bco research programme

Content Coms’ digest of the BCO’s new research agenda

Sustainability and ESG are set to be key themes for the British Council for Offices (BCO), bringing new marketing opportunities to the supply chain.

In the autumn of 2022, the BCO Research Committee chose four themes or ‘Pillars’ to shape a framework for a new research agenda. These are:

  1. Economy
  2. Business
  3. Technology
  4. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

The BCO appointed expert teams to explore each theme and report back on the topics that might inform its approach to research over the coming years. These findings have now been published in a 58-page working document.

Below is a top-line summary of the suggestions made by each pillar team with regards to the areas for the BCO to focus its research efforts. They reveal the crucial role to be played by sustainability and ESG goals, and position smart building technology, and other technologies, as a key tool for achieving these.

1. Economy

  • Need to consider the UK economy – including issues relating to the nature of the global and domestic economic cycle.
  • The new economic geography – looking at how future economic activity, and thus demand for office space, will be distributed across the country.
  • The role of offices in people, community and place – identifying key questions around issues relating to national and local demographics and labour-force issues
  • The future of offices as an investment asset – summarising the key dimensions of investment performance that will be influenced by the changes identified in the role of offices.

2. Business

  • Need for a collective approach, comprising landlords, occupiers and policymakers, to reconsider the purpose of the office in post-pandemic times.
  • Can we reimagine offices in terms of how they could be funded, designed, built and operated in a smarter more sustainable manner?
  • Need for a proper dialogue between the property industry and its occupier clients. The key driver for such dialogue is the conflation of four interconnected contributory factors:
    • Consumer power in all its guises will dominate for the foreseeable future
    • The pace of change has been accelerated by recent digital advances.
    • The last obstacles to embracing digital technologies were swept away by the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Environmental, social, governance (ESG) is now centre stage
    • Carbon reduction is now non-negotiable.

3. Technology

  • Identify and develop thinking about how technology can be adopted into the build and fit-out process, and how this may impact some of the traditional processes and design-team engagement.
  • Using technology to monitor, measure, adjust and manage our buildings and cities should not be in question; it should be an integral component of the build and fit-out process.
  • Consider the importance and role that workplace technology and ‘prop-tech’ has in the fit-out/ building design process.
  • Wellness: Technology will enable the development of buildings that prioritise the well-being of occupants, with features such as air-quality sensors, circadian/ intelligent lighting and biophilic design, promoting mental and physical health.
  • Smart building systems: The integration of building systems, such as lighting, HVAC and security will enable more efficient and coordinated operation, with features such as automated lighting and temperature controls interacting with occupancy sensors and security systems.
  • An integrated approach. Design an integrated system that incorporates different technologies and systems to create a cohesive and efficient environment. This may include systems for lighting, HVAC, security, location-based services and real-time occupancy.

4. Technology

  • This team issued a strong call for a more proactive approach from the BCO to facilitate the transition to ESG mandatory and best practice requirements.
  • There is a lack of a common definition of ESG principles across the industry, which is driving the lack of accountability by individuals and organisations.
  • There is most focus on the ‘environmental’ of ESG, with both ‘social’ and ‘governance’ receiving limited attention
  • A reconsideration of what the purpose of an office is will help to link office buildings with environmental and societal ecosystems through stronger governance
  • Asset management principles need to be embedded to deliver a solution to achieving ESG outcomes.
  • BCO needs to consider the importance and role that sustainability has in the fit-out/building design process – from early brief, into the fit-out and then throughout the life cycle to the end of life, such that the full ESG potential of the workplace can be leveraged.
  • The ESG Pillar proposed a series of recommendations:
    • The BCO needs a ‘2030 Vision for the Office’, and this vision must fully embrace the principles of ESG
    • The BCO should show greater leadership in creating a vision for net zero – at the moment the organisation is notable by its absence.
    • The BCO needs to focus on the full life cycle of a development and its impact, including design, planning, operation and asset management.
    • The BCO could ensure that there is equal emphasis on the ‘social’ and ‘governance’ aspects of ESG alongside the ‘environmental’ aspect
    • The BCO could make available more case studies for practitioners – this may include benchmarking to help understand what ‘good’ looks like – and provide ESG governance templates to support wider adoption of ESG principles.
  • Need for a focus on sustainability. How to incorporate sustainable features and technologies to reduce energy consumption, lower the carbon footprint, and promote environmental sustainability. For example, efficient lighting.

In a nutshell: What this means for smart building technology

BCO looks set to focus on technology and ESG in offices for the foreseeable future. The BCO recognises that smart building technology plays a role in delivering sustainability and improving ESG outcomes, from occupier wellbeing to operational energy savings.

What does it mean from the supply chain’s marketing perspective?

The direction of travel is clear; sustainability and ESG will frame the BCO’s research focus – influencing the decision-making processes of its members.

To get an edge over your competitors in the office sector, it’s crucial that you communicate to end users, FMs, asset managers and specifiers, how your products and services support carbon reduction efforts, and enable better ESG outcomes. While cost cutting may be an immediate concern for some customers, sustainability and ESG will drive decision making processes in the medium and longer term.

Tori Madine
Tori Madine
Tori is a creative communicator and storyteller, translating clients’ strategic visions and complex stories into compelling content campaigns that deliver results.