Diversity in the workplace

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

As we quickly reach the end of the first month of 2017, we look forward to yet another year of delivering high end interior projects for our clients – helping them achieve their environmental goals whilst delivering operational savings and a better workspace for employees.

At Summertown, we strongly believe that the strength of the company lies within our team, and that we have both an ethical and corporate responsibility to create and support a diverse workforce of highly motivated people.

Diversity in the workforce is of utmost importance to us – and at the core of who we are as a company. This means not only embracing our employees’ nationalities, gender, cultures, religious and ethnic backgrounds, but also respecting their ‘diversity of views’ – allowing them to bring new ideas, innovations and thinking styles to the table.

Much research has shown that there is a strong link between a diverse workforce and innovation. We see first-hand how the diversity of our team positively impacts our critical evaluation process, encouraging fresh perspectives and different points of views on any given situation.

By creating a workplace which supports diversity, our employees are encouraged to contribute as integral members of the company. It is clear that the more effective an organization is at supporting diversity and inclusion, the more engagement that organization will experience among its employees.

According to a recent report by Mckinsey on ‘Why Diversity Matters’ more ‘diverse’ companies are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.

At Summertown, our business model is successful because of our people – the commitment to the welfare of our people is reflected in our low staff turnover which over the past two years has been approximately 11% – a favourable comparison to the UAE’s average of 31%.

 Together as a team we will continue to foster an open and transparent culture, which encourages diversity. We believe this is essential to retain our employees and encourage productivity, and will, in turn, continue to enhance our overall success.

Dubai welcomes new green building regulations

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

The Dubai Municipality’s decision to introduce Al Safat, a green building rating system for new buildings in Dubai is set to improve corporate sustainability in the UAE. The rating system has been designed to achieve high sustainable performance of buildings by strengthening their planning, design, implementation and operational phases.

It is now mandatory for all building owners, investors and developers to meet the Al Safat’s minimum bronze rating – those failing to meet the minimum rating criteria will not be given permits. According to the Dubai Municipality, by applying Al Safat standards a building can produce savings in energy use of up to 34 per cent – currently, more than 90 per cent of buildings in Dubai constructed after 2001 already meet the necessary criteria to qualify for the bronze certification.

The introduction of Al Safat is a promising move by the Dubai Municipality – since Dubai pledged to make Expo 2020 the first sustainable Expo the UAE Government has made very clear its intention to become a successful model of a sustainable economy and has put in place some ambitious targets to make this vision a reality.

The UAE Government’s implementation of plans and policies such as the Al Safat System are highly important in helping to promote and enforce policies to reduce its carbon footprint. Dubai’s commitment to becoming a world leading ‘green’ city provides businesses with an opportunity to understand and implement strategies that can translate to their bottom line.

Summertown Interiors Achieves LEED EBOM Gold Certification

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director

We are very proud to announce that we have been awarded the Gold LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED EBOM) certification for the ongoing operations and maintenance of our headquarters.

The LEED EBOM certification identifies and rewards current best practices and provides a framework for buildings to use less energy, water and natural resources; improve the indoor environment; and uncover operating inefficiencies. The certification requires implementation of policies such as the sustainable purchasing of materials, equipment and consumables, and the extensive monitoring and tracking of operations.

To be the only company in our industry according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) among a total of eleven companies in the UAE is a huge achievement. We would like to thank both our team and our green partner Green Technologies for their continued support in helping us to lead a ‘greener’ lifestyle.

For us, achieving the LEED EBOM certification was the next step on our ongoing CSR journey. As a company that walks the talk, placing our clients, partners and the business community at the forefront of our operations; the next step for the team in achieving sustainability excellence was to go beyond our Gold LEED certification for interiors and develop an ever-evolving sustainable framework for the premises, its operations and maintenance.

