Workplace Biodiversity Champion Inspires Us All to Do More

I recently had the opportunity to meet Vicky Cotton, ESG Director at Workman, and client of Planteria, to talk to her about her role and her passion for Biodiversity.

Vicky’s background: With 25 years of experience in Real Estate, including 13 in property management, Vicky is extremely experienced and well-educated in ESG (environmental social, and governance) in the built environment. Across the full asset spectrum, Vicky’s expertise extends from issues around wellbeing in the workplace to increasing biodiversity on site. 

Passionate about the environment and sustainable management processes, in 2020, Vicky created the Net Zero Asset Plan, to lead clients through the process of achieving zero carbon emissions, in line with government targets for 2050, or sooner. A year later, Vicky created the Building Biodiversity Toolkit, designed to encourage property managers, on-site teams, and clients to increase the level of biodiversity in the built environment, however concrete or hostile it may seem.

Vicky Cotton

Q: How has your role at Workman developed, especially now that everyone seems to be talking about ESG? 

A: My role has developed and expanded over the years as ESG has gained prominence, covering issues as wide-ranging as climate change, employee wellbeing, and diversity of the board, which is considered by most as an increasingly important marker in how a company fares, both in terms of financial performance and how it is perceived.

ESG threads through so many aspects of the property management business, linking together issues such as air quality, intelligent building systems, and occupier engagement, as well as the drive towards Net Zero Carbon for each and every building.

But people still need prompting of the urgency of the situation we face. I like to remind clients and property managers that there is a huge collective responsibility ahead, within a limited timeframe and only one refurbishment cycle away – miss it now and we risk missing it entirely.

Q: We have been approached by a number of your property managers about increasing biodiversity across Workman properties – where has this push come from? 

A: We launched our Net Zero Asset plan in 2020 as a way to help clients achieve their Net Zero goals on properties from the largest to the smallest. This was also the year that our partnership with the Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project began. Home | Workman Building Biodiversity (workman-building-biodiversity.co.uk)

We know that the value of nature in the built environment cannot be underestimated. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Nature and Business Report, a focus on biodiversity in the built environment could create more than $3 trillion in business opportunities and 117 million jobs globally by 2030.

Humans rely on trees and shrubs to absorb air pollution in urban areas; not only do plants and trees produce oxygen; they also store carbon by literally sucking it out of the atmosphere. Indeed, the UN Environment Programme discovered that nature can deliver carbon reductions of at least 30% by 2030 if biodiversity is protected and enhanced. It is an easy win in my opinion.

Q: What role has lockdown played in all of this – has it helped or hindered? 

A: Having spent a year working from home due to the pandemic, urban dwellers have fallen in love with nature on their doorsteps, with many keen to replicate a natural environment in their wider urban environment.

The pandemic has meant that environmental challenges such as halting biodiversity loss in urban areas have taken on new meaning.

There is a drive for people to be outside and a greater appreciation for outside spaces and making the most of those.

For example, at Central Retail Park in Falkirk, Workman has established an urban garden, which has produced fruit and flowers for occupiers, as well as providing a quiet, restful place for break times. Building the social value of an urban garden | Workman was achieved at a very low cost and has had a huge impact on the local community and the team. We created a garden with raised beds, planting from seed.

Bought the team together and gave them something to do in lockdown. I had a letter from one of the security guards who was involved in the project to say that it had saved his life by giving him purpose during such a bleak time.

The garden was awarded a GOLD Scottish Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice 2021.

beautiful garden

Q: Tell me about the toolkit – how do you intend this to be used and how can we help? 

A: The toolkit came out of the Building Biodiversity Challenge. There is an opportunity for everybody across any asset we manage to make a difference. It is to give our property managers ideas of what they can do, that they can take it and run with it. We have had a great response from our site staff who have embraced it.

Inspired by the Falkirk project, as well as our partnership with the Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project, we developed the Building Biodiversity Toolkit for property managers.

launched in Spring 2021, the aim of the Building Biodiversity Toolkit is to provide a practical checklist for property managers and all our gardeners and landscapers so that they can select biodiversity initiatives that are best suited to their properties and their clients’ needs.

It’s often simple to increase biodiversity at leafy business park locations, but at properties where there is little outside space, we need to be more creative, which is where Planteria can help, with more creative initiatives such as green walls.

Here is a flavour of projects we are already working on 10 ways to Build Biodiversity | Workman Building Biodiversity (workman-building-biodiversity.co.uk)

This initiative has been met with great enthusiasm and passion by our team. The clients appreciate it too and the fact that it makes a big difference for a minimal cost. One client told us that for them ESG is as important as the return on the asset.

Q: What are the next steps – where do you want to go with this in the longer term? 

A: Next steps we want to see how far we can go. Ideally, we want to include as much biodiversity as possible across our managed portfolio, which covers 4,300 properties across the UK, providing services to more than 20,000 occupiers across all sectors of commercial property.

We are currently running a competition for our property managers to encourage and incentivise them to step up their biodiversity planning. This feeds into net-zero goals and boosts occupier wellbeing strategies.

It also means that our clients are ahead of the curve when it comes to urban greening legislation, such as Biodiversity Net Gain and other upcoming new rules, as outlined here: The Building Biodiversity Rules: What exactly are they? | Workman (workman-building-biodiversity.co.uk)

beautiful garden rooftop

Q: Who needs to get involved and how? 

A: Everyone needs to get involved, anyone can make an impact at home. It’s a piece of the big jigsaw to get to net-zero and make an improvement to biodiversity.

In the UK, 80% of the population lives in urban areas, and this is projected to rise to 92% by 2030, leading to larger cities and more challenges for wildlife. This means towns and cities are rapidly becoming where most people will experience nature. Therefore, these are key places to protect the UK’s biodiversity, and this means everyone needs to get involved, from property managers and onsite teams to landscapers and clients themselves.

Technology will catch up with this work and we will be able to measure how adding planting improves air quality.

With the collaboration of everyone involved in the property industry, we can make a real difference. Building Biodiversity for a better world | Workman Building Biodiversity (workman-building-biodiversity.co.uk)

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