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Fitouts are a waste if they are later ripped up by occupiers in favour of their own fitout, the BCO and UCL warned

Research

End ‘wasteful’ Cat-A fitouts, BCO urges landlords

A report by University College London has identified measures real estate can take to break down barriers that prevent businesses from drastically reducing their workplace carbon footprint.

Produced for the British Council for Offices, Delivering Net Zero Carbon in the Workplace recommends:

  • Greener and longer leases, with office occupiers having more say over refurbishments
  • Greater collaboration and data sharing between building owners and occupiers
  • Submetering and the use of sensors to measure exactly where energy I used
  • Using prefabricated, re-used and recycled materials and furniture.

Because 50% of the office building stock in the UK is tenanted, there is little consistency even within single buildings as to how workspaces are designed and used. That makes improving energy performance particularly challenging.

Only 12% of building professionals and office occupiers interviewed for the BCO report believe that operational carbon targets are being achieved by those involved in designing and developing office buildings.

The BCO said there is an urgent need for robust benchmarks and verifiable data – alongside government requirements and incentives – to support businesses’ ESG objectives.

Ditch Cat-A

Calling for an end to “wasteful practices”, the report said landlords need to address Category-A fitouts – comprising lighting and basic finishes such as flooring – being installed before an occupier comes in and rips it out in favour of their own bespoke fitout.

Most office spaces would benefit from ‘Cat A+’ fitouts – what the BCO refers to as ‘plug and play’ – for shorter and more flexible tenancies, the report argued, in light of market trends seen since the start of the pandemic.

Fitouts should also prioritise locally sourced materials with lower embodied carbon and using recycled, reused and further recyclable furniture.

Measure energy use properly

Landlords should use green leases, tailoring agreements to promote lower energy use and carbon emissions. The report highlighted the importance of collaboration between building owners and occupiers – a relationship that several of the startups in the AWS Sustainable Cities Accelerator for Infrastructure seek to enhance.

The report said that occupiers find it difficult to measure their carbon emissions accurately because targets for energy use intensity do not differentiate between different types of office.

In addition, dysfunctional metering strategies do not allow for a breakdown of energy use between communal and occupier areas.

Energy wasted from under-utilisation of office space since the pandemic remains a concern that can be alleviated by using smart sensors and responding to demand, the BCO said.

Improve performance

While retrofits are increasingly popular, they can be disruptive to occupiers. The BCO recommended careful phasing and use of prefabricated components to mitigate disruption on-site. These components can also contribute to the circular economy if designed for disassembly in the future, as Landsec has done at The Forge, which PlaceTech visited earlier this year.

When retrofitting buildings, building owners need to assess carbon emissions associated with the complete lifecycle of a building to ensure there is a balance between operational and embodied carbon. Some measures, for example, might cut operational carbon but add significant amounts of embodied carbon to a development.

Finally, the report also called for a clearly defined division of funding responsibility for net zero improvements to avoid any doubt or dispute between owners and occupiers.

Richard Kauntze, CEO of the BCO, said: “The office sector has a significant contribution to make to the UK’s net zero transition. There is a clear desire from those involved in creating and occupying workspace to hit ambitious targets, but we need to see evidence of innovation and improvement which demonstrate meaningful progress.”

Esfandiar Burman, associate professor at UCL’s faculty of the built environment and author of the report, said: “This report shows that greater energy and carbon accountability and more effective ESG frameworks can be achieved through greater collaboration between building owners and occupiers, along with data sharing and greater transparency.”

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