Summit House is being transformed by Willmott Dixon from a 1980s office block in London’s City. It is scheduled to complete in August 2016
Low Carbon Workplace, an initiative from the Carbon Trust, property developer Stanhope and asset manager Columbia Threadneedle to convert standard office buildings into low carbon flagships, has plans to triple its portfolio to around 25 buildings.
Established five years ago to bring commercially viable, energy efficient workplaces to the office lettings market, the Low Carbon Workplace has raised £175m of funding and now owns eight properties.
Four of these are now refurbished and fully let with another four set for completion in 2016.
These include Summit House, a seven-storey development in Spitalfields currently being converted by Willmott Dixon.
Low Carbon Workplace sets a base criteria of raising a building’s energy efficiency to an EPC rating of B and a BREEAM rating of “excellent”.
The Carbon Trust’s Bruno Gardner, managing director of the Low Carbon Workplace, told Construction Manager: “We were frustrated with the lack of progress in making energy efficient conversions of workplaces commonplace, so we set up to prove that it could be done by doing it ourselves.
“At the moment we have one fund doing the right thing, which is a step in the right direction. But the whole industry doing the right thing is what we are aiming for.”
"At the moment we have one fund doing the right thing, which is a step in the right direction. But the whole industry doing the right thing is what we are aiming for."
Bruno Gardner, The Carbon Trust
The fund is achieving good returns and is targeting a growth phase, added Gardner. “We aim to continue getting more investment and finding more properties to refurbish as we don’t feel we are at a steady state yet. Currently we aspire to have three times as many properties. Ultimate success will be to grow the fund and accelerate the industry’s drive towards efficiency.”
But he stressed that the fund’s projects are pragmatically green, rather than at sustainability’s leading edge. “As we operate as a commercial property fund we have to work without going beyond the bounds of commercial viability, we have to make intelligent pragmatic decisions, we can’t just cover the building in green bling.
“Although it is laudable when people aim to build the most energy efficient building possible, this is usually in a situation when money is no object. But in the real world these cases are in a minority. To achieve the top ratings of EPC A and BREEAM ‘outstanding’, you really have to spend a lot of money,” he acknowledged.
Another unique factor, according to Gardner, is that after the building is occupied, the users get continued support from the Carbon Trust, with the tenants having to sign up to the organisation’s charter.
“You can’t build an energy efficient building and assume that it will work in an energy efficient way. We start by advising on the fit out, and then provide monthly reports with emissions per person and square metre. We also track energy consumption compared to occupancy through the day, as these two things should align in an efficient building.”
The success of Low Carbon Workplace, he says, is also partly attributable to the fact that mainstream pension funds increasingly want to invest responsibly and meet ESG (environmental, social and governance) and SRI (socially responsible investing) targets.