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Oct 11 2010

Corporate social responsibility, facilities management, Web 2.0 … and bikes

When working as an in-house PR professional, I regularly used to commute to work in central London on my bike. Now I work for myself, this pleasure is denied me, but I often have to travel into town to visit clients’ offices for meetings or meet up with contacts at convenient locations like the Building Centre, the RIBA or the CIPR. However, I rarely cycle to these meetings – partly because the locations have few (usually no) facilities for visiting cyclists – most important, a secure place to store one’s bike, but also perhaps somewhere to get changed, etc. Or, if they do, you can’t find out about them.

The needs of cycling travellers are often overlooked. Look at the office location details on many organisations’ websites, and you will usually see some detailed driving directions, and perhaps guidance on local railway stations or bus services, but it is rare to see any help for people who might like to travel to a meeting under their own steam (BRE is a notable exception). And when you get to the location, there may be visitors’ car parking – but little or no provision for bikes or the immediate needs of their riders. It’s not very joined-up:

  • Today, the carbon footprints of new buildings are increasingly important as they are being planned, designed and constructed (indeed, a facility’s environmental credentials, eg its BREEAM rating, can be enhanced through good provision for cyclists, and can be turned into marketing messages as Sixty Threadneedle Street has done).
  • Perhaps as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies, some organisations try to demonstrate good environmental practices by encouraging cycling among employees, but they forget about the needs of people their employees might invite to visit.
  • The goodwill engendered by good facilities should not be overlooked (I still tell people about the Farnham office of Mitie, which I visited about three years ago, where my bike was safely stored inside the building, and there were changing facilities, including a shower, I could use after cycling 20km from Woking).

Is your building bike-friendly?

Around the same time as my trip to Mitie, I tried to make BIW’s Woking office cyclist-friendly (I even mentioned our changing room and shower on the website), and I looked to see if there was any kind of “bike-friendly building” industry scheme – but without luck. Last week at the Total Workplace Management show, though, I picked up details of Transport for London’s Cycling Workplaces scheme. While this is mainly aimed at encouraging employers (also building owners and facilities managers) to provide more facilities, including cycle stands, for cycling employees, the stated benefits include: “By promoting greater travel choices, you’ll give employees, visitors and customers more ways of reaching you.”

It’s great to see this initiative in London (I hope there are similar schemes in other UK towns and cities), but organisations need to be encouraged to participate. I think there should also be some kind of premises badging that could be used on websites so that visitors can quickly see what, if any, cycling provision is available. A user-driven location-rating scheme could also be used to help keep building owners and operators on their toes.

One idea might be to use Web 2.0 tools to allow people to record their impressions of the adequacy – or not – of cycling facilities at a particular location. My friend Martin Brown, for example, has suggested using the mobile location-based service FourSquare plus Twitter. FourSquare allows people to “check in” at locations, including workplaces, and to leave notes for others who visit the same places. Martin and I have talked about users leaving notes on FourSquare about a venue’s cycling facilities, and perhaps using a Twitter hashtag – #cycfac – to praise the good and/or shame the bad. Review sites such as Yelp might also be used in the same way, as could travel planning sites (Dopplr, for example, used to provide feedback on one’s transport-related carbon use).

This might also make a good topic for conversation on the next Comms Club Run, on 29 October, starting in Dartford, Kent.

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