20 Jun 2012

60 seconds with...Richard Francis, Director - Environment & Sustainability, Gardiner & Theobald Chair of the BCO Environmental Sustainability Group (ESG)

Richard Francis takes over as chairman of the BCO Environmental Sustainability Group (ESG) in Summer 2012. He leads the sustainability team, at Gardiner & Theobald, and is an expert in providing strategic sustainability advice from a business perspective.

How long have you been involved with the BCO and what do you see as the key strengths?
I have been involved with the BCO for three years as a member of the ESG.

The BCO has numerous strengths that are recognised not only in the UK but across the world – it provides the gold standard for work on offices. It has a well-recognised ability to bring together individuals with unparalleled experience who are eager to share their knowledge and confront common challenges. That is a pretty unusual combination.

The BCO is a first class organisation pursuing innovation in a country that is determined to be ahead of the curve in sustainability. Who could ask for a better assignment than to help guide this change?

Earlier this month you took over the role of chair for the BCO ESG from Paul Edwards. What would you like to achieve in this role?
It was great to work with Paul and to see him develop and reach a clear set of forward-looking research goals – I learned a lot from him and other members of the committee.

As we move forward, I would like the BCO to become the go-to organisation for providing the industry with evidence-based, actionable intelligence that BCO members and others can trust. Compliance can be difficult and costly, but BCO members will need to think beyond merely meeting standards in order to effectively prosper in an evolving and more sophisticated market.

The moral and the fiscal are converging and the lesson of carbon is that “soft issues” can have hard edges. The ground is shifting under our feet. I would like BCO members to not only avoid the risks but also profit from the opportunities that are here now and will continue to emerge.

What do you see as the main purpose of the ESG within the BCO?
To provide realistic, honest, rigorous analysis of the sustainability issues affecting BCO members and to help them simplify what is an unnecessarily complex subject.

When it comes to sustainability, members of the BCO should ask themselves three simple questions: Where am I now? Where do I need to be? How do I get there?

The main purpose of the BCO ESG is to help members answer these questions in a way that minimises costs, maximises (fiscal and environmental) benefits and adheres to the scrutiny given other business decisions. 

What do you see as the main challenge for the industry regarding the environment & sustainability?
What the industry needs most is to systematically incorporate feedback, and learning, into new projects. We can be highly imaginative and innovative in theory and design, but our understanding of actual outcomes and our implementation of improved processes lags other industries. Consequently, we invest a great deal of time and money at the front end without appreciating or understanding the consequences, and sometimes make the same mistakes long after we should have known better.

As an industry we have a great understanding of potential but a poor understanding of performance – reinforced by regulation and market drivers that can reward appearance rather than reality. The financial and environmental price for this is high.

The biggest challenge is to find cost-effective, easily implemented solutions that will ease the burden on businesses and lead to actual reductions in impacts.

The industry has to answer the same three questions as raised above: Where are we now? Where do we need to be? How do we get there? At the moment, that last – and perhaps most important - question remains less clear than it should be. 

If you had the power to change one thing within the property industry, what would it be?
I would change the perception in the industry to focus more on what buildings do rather than what they are, particularly with regards to sustainability. Sustainability must be about achieving real results rather than cleverly meeting prescriptive requirements. This is not just in energy, water and waste, but in helping buildings achieve their mission – optimising the experience of occupants. Sustainable hospitals can and should heal people faster, sustainable schools should enable students to learn better and sustainable offices should enable healthy and productive workers.

We know our buildings can do more – and we need to realise the integrated benefits of buildings that help achieve purpose. We are beginning to see occupiers reward these building and I would like to see this trend accelerate. 

Who has most inspired you in the Commercial Property Sector?
There are many people I look up to in the Commercial Property Sector, so it is difficult to isolate a single person. There are a lot of people who have been pushing sustainability in the industry for a long time and who have enabled the changes we see today.

I am thinking of people like Angus McIntosh, Derek Clements-Croome, Ken Yeang and Paul McNamara – all of whom have contributed to the BCO greatly over the years. They are usually people with one foot in industry and another in research who have a gift for teaching and have helped bring important ideas into the commercial marketplace.

To get to know these individuals in the last few years has been a great privilege. They have been very kind to me as I have started my professional life here in the UK. 

What’s your favourite office development in the UK? And why?
Actually, I have two favourite developments that are seemingly unlike each other but have a common theme.

The first is The Co-operative’s new head office in Manchester. The building has the highest BREEAM rating possible, will have EPC and DEC ratings of “A” and is designed to promote the health and wellbeing of its occupants.

The second is The Carrochan, the headquarters for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority. This building is a winner of the Carbon Trust Low Carbon Building Award and the BCO National Award winner. It uses cost-effective, locally available renewable energy, the finest local and sustainable materials and a design that is sympathetic to the landscape and the local community.

Two very different buildings achieving very different missions, but proving to be best in class at what they provide. 

What is your guilty pleasure?
I have a small, old motorboat that I use for fishing and clamming back where I am from on Cape Cod. Friends and colleagues tell me that I should be sailing, as this is the more environmentally friendly alternative. I like sailing, but sometimes it can be a little boring (just like sustainability consultants), especially when the fish are biting. My sailing skills are no match for a fast-moving school of bluefish and striped bass.

What couldn’t you live without in your daily routine?
Hearing what my little boy has been up to during his day.

He reminds me of that most important of questions:“Why?”