Specifically, we created a number of policies to document the organisation’s operational procedures detailing everything from operating hours to waste management. We were then able to track and monitor our activities inline with the policies, and implement measures that would enable us to further reduce energy and water consumption, or manage business operations in a more environmentally friendly manner. Targets were set in accordance with the LEED EBOM certification system, helping to further embed sustainability into our internal processes.

In addition to improving the operational activities across the business, LEED EBOM also recognises the value of human capital and considers the importance of employee wellbeing as a critical success factor to achieving excellence in sustainability. At Summertown Interiors, we have witnessed how the implementation of LEED EBOM has resulted in greater employee satisfaction and encouraged productivity by keeping staff more motivated and committed to the business – this has positively contributed to our company’s bottom line.

CSR is an ongoing process and we believe that our LEED EBOM framework will be a vital tool to further progress our efforts in achieving carbon neutrality by 2020. Next step will be to embed these policies and procedures into our ISO processes to ensure we strive to continuously improve on our carbon footprint measurement in our bid to become carbon neutral by 2020.




My Internship with Summertown Interiors

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By Benedict Brenninkmeijer, student, University of St Andrews

How did I end up working for Summertown Interiors?

The process started when I decided to take time out from my studies at the University of St Andrews to attain first-hand experience within the sustainability industry.  My course, Sustainable Development, is extremely broad and is going to take me five years to complete in total. After two and a half years, at my half way point in 2015, I started to worry about how I would be able to apply the theory I was learning into practise.  Taking a leap of faith, I put my studies on hold from December so that I could embark on an internship to gain the industry experience I craved.

So why Dubai?

I had lived there as a young child in the 90’s and have always been fascinated by the way the city had progressed in such a short space of time. At University, I did a case study on Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, ‘the world’s most sustainable eco-city’, and this further sparked my interest on the region.  While researching Masdar City, I came across Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and found that interestingly, Summertown Interiors had completed some of their offices – this is what led me to get in touch with the company as I thought what better way to learn more about Masdar City and other projects in the rest of the UAE than to work for Summertown Interiors.

What did you work on?

I applied and succeeded to get the opportunity to intern with Summertown Interiors for a six-week period. I was tasked to help the team with the integration of the recent processes defined for the company as part of their recent completion of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED EBOM), the certification for the ongoing operations and maintenance of existing commercial and institutional buildings.

Specifically, my focus was to assist with the Facility Management and Procurement areas. In order for the project to be a success, LEED EBOM would need to be viewed as a core component of business operations and not as a standalone extra task to be completed. To facilitate seamless integration of these sustainability practices I had to learn more of Summertown Interior’s ISO process driven operations.

After gaining a familiarity with LEED EBOM and the ISO system, I worked alongside key team members to propose changes to existing ISO processes that would address the demands of LEED EBOM.

Any highlights?

The Summertown team gave me their full support – I was able to have access to all departments and through meetings with department heads, I gained an amazing insight into the inner workings of the business. With my background as a Sustainable Development student, Summertown Interiors was also eager for me have external meetings, to give me a better understanding of what is being done in Dubai and the rest of the UAE to achieve the country’s sustainability goals.

I was fortunate enough to meet on a number of occasions with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and learn more about their efforts to support the widespread adoption of sustainability and CSR practices throughout the GCC region. Additionally, it was fantastic to have been part of the Summertown Interiors team when it was awarded the Dubai Chamber’s CSR label for the fourth year running.

Another interesting meeting that took place was with the Sustainability Manager at Brookfield Multiplex – a global contracting and development company. It was brilliant to be given further insight into what large multinational organisations are doing to support green design and build in the region.

In my final week I was fortunate enough to take a tour of Masdar City with one of Summertown Interior’s team members to learn more about the initiatives and technologies the city already had in operation and their vision for the future. To take a ride on the automated PRT system around Masdar City was really exciting and felt like something from a sci-fi movie.

What have you learnt?

Looking back over my time at Summertown Interiors I am so grateful for all of the experience I was able to garner and take back to Scotland with me. I surpassed my initial goal of understanding more about how sustainability works within a business context and was fortunate enough to learn from one that is pioneering the way for the green movement in the UAE.

