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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors
Our green credentials take us back well before it became ‘fashionable’ to call yourself sustainable. We were the first contractor in the UAE with an office to receive LEED Gold rating (in 2009), and have successfully executed more sustainable interior projects with 100% success rate in the UAE than any other contractor. In 2014 we received our third Dubai Chamber of Commerce CSR label; we were named Sustainable Business of the Year at the Gulf Capital Awards; and Daman Corporate Health Awards rewarded us for ‘Employee Engagement of the Year Initiative’ for our health and wellness program.
In order to become the sustainable business that we are today, we have had to learn to adapt in order to grow as we embark on our sustainable journey. In 2011, when we set up our Eco Leaders committee – a team of employees volunteering to drive the ‘green’ movement at Summertown, we thought we had the right plan in place. And our plan seemed good, but in time we realized that it didn’t deliver everything we had hoped for. It became clear we needed to expand our vision if we wanted to achieve those tangible business benefits for taking the ‘green’ path.
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. 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.
In our case, we realised the only way to go about being a truly sustainable business was to integrate sustainability principles into everything we do. We needed, in the same way a person does, to make a major lifestyle change that would impact everyone and everything in our business, at all levels: our people, our partners and clients, our community and our planet.
Today, sustainability is at the core of everything we do and this not only makes our employees and clients happier, but is driving our economic engine. In the last year alone we have achieved 25% revenue growth. Taking the sustainability path and integrating it into every aspect of our business has paid off: now 54% of our total business comes from sustainable fit out projects, which is one of our measures for success. Not only we are taking the sustainable path, but we inspire and convince others to do it and we have the expertise and experience to help them.
We believe it’s important to share our experience with others: our learning curve will help and encourage them to make the right choices. We hope more companies will understand that ‘going green’ is not about being ‘fashionable’. Being green is a lifestyle choice and a business strategy, one that, if done well, impacts the company’s bottom line; people will be more engaged and work better together, costs will be managed more efficiently, the company will gain credibility in the market.
Since we embarked on our CSR journey, we have reaped the benefits. We make tangible savings every day, our employees come to work with a real sense of purpose, are healthier and happier, and the results are reflected in our productivity levels, our carbon footprint and ultimately the success of our business.
And because this is that time of the year when we make resolutions, our ‘green’ journey in 2015 will have two main objectives: to take our first steps to attain LEED EBOM (Existing Buildings and Maintenance) certification, and to inspire and help other companies in the UAE to integrate sustainability into their business strategy.
By Paul Briers, Projects Director, Summertown Interiors
A healthy employee is a happy employee. Many companies now recognise employees as their most important asset. They have also realised that by focusing on employee wellness they not only improve their market reputation, but also levels of employee engagement and productivity, which positively impacts their bottom lines.
There are various workplace initiatives taking place across the UAE to promote and support a healthier lifestyle, from offering guidance on healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise to free health check-ups. As a fit-out contractor specialised in green interiors, Summertown Interiors is encouraged to see more companies rethink the way they fit-out their offices in order to promote and support a healthier lifestyle for their employees.
There is, however, an issue which is often overlooked: indoor air quality. Although a survey by the Environment Agency Abu-Dhabi shows that people are significantly more aware of the importance of air quality, with awareness rising from seven per cent in 2013 to 90 per cent in 2014, the issue of indoor air quality goes largely unnoticed. This is most likely due to a misconception that while the air is polluted outside, we are safe once inside our homes or offices. The truth is indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, some alarming news considering we spend 90 per cent of our time indoors.
What exactly makes the indoor air so bad? Among the pollutants in an office are chemical emissions coming from conventional building materials, furnishings, cleaning products, paints or even office products such as printers, mould and poor ventilation. The latter is particularly relevant to the UAE, where access to fresh outdoor air is not possible most of the year, making us dependent on air conditioning systems.
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 Summertown’s 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.
To improve air quality, the countless toxins found in our indoor environment—such as formaldehyde, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), trichloroethylene, carbon monoxide and benzene, to name just a few—must be reduced as much as possible. Besides having a proper ventilation system, this can be done by using green certified fit-out products and materials with low or no VOC levels, proper housekeeping, and by making sure the office occupancy quote does not exceed standards in workspace design.
Adding office plants has long been a solution for improving indoor air quality and recently we have seen an increase interest in adding green walls, which are panels of plants grown vertically using hydroponics on structures that can be either free-standing or attached to walls. Not only does this improve air quality, it also provides a visual break, which studies suggest stimulates mental alertness for its occupants.
January has always typically been a month of health and wellness. Millions start the New Year on a new diet and with high hopes to follow a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately these good intentions are often short-lived. Old habits are hard to break. However, help is at hand, and it comes in the surprising form of your employers.
