Thursday, 22 May 2014

Good Business Takes Time

Martin Gibson - Head of Operations

There was a very interesting IoD Leadership Breakfast last week concerned with what made the Quakers successful in business. A talk by Revd Dr Richard Turnbull - Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics - set out the considerable business achievements made by many Quakers.

Revd Dr Turnbull started by covering some of the companies that were founded by Quakers. Of course, most of us know about the chocolate makers that started Fry’s, Rowntree’s and Cadbury’s. Quakers also were active in other manufacturing sectors, for example, setting up what is now Clarks. Then, of course, there is the financial institute that is now Friends Life. I hadn’t realised that Quakers were also essential in the partnership in Lombard Street which eventually became Barclays Bank.

Richard set out five key things that he felt were to the success of the Quakers. I won’t steal his thunder by listing them all here. One snippet that I will share was that Quakers generally led austere lifestyles and were prepared to suffer while waiting for success. Richard used the example of the Cadbury’s to illustrate this: the Cadbury family spent many years perfecting their chocolate making process before their business grew. This highlighted another approach by many Quakers: a drive for innovations.

The approach of taking time to gain success was one that our table discussion recognised as the antithesis of many business practices today. Many businesses today take a short-term view and expect near instant returns. This leads to a focus on just the bottom line, rather than on the value being delivered.

One person on our table stated that they are always slightly concerned when they hear the term ‘serial entrepreneur’. While very positive about entrepreneurs, the concern was that people who always looked for the next new thing were likely to take a short-term view of the businesses that they start. This could mean that the businesses were not set up to survive in the medium- to long-term and that wider impacts and ethics are given little consideration.

Another point that came across strongly in Richard’s talk was the fact that Quakers looked at how their businesses interacted with communities. Quakers felt that they had to look after the social well-being of their workers. Famous examples include the development of workers communities at Bourneville. Some people criticise this as paternalism but Richard counters by asking “what is wrong with that?”

Many of the approaches and ethics shown by Quakers in the 1800’s are now being captured in company sustainability approaches. You can see this in the categories that the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) recommends that companies consider for reporting. The fact that so many of the businesses that the Quakers founded are still thriving more than 150 years later suggests that they understood a thing or two about sustainability.

Monday, 12 May 2014

A Shrinking Isolation

Martin Gibson - Technical Director

As I was watching a yacht leave the St Katharine Docks today, I wondered what exotic parts of the world it might be off to. It made me think about my colleague Peter George’s blog from a couple of weeks ago about the effect of tourism on the environment. This had spurred a discussion between us about the wonderful areas in which he had worked and that I had once been able to visit on a yacht. It also turned my thoughts to something that my father had said.

My father is a keen sailor. One of his skills is navigation and he used to do this for an ocean racing team many years ago and remains a member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club to this day. Now, my dad knows how to use a sextant. A couple of decades ago, he would sail to isolated anchorages on far away islands. This needed his navigations skills. When he got to his destination, there wouldn’t be many other boats there because navigating to them was difficult.

Roll on twenty years and those once isolated anchorages are now full of boats. This is because GPS and other technologies allow people with only rudimentary navigational skills to get to almost anywhere. A - perhaps unintended - consequence of the wide availability of GPS is that unpopulated areas can become more densely populated. This obviously has its up sides: more people get to experience new areas, the local economy can benefit and the industry supplying the technology also benefits.

On the other hand, are we losing something precious? Is there an inherent value in unspoilt environments which we lose as soon as they become too popular? Would these images have the same value if they were full of people? I don’t think there are simple answers to these questions. While I appreciate isolated areas and the fact that I have sometimes had access to them, I don’t believe that other people shouldn’t have access to them.

In general, increased mobility leads to a higher quality of life. Some of our work is for the Transport Systems Catapult, which is helping people to move around more freely and more sustainably. This involves free choice and accessibility. I suppose that if I was put on the spot, I would say that everyone should have the same opportunity to access isolated environments and that this shouldn’t be decided by wealth. How that is done and how we ensure that such environments aren’t degraded is far trickier. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

LCCI event highlights issues facing the Housing development industry

Patrick Duffy - Technical Director

The Mayor said recently at MIPIM that he is "looking to (the developers here) to help deliver 42,000 new homes a year. But I always want a higher quotient of affordable housing".

He said he wanted Londoners to be able to live near where they work and to raise their families in London. He then sought a pledge from house builders to commit to market new homes first or first equal to Londoners. So; a laudable objective from the Mayor to seek to address the chronic housing shortage, particularly affordable housing in London. 

Recently I attended a London Chamber of Commerce discussion on house building that raised many interesting underlying issues that were thought to need to be addressed by the Mayor and others if he is to meet his objective of 42,000 homes per year (49,000 if we are to address the pent up demand generated by under-supply in the past and 60,000 per year if the anticipated demand and this backlog is to be addressed in 10 years!). The pressing issues highlighted for the Development industry included the following:

  • 42% of residential planning permissions are held by non house builders which has implications for speed of delivery and price; 
  • The recession has seen a large reduction in the number of house builders in the market, with the market now being comprised on a number of large volume builders and a focus on large strategic sites. To deliver more across to the city there is a need for more smaller builders to come into the market as a lot of permissions are for smaller number of homes. In this respect it was thought that banks could do more to facilitate new builders as their current terms for loans do not encourage builders into the market.
  • Viability remains a key issue and type and amount of affordable housing needs to be addressed. A blended approach was suggested not only to address viability but also in the interest of balanced and mixed communities.

