Insights 9th May 2022 ESG services

Living walls, green roofs and other urban greening initiatives can directly benefit the bottom line, writes Vicky Cotton, ESG Director, in CoStar.

News that Canary Wharf Group has enlisted world-renowned social enterprise The Eden Project in a bid to lure office workers back to their desks is hardly surprising given our lockdown-driven appreciation for green spaces and urban parks.

After all, who wants to swap their leafy suburban home office for a jungle made of concrete and glass?

The planned “green spine” running through London’s towering financial district will include parks, access for open-water swimming and paddle boarding, plus a waterside pavilion for concerts. But this blueprint for increasing biodiversity through enhancements to waterways and the public realm is not just an environmental, social and corporate governance vanity project; it is fundamentally part of our industry’s broader acknowledgement of the commercial case for urban greening additions.

When implemented strategically, as part of wider re-design or refurbishment strategies, living walls, green roofs and pocket parks can bring demonstrable value across a firm’s portfolio. With the commercial case for urban greening front of mind, we are seeking to build biodiversity across the assets we manage, from the 380,000 sq. feet Arlington Business Park to Regal House, a 14,000-square-foot office building in London’s Covent Garden. These biodiversity strategies have included both carbon-consuming and aesthetically pleasing interventions, from beehives to bat boxes and wildflower meadows to rooftop allotments, and, of course, living green walls.

The potential results and benefits are well-documented and multi-faceted; reducing heat and energy loss, improving air quality and air flow, as well as minimising air temperature fluctuations. Looking beyond the immediate aesthetic boost of greener spaces, the strategic delivery of biodiversity programmes will deliver much-improved places, in which occupiers, and their employees, will choose to spend time.

Benefits to business and society

The UK Green Building Council’s report, “Nature-based solutions for the climate emergency” shows a 40% increase in commercial trading rates following investment in a well-planned green space such as a local park. The addition of street trees, for example, can deliver a 7% increase in property value, along with up to 50% increase in restaurant patronage and “willingness to spend”.

Alongside increased revenue, urban greening additions can act to reduce portfolio-wide expenses, while also supporting firms in the achievement of net-zero aspirations. Green walls and roofs not only provide added insulation to assets, meaning less energy is needed to heat and cool buildings, but the protection provided by a green roof can also significantly extend a roof’s structural lifespan, compared with a conventional design.

Revenue benefits can be observed from assets such as Harrogate’s Rudding Park Hotel, where CoStar sister publication Hotel News Now recently reported on the integration of a roof garden into the hotel’s design, designed to bolster the hotel’s revenue streams. Although the building had to be structurally modified to support the additional weight of the soil and water for the garden, the investment in a rooftop hospitality venue delivered between £50,000 and £60,000 per month in beverage revenue alone.

Championing urban greening solutions

As Westminster manoeuvres towards its 25-Year Environment Plan, stipulating a 10% uplift in biodiversity on new developments, it is clear that promoting increased biodiversity within urban environments has become a key Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities policy objective.

In reality, however, 80% of the buildings that will be in use in 2050 already exist today. The property industry is, therefore, rightly looking beyond new-builds, by recognising that the greatest opportunity nature-based solutions provide is in the retrofitting of existing assets.

As working behaviour evolved during the pandemic, with employees increasingly valuing connections with the outdoors, urban greening additions have also become a key pull factor for employers to keep, and attract, talent. As daily exercise regimes and al fresco meetings become standard practice in many professional settings, occupiers recognise the value of integrating nature into well-designed workspaces.

A time may soon come where the absence of green space becomes an active deterrent for the modern workforce, potentially reducing an occupier’s talent pool further. A sobering thought amidst the “great resignation” and in a period of acute talent shortages.

While the business and economic rationale speaks for itself, the climate crisis adds an urgency to expediting urban greening and biodiversity in the built world. We’re certainly seeing this play out across our varied client base; a sign of hope, as the old Greek proverb goes, for a society that “grows great when we plant trees in whose shade we shall never sit”.

By Vicky Cotton, ESG Director at Workman