sector organisation and their landlord which is service orientated and based upon ‘value add’ in terms of environmental performance. This should enable the sector to challenge landlords for continuous improvement, where appropriate, which can be benchmarked in terms of service charge provision. However, it’s crucial that any investment by landlords in this scenario reflects the needs of the workforce. It is this sort of targeted investment, based on employee feedback, which has the ability to transform productivity levels and return significant reductions in business costs.


In addition to the improvements to employee productivity and well-being achieved by addressing the environmental performance of a workspace, it is clear that the public sector is now expected to not simply comply with environmental and sustainability legislation, but to take the lead in implementing sustainable practices. In doing so, the sector will not only set a positive example to the private sector, but can also look to inspire public trust in its efficiency.


www.bco.org.uk


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PUBLIC SECTOR ESTATES MANAGEMENT • JANUARY 2015


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