I have developed professionally with my written and oral communication skills, my networking capabilities and analysis capabilities. I have also developed personally, gaining an insight into what life is like as an expat, living by myself, driving to work in Jebel Ali everyday and making some amazing friendships along the way.

Millennials influencing workplace design in the UAE

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

The UAE’s commercial fit-out market has experienced a greater demand for office workplaces that meet the expectations of the ‘Millennial Generation’ who are reshaping workplace design in the UAE. This ambitious, tech-savvy generation has notably different working styles and preferences than other generations and place much higher value on the office environment and workplace culture. Designers, architects and workspace experts have started to introduce these principles into their projects to increase user satisfaction and productivity.

Millennials look for collaborative working environments where they can share ideas and learn from their colleagues. As ‘digital natives’ they rely on 24/7 connectivity to technology so they feel less reason to be tied to a desk. Offices that are designed to encourage collaboration via cleverly integrated sharable ‘digital spaces’, such as a top-of-the-range conference rooms, help to foster collaboration and improve creativity and productivity within the workplace.
Transparency is one of the top qualities that Millennials look for in leaders – honest, open cultures where there are limited barriers between management teams. This is reflected in office fit-outs where the focus is shifting towards open and airy spaces. Glass partitions for office cubicles are increasingly favoured over gypsum partitions. However, these open spaces also need to be balanced with private areas. Millennials want to know their colleagues are always approachable, but also want to enjoy their own privacy when they need to concentrate.

‘Rethinking’ the use of space has fast become a top priority for companies in order to encourage employee engagement. Many Millennials want to feel that their company really cares about their wellbeing and this has seen a rise in the demand for health amenities in the workplace. From yoga rooms, to pantries stocked with free and healthy foods and sleep corners, companies are increasingly understanding the role that the physical environment plays in promoting wellbeing at work.

‘Millennial offices’ are firmly shaping the future of the corporate real estate industry. By 2020 Millennials will form 50% of the global workforce and, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the UAE is the top emerging market destination for young professionals looking to further their careers. Interestingly, a survey carried out by HSBC’s private banking arm showed that the UAE has the youngest successful entrepreneurs in the world.

Investing in the workspace should not be considered an extra cost, but an investment that has a positive impact on employees’ happiness, productivity, and loyalty. This will, in turn, enhance the organisation’s overall success. As Millennials continue to dominate the workforce, companies must adapt to new ways of doing business in order to retain employees and encourage productivity.

Increased corporate sustainability awareness needed in the UAE

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

Despite the progressive measures the UAE Government is taking to make the country a successful global model of sustainable development, UAE businesses are still considerably behind their Western counterparts when it comes to implementing sustainable practises.

Since Dubai pledged to make Expo 2020 the first sustainable expo, the UAE’s sustainable development agenda has been thrust into the global spotlight. The UAE Government has made very clear its intention to become a successful model of a sustainable economy and has put in place some ambitious targets to make this vision a reality.

In 2015, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050. This aims to make Dubai a global centre of clean energy and green economy by providing 7% of Dubai’s energy from clean energy sources by 2020, 25% by 2030 and 75% by 2050.

The UAE through its diverse strategies and investments in clean and renewable energy is leading global efforts in this area, despite having the second-largest oil reserves in the world. Since the recent unveiling of the new cabinet including the appointment of Thani Kharkhash as Minister of State for Climate Change and Environment, much effort is being put into diversifying the UAE’s economy away from oil by 2021 to create a business environment that ensures economic and social stability.

Although there has been an increased interest in building green in the past few years, the corporate and economic benefits of sustainability are still underestimated in the region. Being green is a lifestyle choice and a business strategy, which, if done well, positively impacts the company’s bottom line. People will be more engaged and work better together, costs will be managed more efficiently, and the company will gain credibility in the market.