So what is the solution? It was clear from those at the discussion that there is no one magic solution to the homes delivery issue, rather we require a raft of measures to enable delivery through a number of routes. These include:

  • Facilitate the delivery of unimplemented permissions;
  • Recognize the role of increased density at hub locations;
  • Apply a blend of affordable homes to address viability and mixed communities
  • More flexible approach to high streets to recognize they may become smaller and more dense;
  • Ensure a mix of a lot more sites not just large strategic sites but smaller site able to be delivered quickly;
  • Make use of the changes to the Use Classes Order.

Several of these are being recognised through proposed changes to the London Plan. But can the Mayor can go further by having his Party colleagues in central government do more to bring planning permissions to the market and instill in the Banks a greater desire to increase lending to smaller builders? Perhaps that's the key to increasing home building in London.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Rubens at the Palace Hotel Green Wall, Green Sky Thinking week

Genevieve Oller - Marketing Executive

On Wednesday 30th April, Temple attended an event as part of Open City’s Green Sky Thinking week about one of the largest living Green Walls in London. This is situated on the side of the Palace Hotel in Victoria. The event included talks from the Hotel, Victoria Business Improvement District (BID), Tree Box (who installed and maintain the wall) and Temple’s partners the Green Roof Consultancy (GRC), who designed the wall.

The speech from the General Manager of Rubens Hotel offered direct insight into the benefits that green walls can offer a business, even as a private user. The talks from Victoria BID, Tree Box and GRC explained the process involved in the planning, installing and the day-to-day maintenance of the green wall. They also covered the wider developments taking place within this innovative area of green infrastructure.

The Hotel Manager, Malcolm Hendry, kicked proceedings off by discussing what initially prompted the Hotel to consider having a green wall installed. He described this as being an ‘aesthetic journey’, before realising the many environmental benefits it would provide. Malcolm mentioned that the hotel chain often purchases buildings with the intention of regenerating them.

David Beamont of Victoria BID then spoke more generally about the green infrastructure initiatives that they have started in the area, the Hotel’s green wall being just one of these. The Victoria BID is a business-led body which seeks to improve the area, there are some 30 BIDs in London, with the mayor hoping to increase this to 50 by the end of the year. In 2010, Victoria’s BID found that there was a strong steer from businesses for an increase in green spaces. As a direct result of this, the BID undertook a Green Infrastructure Audit which sought to locate areas that would benefit from additional or regenerated green space; this included working with the Green Roof Consultancy to map potential spots for green walls. The first project that Victoria BID worked on was the regeneration of a green space at Buckingham Palace. They are currently working on the plans for a rain garden at the head offices of John Lewis on Victoria Street. The project at Palace Hotel was considered to be an obvious choice.

Gary Grant of Green Roof Consultancy then went back to the basics of Green Walls. He spoke of the different types of wall, these include;   

  • Self-established – those made of stones etc. that when left for a number of years have plants growing within them 
  • Moss mats / Moss Gardening 
  • Hydroponic (geotextile and rockwool cages) – this is for plants that are able to grow on the bark of trees
  • Climbers / Trellises
  • Modular / cellular – when plastic boxes containing soil are stacked together (most widely used)
  • Vertical Rain Garden – the Green Roof Consultancy have designed London’s first     vertical Rain Garden, find out more here.
Armando Raish (Treebox) and Gary Grant (GRC)

Gary then discussed the many benefits associated with green walls including dust suppression, noise abatement, wildlife habitat, evaporative cooling and shade.

Cooling was highlighted as a key benefit. Gary displayed two heat maps, one of Tokyo and the other of New York, which showed that when the temperature was around 30°, the temperature of roofs in the cities could be up 20° higher. The map showed that when green walls and roofs were present, the temperature was dramatically reduced. This can serve to protect people, especially those that are more vulnerable, in heat waves. Interestingly, Gary discussed the increase in research that is being done to make use of green walls for acoustic purposes. Gary also spoke of the less tangible benefits involved with green walls, such as property value and health benefits.  Both David and Gary highlighted the impact of plants being able to remove particulates from the air and to reduce surface water, both of which can yield benefits in 
improved health and reduced carbon dioxide levels.

The wall on the side of the hotel is a stunning addition to the building, and removes an eyesore from the area. Spanning 350 square metres, it contains a combination of buttercups, two varieties of crocus, strawberries, spring bulbs and evergreen geraniums amongst others. The benefits of this particular scheme include improvement in air quality for those living and working in the area, which in turn means improved health for local residents, reduced flood risk, which has been known to be a problem in the area. Furthermore, the interesting array of plants that are spread across the walls make for a picturesque view, as well as an interesting spot for the discerning tourist!

To find out more about Green roofs visit Green Roof Consultancy’s website -