CEO Weekly Update

There have been few upsides to the COVID-19 pandemic. The short term impact on the environment is one of them.

Post global financial crisis, the still largely fledgling environmental agenda was lost during a corporate bout of amnesia, but whilst minds will undoubtedly be on other things, the commitments made and the momentum behind the need to change will be hard to reverse. 

I hope so. We made a decision last week to quadruple the size of our sustainability team.

Here are some thoughts on how the wider sustainability agenda for real estate might be impacted by COVID-19:

1. More sustainable travel

I have been travelling into the office most days for the last few weeks via Pimlico (von Mapp #3 has some learning difficulties and has been back at school since Easter). Six weeks ago I was threatening the speed cameras all the way down the Embankment as the empty streets and boy racer torque in my (electric) car propelled me from SW13 to SW1 in 18 minutes. It took me 50 minutes yesterday, primarily because huge swathes of asphalt on the Embankment, Park Lane and Regent Street have been rightly commandeered for new cycle lanes.

The cyclists are slowly increasing. The process to legalise electric scooters is now firmly underway and people are walking from mainline stations rather than hopping on the tube.

MAPP is installing a record number of electric charging points in the buildings we manage and are finding novel ways of storing more bikes and scooters. Conventional mass public transport will return, but the new behaviors will stick for some and that asphalt will never feel four wheels rumble over it again.

Global travel will also change. Twice a year I head to Asia to meet clients, potential clients and our Joint Venture partners. I will still go. It will still be important to ‘smell’ a situation (something that Zoom is yet to figure out), create that personal dynamic and the food is better than anything Deliveroo can muster, but maybe once a year is enough.

2. Home working

In a study released in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Phillippa Lally and her team of researchers surveyed people to find how long it takes to start a new habit.

Over 12 weeks, the participants chose a new habit and reported each day how automatic the behavior felt. At the end of the period, Lally analyzed the results and found the average time it took for the participants to pick up a new habit was 66 days.

So the habit of getting the 7.12am from Woking, Hemel Hempstead, Barking or Crawley has been replaced with a later alarm, a leisurely breakfast with the kids, maybe a run, cycle and a Joe Wicks hop, skip and a jump to the ‘new office’. 

We have been encouraging our people to work from home for part of the week for years, but very few have done it because of the habit of jumping on the 7.12am.

The new challenge will be to break the habit of working from home, but it needs to happen. Businesses cannot run as well on Zoom alone. 

When the time is right new protocols will be agreed which will create a more sustainable and flexible way of working.

3. Cleaner air in buildings

Apart from questions about lifts, the number one question asked by occupiers in the office buildings we manage over the last few weeks has been about air supply.

Good ventilation helps prevent the spread of pathogens, and poor indoor air quality can be a real danger to people’s lungs and to performance. 

We are examining, testing and balancing all of our systems and reviewing quantities of air coming in. This may mean reconfiguring the use of spaces, so that areas where people meet together or spend the most time, receive maximum levels of external airflow to help make spaces healthier and more efficient.

4. Social value

We as an industry will be expected to, and will want to respond.

Many of us, myself included, have no idea the impact this pandemic is having on those at the margins of society, although my work with Resurgo and through that with Love Your Neighbour has given me some insight.

I will be chairing a panel discussion this Thursday at a Space+ IMPACT virtual event. The title is ‘from the margins to the mainstream – social impact, sustainability & responsible growth’. I am sure it will be a lively discussion.

Social value is probably as developed, today, as sustainability was in 2007. Converting this to the mainstream behaviour will require the same level of focus and effort we have achieved elsewhere.

On a wider scale there will be many redevelopment opportunities over the next 10 years as the oversupply of retail property is converted into new uses, which should and will have lots of public realm, places for communities and affordable housing. It was great to see the plans for the Nicholson Centre in Maidenhead launch last week. We used to manage it many years ago, but even then you could see the challenges that retail was facing from out of town retail parks, changing patterns of behaviour and the internet. The new scheme seems to chart a far more sustainable future and delivers far more social value.

Next week – the June Quarter and how to prepare.