Designerati Q&A

1)     What is the current state of the commercial building sector post Covid-19,

The good news is that the health of the London office market in particular is seeing occupier activity return and now on a par with the pre-COVID 5-year average. There is an especially large demand for buildings with strong environmental credentials.

From an operational perspective, the commercial real estate industry is in a state of flux as property owners and facilities managers struggle to cope with inflation at its highest level in almost 30 years and prices for wholesale gas going up dramatically, resulting in steep rises in the cost of electricity. With UK electricity generation being reliant on imported gas, this is unlikely to change significantly in 2022, leaving businesses exposed to world gas prices and less environmentally aware. This is expected to impact the attractiveness of less-sustainable buildings (e.g. low BREEAM rating) to tenants and lease renewals.

2) How ‘environmentally aware’ are consumers in general?

Many in the commercial building sector are aware of the environmental consequences of real estate and are trying to introduce policies which can reduce carbon emission, but face unprecedented costs in other areas of the business which naturally puts sustainable initiatives to the bottom of the list. 

Some organisations have announced Net Zero targets but many don’t have realistic plans yet in place. Many facility managers and property management firms are more focused on ensuring building comfort for occupants at the cost of environmental performance, when technology solutions exist which can deliver both. Awareness of these solutions or willingness to consider them is very low.

3) Tell us about a standout project/initiative/product that you’ve been involved in that has sustainability at its core?

For the first time, commercial properties can benefit from Demand Side Response (DSR), which is at the core of our offering. While not a new technology, having been utilised across industrial spaces for years, it has never before been applied to the commercial real estate industry, leaving many in this field unaware of the benefits it can provide both sustainably and economically. 

Our solution allows commercial buildings to reduce their carbon emissions, energy costs and increase the BREEAM rating by adjusting their electricity demand a small amount for a short period of time so that no-one in the building notices. This empowers commercial buildings over 50,000 sq ft across the country to enable the growth of renewable generation when the Grid can’t meet demands, such as when the wind doesn’t blow, ultimately helping the UK to meet its ambitious net zero target by 2050, and be financially rewarded to do so, without even putting any capital investment forward.

4)     In what ways is sustainable design evolving, and what new directions and creative opportunities might we expect to see in the near future?

Sustainable design for commercial buildings will increasingly rely on the installation of a range of new technologies including energy efficiency and optimisation technologies, solar panels and DSR as we seek to move to more renewable generation to provide our electricity. In terms of construction, there will also be a move towards the wider use of widely recyclable materials with great durability potential, such as aluminium, in the sector.

5)     How has the pandemic affected design options? Has it had any impact on sustainable design options or perhaps more wide scale trends?

The pandemic affected the construction business and, in consequence, the development of green buildings due to the supply chain shortage. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t over yet, with the crisis expected to last another two years.

Because of the delays this imposed to property development, we are seeing a rising trend of retrofitting existing homes and buildings to make them more sustainable, with research from global engineering, architecture and consultancy company, Ramboll, stating that 80% of people believe renovating existing buildings is more important than designing new buildings to be carbon neutral.

As a result, we are seeing a heightened focus on often ignored design elements such as the ventilation system, which are having an overhaul as companies look to push more fresh air through to tackle Covid-19. Moving forward, using carbon dioxide to assess ventilation efficacy will become increasingly important to predict the likelihood of people getting infected in buildings.