A monthly exploration into the world of sustainability in the built environment with commentary and input from UCEM’s Principal and academics.
How sustainability influences my work: Interview with alumnus Phoebe Farrell
Posted on: 19 May, 2023
BSc (Hons) Real Estate Management – First Class Honours – 2020
Phoebe joined JLL in early 2015 as a secretary, moving on to becoming a surveyor in late 2015 and has progressed through surveying roles alongside her studies at UCEM. During her time at UCEM, Phoebe was very active as our Lead Student Representative and Student Trustee on UCEM’s Board of Trustees.
Since 2021, Phoebe has taken on the role of Chartered Senior Surveyor at JLL having specialized in industrial property in the Southeast and Thames Valley areas of the UK since 2015. She has recently moved into the retail and leisure lease advisory sector in London and the Southeast.
What were your experiences of sustainability at UCEM?
Before working in property and joining UCEM for my studies, I did not think property and construction considered sustainability at all. In fact, I had a rather narrow view of the subject. So, when I began my degree, I was surprised that sustainability was deeply embedded across my modules. I remember one module had an assignment on constructing a sustainable community centre where we studied embodied energy and the full lifecycle of a property. That is where I learnt about, for example, structural insulated panels (SIPs) and it became a keen interest of mine. I think my non-property friends thought I was a bit odd, but I just found the whole concept fascinating. Working at UCEM and JLL changed my view on property and construction and its role in sustainability completely. It helped me understand that as property professionals it is our duty to make the built environment as sustainable as possible whilst servicing the sector’s needs. It was during my first year that I volunteered as an auditor for UCEM’s first SOS-UK Responsible Futures accreditation, which I found to be a very interesting and informative experience.
My favourite sustainability topics were embodied energy and retrofitting listed and historic buildings. I did not previously understand that in construction every action had an energy consequence, and we could manage and mitigate the amount of energy used by consciously measuring and reducing the embodied energy and carbon of the materials. UCEM taught me about the cradle-to-grave approach and the complexities around that, which was eye-opening for me. Secondly, I have always loved historic and listed buildings and strongly believe in their importance and preservation. Factoring in the need for them to remain and be as energy efficient as possible. I even applied this in my personal life with my first property which, although not historic or listed, is Victorian; subsequently my husband and I have researched what methods are not only best to preserve it but improve the energy efficiency of our house.
How do you incorporate sustainability into your job role?
During my time at JLL I have worked with a variety of clients such as developers, landlords, pension funds, and individuals. Each one has had an interest in sustainability in different ways.
This ranges from advising on green leases to the sustainable features to be built into a property like rainwater harvesting, solar panels, and EV charging points, to smaller impacts such as switching to double glazing and different heaters. There are many, many different ways of contributing to sustainability in the built environment depending on budget and feasibility. One particular method I have been seeing more of which I like is putting beehives on industrial sites. I have yet to taste any honey though!
I’m proud to work for JLL as they are a huge advocate of sustainability both in their consultancy advice and as an employer. I feel empowered and supported by them to be more sustainable.
In your role or generally across the sector, what do you hope to work on or see implemented in relation to sustainability?
From an environmental perspective, I think the sector is doing well but there is still a lot to be done, particularly around social responsibility. One trend I am starting to see more of since the pandemic is companies considering the health and happiness of their employees. I would like to see this continue to grow across all sectors. The WELL building standard considers seven key concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. As many of us spend most of our life at work, I think the physical and mental well-being aspect is an important part of discussing sustainability.
What do you think UCEM needs to tackle next in relation to sustainability?
I think UCEM is doing very well, both in terms of teaching its students and supporting the development of its staff. When I came to UCEM’s offices in Reading I got to have a look around the building which had not long been awarded “Excellent” on the BREEAM rating scale, and I also got to talk to staff and learnt about things like coffee granules being useful in gardening.
I think it would be beneficial for UCEM to support alumni to host webinars for current students about what their companies are doing regarding sustainability and hear students’ thoughts on it as they may have new ideas or opinions to help drive positive change within the sector. It would also give the opportunity for alumni to inspire the students.
Tell us about something or someone that inspires you to be more sustainable.
I read an interesting article in the BBC Science Focus magazine, of which I am a subscriber, about biodiversity. I am a big advocate of keeping the meadows and woodlands as they are, as the rate we’re losing them is awful. Our ecosystem is beautiful and must be preserved. That article enhanced my interest and inspired me to keep my garden almost wild where I have let it naturally grow and have left the fruit trees (fig, apple, pear, and cherry), and the grass to grow throughout the summer. Consequently, it has attracted all sorts of animals and insects – my friend was horrified when she came for a picnic and an army of tiny spiders marched across the blanket!
We have had hedgehogs burrowing in the leaves, birds born, squirrels and wasps eating the fruit, bees on the so-called weeds of cow parsley and dandelions, and yes, an enormous number of spiders and insects. However, it has allowed the natural ecosystem to thrive and survive, it’s a small thing but it helps the planet, and I don’t mind it at all even if it means my friend has refused to go into my garden again!
What climate actions do you take in your personal life and what would you say to people who want to take action against climate change?
As a family we try to buy seasonal, local produce to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s not always possible or economical to do that so buying supermarket fruit and vegetables loose is another small way we try to contribute. I hate food waste, so I try hard to meal plan and find recipes that use up what we buy – it has certainly produced some strange yet tasty meals! I would always recommend rather than throwing away overripe vegetables to make them into a stew or make leftover fruit into a cake or pie. Love Food Hate Waste has got some useful recommendations and recipes if you need some inspiration. Food waste is a huge contributor to the climate crisis as it generates methane in landfills and takes many resources to produce and transport. If you can reduce food waste and have cake surely that’s a win-win!
If you are a UCEM alumni and would be interested in sharing your experiences in this series, please email UCEM’s sustainability education & engagement officer, Jessica Gordon-Calvert via email@example.com.