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retrofit briefing Technologhy4Change

Published by BRE Trust

Interview: Jim Johnston, managing director, Goodman UK Business & Science Parks


Too little attention is being paid to existing buildings, says Jim Johnston, but his sights are set on retrofit. 

Australian-owned Goodman, the global property expert in business and logistics space, has some impressively sustainable buildings in its UK portfolio. A 468,000sq ft distribution centre for The Co-Operative Group at Andover Commercial Park has rainwater harvesting, sustainable urban drainage, solar panels and more. A building for Oxfam at Oxford Business Park was developed in line with the charity's ethical purchasing policy as well as to high environmental standards. Another building under construction in the same location and pre-let to British Gas Business is targeting BREEAM Excellent. So why can't all office buildings be like this? Managing director for Goodman UK Business Parks Jim Johnston explains.

What are your aspirations on sustainability in your schemes?

We do have benchmarks. We set ourselves beyond the minimum requirements through the Energy Performance Certificate and BREEAM. From our perspective we also have to balance the expectations of our shareholders.

But a lot of it is dependent on the customer. We are striving for excellence, but we have to work on a development by development basis. We've got 26 business park sites and they are all different.

Ultimately, there are two approaches:

  • if you are building and you don't know the customer there are the benchmarks as a minimum
  • if you have a customer, like Thames Valley Water, that gives more scope to marry our broader objectives to those of the client. Around 70-80 per cent of what we build is bespoke, and only 20 per cent is standard.

A BREEAM Excellent building is an incredibly strong calling card for us. Organisations use them as a flagship, and employees are proud to work in them. They are very positive for staff. We're now asking our customers about the experience of being in a new building, so that we can understand the impact and quantify the benefits of moving to a Goodman location.

Does a sustainable building carry a premium in the marketplace?

In the general market we have not discerned a premium for greener buildings. But it is our view that ultimately long-term investment performance will be influenced by what is greener than the benchmark. As corporate desire and government legislation become more influential, they will in turn influence pricing.

Do you aim to test innovative new green technologies in your schemes?

We are probably not at the cutting edge. That's not where we'd want to position our business. There is still a lot to be done on improving basic buildability and the quality of workmanship, so we place emphasis on using contractors that have a track record.

Another easy win comes from the ability to measure energy consumption in a building, to allow it to be reduced. That can come from improving building management systems.

In terms of renewable energy generation, we have looked at it and are likely to introduce it to base buildings. For a scheme in Uxbridge, west London, we're looking at solar photovoltaics, and on the back of that retrofitting would become an easy win.

The elephant in the room is existing buildings. I'm not sure the industry is thinking about that.

Are you thinking about retrofit - and what is the condition of your portfolio?

Unlike a lot of similar businesses, everything we own we've built, so we have a very clear understanding of our portfolio and a clear benchmark. Our portfolio is also relatively new, and we build pretty flexible buildings - so we have the ability to integrate technologies like building management systems.

Two years ago we began a dialogue with our customers suggesting ways to improve the energy efficiency of buildings. The timing was difficult so the implementation is taking longer than we envisaged, but we think that'll be a potential source of business for us into the future.

And where does occupier behaviour come into this?

We have to adopt the carrot rather than the stick. Most of our business parks are organised to help diversify people's travel to and from work. We accept our sites are not always well served by public transport.

So is sustainability good business for Goodman?

In these environments it is easy for sustainability to be kicked into the long grass. We acknowledge that it is something that has to be taken seriously, but we also have to be sensible financially and reflective of the wider business ethos.

What's important from our perspective is that we acknowledge the importance of operating appropriately in each of the areas we work in. In many respects the UK is ahead of many areas of the world so we've helped to inform the Goodman approach.

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