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Thinking outside the boundary of owned sites and buildings enables much greater benefit. Real estate assets can also be maximised for environ- mental and social benefits

where housing costs are simply unaffordable for the lower paid in many areas. This leads to increased commuting (adding to conges- tion pressures) and increased wage demands – or may simply lead to non-availability of staff as travel costs make the wages simply uneconomic.

practical action, giving time, training volun- teers, mentoring the disadvantaged, assisting in education.

Where are we now?

As Peter Rees, chief planner for the City of London observes, cities are places for “gossip, socialising, deal making and contact build- ing”. The need for cities has not gone away, despite the advance of social media and the on-line market, but the challenges they face have evolved.

Climate change mitigation and environmen- tal efficiency have become boardroom issues, and many businesses are taking action on their energy use, waste production and water consumption. Many are also looking at their supply chain, reducing their embedded envi- ronmental footprint and reducing their expo- sure to tax and supply risk. But how many are looking at the places in which their businesses are based? Around 70% of the buildings that will make up a 2050 town already exist today. Road congestion means costly delays for employees and freight. According to the CBI, this costs UK businesses £7-8B a year – and traffic is set to grow by a further 30% by 2015. Poor building stock will cost much more to run. Oil costs are rising rapidly, and as climate change kicks in, power will also be needed for cooling in summer. The temperatures in towns and city centres are already higher than surrounding areas. As highlighted in Sustainable Business last month, businesses recognise that future water availability is a threat while, conversely, flood risk is increas- ing from severe weather events.

Land use is also poorly organised. We’re familiar with the terms greenfield (undevel- oped) and brownfield (previously developed) land, but we also have acres of greyfield (long- term parking) where cars are parked to do nothing. The opportunity cost of this land is staggering. We are also faced with a situation

The public sector has led on many of these issues. Council-led city centre regeneration projects have anchored new development and regeneration. Austerity cuts mean that those in operation such as the Croydon Economic Development Company have scaled back sig- nificantly. There is less money available for road building and improvements, and as the DfT states, “local communities will need to find other solutions to their transport prob- lems, rather than depend on the distant prom- ise of a currently unaffordable road scheme”. The Homes and Communities Agency has pump-primed mixed use developments, but their funding has been reduced. Clearly the resources of the public sector to address urban problems are much limited.

What can businesses do?

Businesses hold a great deal of existing prop- erty in towns and cities. Thinking outside the boundary of owned sites and buildings enables much greater benefit. Real estate assets can also be maximised for environmental and social benefits.

Heat and power can be produced locally in a way that is more cost and carbon efficient than current grid and mains transmission. It is unusual for this to be economic for single premises. Neighbouring businesses working together can provide sufficient demand for a shared system – which requires them to talk to each other about their refurbishment and plant update plans. Link such schemes into neighbouring houses, and the cost efficien- cies become greater. It’s not a new idea, but it requires co-operation and planning. Electric vehicles produce fewer and lower carbon emissions than petrol or diesel vehi- cles. The charging points for these vehicles are more cost effective for a larger customer base – business consortia are well positioned to set up provision of infrastructure for their own and local resident use. The London ‘Boris Bikes’ are another example where shared infrastructure and wider customer bases make a sustainable travel mode feasible – and are replicable on a smaller scale.

Businesses can also work together to reduce commuting impacts. Commuters hold up

freight. Roads that are jammed at rush hours often run below capacity during the rest of the day. While individual measures certainly help (flexible or staggered office hours, ena- bling people to work from home), co-opera- tion with other organisations makes lift share schemes, car share, shuttle buses, improved footpaths and bus discount schemes viable. Car parking is another provision that could be shared. Bookable spaces instead of allocated, empty spaces? Or even a bold decision to reduce car parking to a bare minimum, with a shared over-spill provision. Teleconferencing facilities may also be more viable on a shared basis – and even where a company wishes to have its own facilities, renting them out to smaller firms benefits both parties. One of the means to reduce city centre tem- peratures is to reduce the amount of bare con- crete and increase planting and open water. Providing ‘sacrificial’ open space also enables flood water to be held in such a way that dam- age to buildings is minimised. Co-operation with neighbours means that this green and blue infrastructure can have greater benefits, as connecting it across boundaries means it can be used for exercise, leisure and improving the public realm. Roofs can also be valued assets. How many uses can you think of for a roof? At least eight spring to mind – keep the rain off your workers, capture rain water for reuse. Keep desirable heat in, keep undesirable heat out. Support nature, provide outdoor space and grow food on green roofs. Generate heat and power through solar and photovoltaic panels. Even if a business does not want to manage energy generation schemes itself, organisa- tions are emerging that want to “rent roofs” for this purpose and will either supply some lower cost energy or offer a financial return. Clearly building owners have security needs. However, many office buildings stand empty in the evenings and weekends while community premises struggle to stay open. Schools have led the way here, making parts of their facilities available to groups for hire. This is a model from which businesses and their communities can mutually benefit. A final thought – share a building’s foot- print to enable civic regeneration. This entails mixing uses vertically. A new primary school building in north-west London was financed by developing and selling flats above the school building. This Places for People pro- ject won the 2010 Homes & Communities Agency’s Awards Ventures category.

Innovation and New

Lynne Ceeney is head of sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff

Sustainable Business | Sustainable Cities | February 2011 | 5

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