As a company that walks the talk, our clients, partners and the business community in general look to us for advice and knowledge when it comes to integrating sustainability into their business operations. From our own experience, the most common mistake companies make when they want to embrace sustainability is having too narrow a vision: setting just a few goals and metrics for measurement, and then following those without looking at the big picture.

Sustainability has always been at the forefront of Summertown’s operations and we will continue to pioneer the ‘green’ movement here in the UAE. We look to inspire and help other companies to integrate ‘green’ practises into their business strategy to help sustainability become the standard modus operandi, both in the UAE and worldwide.

Top trends towards a more productive workplace

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By Esra Kayhan, HR Manager, Summertown Interiors

Workplace wellness, sustainability and employee engagement are three emerging trends that are influencing workplace design in the UAE. Get all three right, and you will be well on your way to creating a more productive workplace, according to recent studies.

Wellbeing at work means much more than taking care of employees’ basic needs; it fosters an atmosphere of healthy competition and processes that make the workplace more conducive to performance and positive thinking. This, in turn, boosts productivity and reduces stress levels.

Investing in the workspace is no longer considered an extra cost, but a productivity investment that enhances an organisation’s overall success. From paying more attention to the quality of lighting, indoor air, sound level and visual design in the office, companies are now understanding the role that the physical environment plays in promoting wellbeing at work.

The fit-out industry has experienced increased pressure to implement environmentally-responsible practices. The UAE is a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement and by 2020, as part of Dubai’s Clean Energy Strategy 2050, the emirate intends to obtain 7% of its energy from clean sources.

As buildings are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, more attention will be given to the construction of green buildings and the maintenance of sustainable interiors. Regulation will likely be a driver of this, but so will end-user demand. As clients become more aware of the advantages of building green, and their responsibility to the planet, they will put more pressure on the fit-out industry to implement environmentally responsible practises.

‘Rethinking’ the use of space to accommodate employees will also be a key consideration. Until recently, open plan offices were considered the best environment for staff, encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity. Today, the focus is shifting towards building a space that offers the perfect balance between collaboration and privacy.

Creating workplaces and spaces that encourage employee engagement via seamless technological integration continues to shape the commercial fit-out industry. Technology is a vital component which spearheads and enables creativity amongst the workforce when its implementation is thoughtfully considered. By cleverly integrating the latest technologies into an office fit-out, employees can feel more creative, productive and engaged.

These are increasingly important considerations to bear in mind when designing the ideal workplace environment. The workspace of the future will have to be efficient, sustainable and healthy, while providing the right environment for a creative, productive and engaged workforce.

Air pollution control in the UAE – both outdoor and indoor

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This year’s edition of the Little Green Data Book by World Bank Group, the highly reputable reference on key environmental data for over 200 economies, welcomed the inclusion of two new indicators on ambient air pollution.

Worryingly, the findings highlighted that in many countries, exposure to air pollution is increasing at a fast rate and has in fact become the main environmental threat to health. In the UAE, the emphasis on air quality is treated as a serious matter which is led by the Ministry of Environment and Water.

Although the results of both new indicators for the UAE proved to be much higher than the World Health Organisation’s recommended guidelines, the Ministry has been working hard to combat the issue and continue to improve the region’s air quality. For example, the introduction of a further eleven air quality monitoring stations are to be built as part of a new monitoring system called UAE Air Quality Network.

Although this is a commendable feat for the UAE, we believe that it is also just as important to raise awareness of indoor air pollution and put in place controls to reduce it. According to the Dubai Municipality’s Public Health and Safety Department, “people spend an average of 90 per cent of their time indoors”. Therefore, tackling indoor air pollution is a necessity, as the pollutants indoors can be just as high as outdoors and can cause harm to both the family home and working environment.

For example, indoor air quality invariably impacts the overall working atmosphere of any office space. If indoor air is polluted, employees are more likely to feel sick and uncomfortable, resulting in a negative impact on productivity levels. Indoor air can be polluted by a number of factors ranging from furniture materials used, a lack of proper housekeeping or even as a result of occupants’ activities.

