Blog: Imagining the circular office - Sophie Walker, JLL UK

July 6, 2017 Amanda Skeldon

Imagine your office building as a bank vault of materials.  Imagine the solid walls, the floors and the ceilings were repositories of materials providing banks of concrete, stonework, glass, steel and metal in the window-frames.  Now imagine that everything within the building was also in the vault – from the fabric and metal in the seats you sit on to the precious metals in the computers or phones you carry in your bag.

In this vision, buildings would be valuable assets even after they became obsolete.  Every bit of manufactured capital would have a future value, as well as a past and present value.  As a landlord, your buildings wouldn’t just be valued on the basis of their land value, the tenant covenant, and the value of other comparable buildings, but on the latent value of the materials banked within them.   As a tenant, the same would also be true of your fit-out, furnishings and electronic infrastructure. Indeed, you would view these future materials banks, as a value on your balance sheet.

This vision is based on the ‘circular economy’, which aims to eliminate waste by finding ways of retaining more of the value of the material, energy, and labour inputs that go into products.  It’s a trend that is beginning to infiltrate UK real estate and its occupiers.

JLL’s circular economy journey

At JLL we are at the start of our circular economy journey.  We’ve set a high-level target that, by 2020, we will support the UK’s transition to a circular economy through our services, our workforces and our public affairs activities.  That target is shaping our focus and energies.  Firstly, we want to walk to the talk and test circular innovations and cost savings in our own workplaces.  That is one of the key reasons we’ve become signatories to BiTC’s Circular Office campaign – to learn from others and to collaborate on shared opportunities. 

Secondly, we are sharing the concept of the circular economy with the mainstream property industry. This year, we are running a ‘Transforming Real Estate’ programme celebrating industry achievements over the last 20 years and looking at how sustainability trends will transform real estate over the next two decades.  The construction sector and commercial property occupiers are resource-hungry and responsible for 64% of all waste generated in the UK.  If the sector does not want to be exposed to severe resource scarcity, then it will have to deploy circular economy solutions at pace over the forthcoming decade.

Thirdly, we are drawing from innovative work we are already doing with our leading clients.  As property managers on Regent Street in London for The Crown Estate, who aim to remove all carbon and waste from their business by 2030, we are working with consultants to explore partnership opportunities with furniture and glass remanufacturers on circular economy pilots in central London.  In Scotland, we have provided planning advice to the University of St Andrews to help meet its goal of becoming the UK’s first energy carbon neutral university, which has included the circular reuse of a former papermill site as a new biomass energy centre and hub of a district heating network at its Guardbridge campus.

Ultimately, the big opportunity for JLL to catalyse change comes through our influencing role, at scale.  Globally, we manage 400 million square metres of buildings on our clients’ behalf, we completed 38,800 leasing transactions for both tenants and landlords in 2016, and we advised on the construction or refurbishment of 42,500 projects or buildings.  As with all facets of sustainability, that is a huge opportunity for us to start integrating circular economy thinking and innovations into our day to day activities with clients.  That is our ambition which we hope will be a shared motivation amongst every business that commits to take at least one step towards a Circular Office. Let’s change today for a sustainable tomorrow.

Sophie Walker is UK Head of Sustainability and a Regional Director at JLL, a leading professional services firm that specialises in real estate and investment management.  Sophie is a member of the JLL UK Executive and is responsible for the delivery of the firm’s sustainability agenda, Building a Better Tomorrow and for embedding sustainability across all services and operations.

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