With the planned roll-out of a mandatory health insurance scheme for all companies in Dubai at the start of this year, and following recent reports placing Dubai in the top 10 countries in the world for diabetes and other lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, we are seeing a prominent trend emerging in the region to incorporate health and wellness into the workplace. With the objective of promoting healthier living habits and general wellbeing among the workforce, companies are rethinking how they fit-out their offices and reviewing HR practises and incentives.
We are seeing an increase in the use of natural light in a number of projects. This not only saves money on energy bills, but is also one component of occupant health affecting productivity and both physical and mental health. The important role that natural light plays in boosting morale and wellbeing among the workforce has resulted in the incorporation of large picture windows and open terraces that enhance natural light in the office and communal areas. This can reduce a number of physical effects such as eye fatigue and headaches.
We are also seeing a number of projects with Green Walls–panels of plants, grown vertically using hydroponics on structures that can be either free-standing or attached to walls. With countless toxins found in our indoor environment, such as formaldehyde, VOCs, trichloroethylene, carbon monoxide and benzene, to name just a few, adding office plants has long been a solution for improving indoor air quality. Green walls do just that, but on a much bigger scale. Not only does this improve air quality, it also provides a visual break, which studies suggest stimulates mental alertness.
It is not just the mind and soul that is benefitting from this trend, but also the body. Companies are now actively promoting a healthier lifestyle in the workplace – from installation of employee gyms to providing advice for employees on nutrition and diet and provision of healthier food options for staff. At Summertown we run a monthly initiative including free to attend seminars, healthy snacks, and team events such as the recent Dubai Standard Chartered Marathon where more than 40 employees and their family members took part in the 10km and 3km to raise money for charity.
With so much help at hand to support an active lifestyle, it looks like 2014 is the year that your healthy resolution is here to stay.
By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors
We often come across corporations treating CSR as a separate function, assigning a specific budget to being socially responsible and even hiring dedicated personnel to manage it. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it makes me wonder why organisations are not tapping into all of their resources to support their CSR practices.
This leads me to an even bigger question. What are these so called CSR efforts? Is the company strategically invested in supporting its people, planet and profits or is its CSR activity only limited to philanthropic or charitable contributions?
While every company needs to start somewhere, the latter approach tends to give SMEs and start-up owners the impression they cannot be involved in CSR unless they have large sums of money to spend on it. This has certainly been the misconception among many of my industry peers who often dismiss CSR as a “nice-to-have”.
At Summertown Interiors (also an SME!) we can healthily and proudly argue the contrary. Not only have we been able to implement CSR sustainably and socially responsibly, we’ve ensured that each one of our employees drives this wagon.
So how did we do this? First and foremost, we believe that social responsibility goes way beyond being environmentally friendly or charitable. The word ‘responsibility’ is extremely important here. A company is a good corporate citizen when it continuously works towards improving responsibility on all levels and towards all stakeholders be they customers, partners, employees or the community. It’s not about creating more work, but merely changing the way you do things.
Sustainability has always been at the forefront of our business operations. Last year we started working towards a long-term sustainability goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, but we wanted our community contribution to go beyond environmental savings. So we evolved our SMART Sustainable plan – an annual company-wide programme that maps sustainable goals for each employee against performance – into a wider strategy to incorporate areas other than the environment. Office-greening goals are still a part of this plan but aside from these, every employee is now responsible for achieving broader business and societal objectives and their overall performance heavily takes this into account.
Within the plan we focus on making company processes more sustainable, more comprehensive and healthier for our employees. For example, we’ve reviewed our supplier prequalification process, our onsite health and safety measures and the provision of healthy eating options for staff.
Our approach to new business has also been reviewed in line with our CSR approach. Providing project estimations is a time-intensive process, as our approach is to be completely transparent with our clients and to provide very detailed estimation budgets. We want our clients to be completely clear on project costs, and what they include and don’t include. Our preference is to work with clients who also take a transparent approach to business, have now taken the company-wide decision to work with clients that share core values similar to ours. While some may consider this measure somewhat arrogant or even foolhardy, it is one that is already benefitting our business. It has resulted in better utilisation of employee hours, a reduction in staff working overtime, more satisfied employees (as they are working on projects that really utilise their strengths) and increased productivity.
And while we operate in a LEED-certified office, it doesn’t mean we should stop improving on our environmental scorecard. We recently undertook an environmental audit which revealed some startling results. One of these was extremely high water consumption levels despite our low-flow taps and leakage detection systems already in place. We are now working on re-landscaping a particular outdoor area which we estimate will reduce water consumption by 50% for each employee and reduce operational costs by at least AED 15,000 per year.
We’re excited to see this come through and to also find out the results of the complete audit! Watch this space for more updates on this but in the meantime, why not think about the different facets of your business that you didn’t previously associate with CSR and how, by attaching some measurable actions to these, you can bring about a positive change in your business.