What we have found is that it is also important to ensure the building or office occupancy quota does not exceed standards in workspace design as the extra bodies will impact air quality. Pollution caused by poor quality furniture and fixtures can be easily avoided by specifying or installing products and materials with low or no Volatile Organic Compound levels.

When it comes to maintenance and housekeeping works, be sure to use cleaning products that are environmentally friendly. Those that are not tend to cause micro levels of air contamination. Occupants’ activities such as smoking close to the building can be easily taken care of by ensuring designated smoking areas are away from the building.

Air pollution can also be caused by a general lack of fresh air supply. Having the right ventilation system design at the time of construction and, an operation and maintenance policy that is adhered to, will help to monitor supply of fresh air. At our LEED Gold certified showroom, sensors have been installed in closed meeting areas to ensure fresh air is pumped in when carbon dioxide levels are high. In this way, we have been able to provide 30% more fresh air in our offices than ASHRAE standards.

During the construction of our office we ensured we used low-emitting adhesives, paints and sealants, certified eco-friendly system furniture and seating, and implemented a two-week flush-out period before occupancy.

While we don’t have specific research to prove this, it is logical to say that indoor air quality can be harmed if the level of pollution outdoors is high. If your workspace is located in an industrial area or even within a busy city where the air is more polluted, it is likely to damage air quality indoors, especially if you are trying to pump in ‘fresh air’ from the outside.

Looking ahead, we are confident that decreasing air pollution will be a high priority for the Ministry of Environment and Water. However, it is important to note that it is not only the government’s responsibility, but all segments of society.

From small to large businesses, we all have a part to play — a part that can be beneficial for the business, the community in which it exists, and the planet as a whole.

Cost Effective Fit Out Solutions

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Sharing market knowledge and expertise is always at the forefront of Summertown’s activities. On 26th November, Summertown’s Projects Director Paul Briers hosted a workshop on ‘cost-effective fit-out solutions’ at the 2015 edition of The Big Five. Renowned as the largest and most informative construction exhibition in the Middle East, Paul was invited to shed light on Summertown’s in-depth understanding of the topic.

Balancing clients’ quality expectations with cost-effectiveness is a matter that is raised on nearly every Summertown project. However, as Paul explained, it is impossible to summarise cost-effectiveness by a single parameter. Instead, it can be determined by a life-cycle perspective where all costs and benefits of a given project are evaluated and compared over its economic life.

In particular, Paul highlighted five key areas that should be taken into consideration when undertaking a cost-effective fit-out design:

The first, site selection and the concept of being thoroughly aware of a company’s forecasted growth before investing in a space. Business assessment is a necessary step to ensure long-term planning of any site. For example, if the workforce is likely to increase and outgrow the office, then creating a cleverly designed, accommodating area is a necessity. If a full assessment is not carried out from the start, as companies grow in size, it becomes challenging to provide a working environment that meets the needs of its occupants. Currently, an interesting trend is ‘hot-desking’, a workspace sharing model in which employees outnumber desks. Proven to reduce cost through space savings, ‘hot-desking’ can be integrated into site selection from phase one of the fit-out.

The next subject matter, workspace design, focused on ‘rethinking’ the use of space. Until recently, open plan offices were considered the best environment for employees, encouraging collaboration, innovation and team work. Now many studies have proven that a lack of privacy negatively affects concentration levels, productivity and creativity. The focus is shifting towards building a space that offers the perfect balance between collaboration and privacy. Today, designers, architects and workspace experts are introducing these principles into their projects to increase user satisfaction. Investing in the workspace is no longer considered an extra cost, but as a productivity investment that enhances an organisation’s overall success.

