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25 Key Takeaways from the Future of Commercial Landscaping

by | 07 Jun 24 | Commercial Landscaping, Long Reads | 0 comments

Future of Commercial Landscaping

The Future of Commercial Landscaping in association with Ecoscape brought together a variety of speakers to offer different perspectives on some of the key opportunities and challenges in the sector.  

Attendees heard from contractors and landscape architects as well as from their potential clients – all of which offered a plethora of insights into how commercial landscaping can embrace change and progress. 

Here are just a few of the takeaways from the day: 

1 Landscaping is integral to the delivery of biodiversity net gain 

We’re probably preaching to the choir, but there is a huge opportunity for the industry to take advantage of biodiversity net gain and to become specialists in the field, reckons Barratt Development’s Helen Nyul – from design and implementation through to the ongoing maintenance of these schemes. The calculations are based on landscape designs, so strict adherence is important.   

2 As is a multidisciplinary approach 

Collaboration was a hot topic at the conference, and Nyul says it is necessary for the success of biodiversity net gain, introduced in February and April of this year. It makes business sense to do this upfront at the design stage, rather than needing to retrofit which can be costly. Having the right professionals in right from the beginning can lead to finding cost neutral – or even cost positive – solutions, says Elizabeth Connelly of Peabody Trust. 

3 Biodiversity net gain could become too transactional  

There’s a danger of it becoming a ‘habitat by numbers’ approach, says Jon Berry, managing director of Tyler Grange. The metric arguably could arguably become a box-ticking exercise rather than having nature at its heart. 

4 Maintenance needs to be considered from the beginning 

And those carrying it out then need to be brought into the conversation early on, says WSP’s Kate Slegg-Newton. We also need to explore ways of using private and public money to maintain these spaces, says Berry.  

5 Look at national and local policies when masterplanning 

A development cannot commence until the Biodiversity Gain Plan has been approved by the LPA, so this needs to be factored into the timings, says Fiona Ross of Pinsent Masons. And local authorities can demand more than the minimum 10% requirement, if there is a good reason to do so, so be sure to check. 

6 Educating other sectors and the public is key 

‘BNG’ is a buzzword at the moment, and a lot of people are watching, says Berry. We need to be educating other sectors and the public, adds Slegg-Newton – not just as to what BNG entails but also as an opportunity to attract talent into the industry.   

7 There is (still) a skills shortage 

So, we need to consider different ways to fill this gap in order to fulfil the potential that biodiversity net gain provides. Tyler Grange, for instance, is considering seconding ecologists into other businesses. Apprenticeships are also the answer, says Slegg-Newton. These are not always easy for businesses to provide in terms of resources though, says Fixed Construction’s Lucy Clarke. So, companies might have to think outside the box – Mace, for instance, is looking at incentivising apprenticeship mentors for better engagement.  

8 Create a business that attracts people 

When Tyler Grange permanently switched to a four-day working week with no loss of income, it sparked a surge in job applications. This approach isn’t right for every business, says Berry; but there are plenty of other options. Being transparent is also useful in managing expectations. It’s clearly working – the company has a meagre 2% flight risk.  

9 Don’t forget the basics for employees 

Green-tech’s Richard Gill says having a sick pay policy in place, for instance, can be an overlooked benefit. And whilst a flexible working policy might not suit every company, ensuring staff have a fair work/life balance is crucial.  

10 Invest in staff progression and development 

Giving people the opportunities to further their career and grow within the company is key for retention, says Gill. Employee incentive schemes – in various shapes and sizes – can also help with staff retention, whether it’s bonuses, profit sharing, options or, as Tyler Grange has, a “selection box” of benefits so staff can choose what’s right for them.  

11 More recognition is needed for all involved 

There are a lot of people who make a project a reality, from designers and consultants through to nurseries and contractors. Giving these companies and their role in the delivery more recognition could also help to raise awareness of the roles available within landscaping and construction and could act as a potential draw. We need to step up as an industry and make sure we’re heard, says Max Aughton of Studio Egret West. 

12 Storytelling is more effective than simply providing facts 

It offers the ability to emote, says Brands2Life’s Carolyn Irwin. Telling a brand’s story can help to seize a commercial opportunity, and it all starts with understanding your purpose – why your company exists. Knowing this adds authenticity, says Irwin. 

