Managing property

11th November 2013


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Practitioners at National Express and UNITE talk to Paul Pritchardand Nick Coad about how to influence your property team

The property profession may not have been the quickest to embrace the environment management agenda, but this is changing. In some organisations, property teams are beginning to drive the sustainability agenda, with environment and energy management integrated into property and asset management. So how can sustainability practitioners have more influence and get more property specialists to embrace sustainability?

Moving home

James Tiernan and Gareth Chaplin are responsible for environment and energy management at UNITE Group, a property company that provides accommodation for students in 130 buildings across the UK. Utility costs are a significant expense and therefore a key issue for the business. Tiernan and Chaplin show how environment professionals can help drive the sustainability agenda in property management by working within their organisation’s estate management team.

Tiernan and Chaplin have successfully trialled efficiency measures to reduce energy costs, and are now seeking approval for a more comprehensive estate-wide rollout of LED lighting. Given the number of properties operated by UNITE, this is a complex project management challenge and one they say is best managed from inside the estate management team.

As more organisations adopt best practice for environment management and energy efficiency across property portfolios, sustainability practitioners are increasingly likely to report into property teams, they say. There will also be a shift in the nature of the work, from data collection, analysis and trials of new technology to project management of estate-wide retrofit programmes.

Guiding lights

Chartered surveyor Stuart Parker is the group property and environment director at National Express. He was recently been given responsibility for environment management and believes that to best engage with property professionals, environmentalists have to educate them on available tools and technologies.

While property teams were initially slow to tackle environment and energy management, Parker says this was because their first focus was on ensuring projects were delivered on time and on budget. This made them wary of experimenting with new approaches and technologies. He believes that ensuring property professionals use the best available guidance is crucial in getting them to take sustainability seriously, particularly on new builds. “There is plenty of great guidance out there and BREEAM is a good example,” he says.

Parker first used BREEAM when he was working on the development of Birmingham coach station. He recalls the uproar from the design team when he set them the challenge of achieving an “excellent” BREEAM rating within the constraints of a very tight budget. “They said it wasn’t possible, but the truth was they just hadn’t done it before,” he says. “Once they were trained, however, their attitude changed and we managed to achieve excellence. We all realised that good environment and energy standards are part of good design. More importantly, we delivered the project on time and on budget, despite the main contractor going bankrupt in the middle of the development.”


Another major barrier to property teams embracing sustainability relates to the fact that most non-domestic properties are leased from a landlord. Consequently, making changes requires the landlord’s consent and any commercial benefits from installing new energy efficient equipment, for example, must be realised in the time left on the lease.

Green leases are one option to bring to property team’s attention. They improve the landlord-tenant relationship and encourage them to jointly seek improvements in a building’s environmental performance. The Better Building Partnership has developed a toolkit for green leases to enable owners and occupiers of commercial properties to work together to reduce environmental impacts.

There is a huge scope for improving energy performance through retrofitting more efficient technologies. Parker believes it is vital that property managers lead on this, rather than an environment manager, simply because it is the former who are responsible for the maintenance of the facility.

Retrofit can change maintenance programmes and installation must be designed to minimise disruption. Parker has linked his database for utility management to his asset management system, enabling him to track performance and collect the data he needs to make the business case for retrofitting efficiency measures. He acknowledges there is much more to do, but by linking environment and energy management to its asset management system, National Express is well equipped to rollout best practice across all its facilities.

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