The third topic, local versus international sourcing of materials, brought to light a predicament which many contractors face in the UAE. The limited product offering in the local market has resulted in much product being sourced from overseas. However, since sustainability in buildings has moved higher on the agenda in the UAE, the fit-out industry has experienced increased pressure to implement environmentally-responsible practices. The emerging demand for reusable and local materials is having a positive effect on their availability and prices in the market. As green practices are adopted on a larger scale, economies of scale are achieved and the unit cost of green products in the local market are lowered.

This led onto the subject of sustainability and the long-term ecological footprint of material and the number of questions that must be raised and answered when considering a fit-out. Where did the material come from? How was it processed or fabricated? How did it arrive on-site? How long will it last? How will it eventually be disposed of? The cost-effectiveness of sustainable fit-outs in the region has been a hot topic, and recently, we have witnessed a greater awareness from businesses regarding both the economic and corporate benefits of building green. Thankfully, today there is a larger offering and the price of green products has reduced, which has encouraged the development of green projects.

Overall, mitigating project risk as best as possible when undertaking a fit-out is key. A responsible contractor will be aware of any potential risks to the project, and will be prepared to mitigate them in the most cost-effective way possible. It is unrealistic to think that delivery of a fit-out project will come without risk, which is why transparency and open communication with the client is essential and allows for the team to maintain tight control on costs versus ‘allowable’. Contractors should not be afraid to ‘go above and beyond’ with their fit-out projects. However, cost-effective solutions that bring operational benefits for cleverly designed spaces should be front of mind at all times.

Sustainability in the UAE – how green are we willing to go?

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By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

At Summertown Interiors, we are huge supporters of the green building revolution which is happening in the UAE. With 800 registered LEED-accredited building projects of the 1,250 listed, the UAE is definitely spearheading change in the Middle East.

In both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the government has paved the way for the green movement by enforcing energy-efficient requirements for developers, namely Estidama and the Green Building Codes. Both are part of a long-term campaign in which the leadership is aiming to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020, including the identification of sustainability as a key criterion in the event specification for Dubai Expo 2020.

Promisingly, we have witnessed a greater awareness from business regarding both the economic and corporate benefits of building green. A great example of this is how just a few years ago there was a shortage of eco products in the regional market which meant green investment was slightly halted. Thankfully, today there is a larger offering and the price of green products has reduced which has encouraged the development of green building projects.

In addition, attitudes in society towards sustainability have progressed and people are more aware and keener to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Lots of companies are now advocates in promoting well-being at work, paying more attention to the quality of lighting, indoor air, sound level and visual design in the office, as well as providing their staff with breakout and gyms areas.

This being said, the UAE is still considerably behind its Western counterparts when it comes to the sustainability conversation. For example, there is little or no legislation that enforces companies to consider the environment – even Estidama’s mandatory status is a rare thing and most companies that take measures to ‘go green’ do so voluntarily.

This leads into the UAE’s sustainability reporting and the lack of procedures when it comes to companies reporting their environmental footprint. This has to be improved and taken seriously like in other developed markets – it will be a while before companies in the UAE are on par with them.

Although there has been an increased interest in building green in the past few years, the corporate and economic benefits of sustainability are still underestimated in the region and deserve to be promoted through a considered educational program for both the construction sector and decision makers.

At Summertown Interiors, we are happy to see the UAE’s green revolution gain momentum and are confident that further change is coming as companies continue to embrace more and more green policies.

From the availability of green products, to the lack of clear regulations in green building and recycling, we do still face challenges. While efforts are made to design and construct buildings that perform better, a key area missed is how buildings are operated and maintained from a sustainable viewpoint. Additionally, more importance needs to be given to the interiors of buildings as at the moment are regulated mainly by LEED certification, not mandatory in the UAE.

Our industry has a crucial role to play in pressing for specific legislation and convincing high-end users of the benefits of green practices. We need to reinforce the collaboration between all key stakeholders for further improvement – authorities, contractors, manufacturers, engineers, architects, designers, developers, facility managers and tenants. Stakeholder involvement at every level is absolutely necessary if green building is to earn its rightful place as the industry standard.

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