13 Every project needs soil management 

Nicholsons’ Liz Nicholson says we cannot underestimate the value of soil and how important this is for carbon reduction. It’s one part of the Green Design Audit, which Nicholson has soft launched with the RHS at Chelsea this year and will be looking to push further later this year. Max Aughton of Studio Egret West says effort should be spent on soil management, specifying healthy stock and maintenance – we need to make sure that we’re concentrating on the right things.  

14 There’s no standard tool for embodied carbon 

Arup’s Lise Benningen shared the recommendations of the Landscape & Carbon report by the Landscape Institute and the British Association of Landscape Industries. A verified process is needed for carbon measurement as different tools ask for different data, and the results can be skewed. ‘Task & Finish’ groups are being set up to address the eight recommendations in the report. 

15 Don’t be too protective of designs 

Take on board expertise and make tweaks to your design, says Max Aughton. Being too protective of the design and the plant species selected will not allow for the best outcome. Don’t be afraid of some failures either as this is an opportunity to learn.  

16 There are very few B Corps in landscaping 

The certification has not been widely adopted, says Berry – but he’d encourage those who aren’t looking to become B Corps to at least look at the framework behind it as it could be eye opening. Tyler Grange received B Corp status two years ago and is still striving to make changes in the business to lower its environmental impact.  

17 Developers are looking for green space too 

Real estate investor and developer Phil Haddleton of BGO says landscaping is an increasingly important component for commercial buildings. ‘Brown buildings’ urgently need upgrading and we’re likely to see more retrofitting. Our city’s skylines are set to become greener, predicts Haddleton. 

18 Larger tree imports might be impacted by new import rules 

Hillier has not had a great deal of experience with the Border Control Posts (BCP) yet as it doesn’t import a huge amount, but amenity director Adam Dunnett is concerned that they have been “rushed in” and “not massively thought through”. Handling larger tree imports this winter could prove challenging. And for those who regularly import plants, the cost implications are in their tens of thousands thanks to additional charges. 

19 Offering climate ‘resilient’ trees is not as straight forward as it sounds 

They need to not just be drought tolerant but also resilient to summer storms, says Dunnett. So, Hillier is part of a research project around this, which has already changed the way it waters trees, for instance. The findings will be made available to the whole industry.  

20 Specify smaller species in schemes 

Managing residents’ expectations can be a challenge, as you need them to fall in love with the new aesthetic, says Connelly. But showing photos of how an exemplar scheme has developed over time might help to educate clients and residents as to why smaller species should be specified, says Aughton. The popularity of rain gardens and SuDS is helping with specifying more climate resilient plants and with ongoing maintenance, adds Aughton. 

21 A framework agreement has its pros and cons 

Ruth Lin Holmes of the London Legacy Development Corporation is a fan of a framework agreement, not least because they allow you to learn from mistakes that feed into the next project through an existing relationship. Tivoli’s Robert Cunliffe says they can be beneficial – for standardisation, consistency and ease of tendering – but they can also be “frustrating” if you’re not on them. 

22 Consider reducing the number of frameworks that you’re on 

There are a lot of frameworks and some are more used than others, says Cunliffe. Limit the number of framework agreements that you’re part of, and that could help clients to have a wider view of the market.  

23 Pre-market engagement is critical 

It can help with understanding what the client is looking for, says Cunliffe – and this is where framework agreements can work well, says Holmes. Early engagement and getting stakeholders together and out on site is critical, says Sam Jones of The Green Partnership. Go and see what a contractor is capable of achieving. 

24 The Procurement Act 2023 is going to be a “game changer” 

Set to be come into play later this year, the Procurement Act will see the creation of a central digital platform where suppliers can register and store their details to be used for multiple bids. This is a “game changer”, says Cunliffe. It would simplify the process and save a huge amount of time. 

25 Marks need to be given for innovation in tender 

If marks were offered for contractors coming up with innovative solutions in their tenders then this could drive forward change, says Cunliffe. The opportunities that excite Tivoli are those that are different and forward-thinking – and pre-engagement is good for driving this. But it’s down to both the client and the sector. The Social Value Act, which forced people to win ‘social value’ marks in tenders, has now been embraced and there are now social value or community manager roles in landscaping. It drove innovation. The same could happen for biodiversity net gain, says Cunliffe. 

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