M&E consultant GDM is transforming the furniture giant’s sustainability record

“Faceless boxes, badly converted warehouses – no thought has been given to these buildings’ impact on communities.”

Culture minister David Lammy’s scathing attack on the design and location of Ikea stores this summer crowned three years of government criticism of the furniture giant’s construction programme.

Comments like Lammy’s have forced Ikea to plan a strategy of sustainability improvements in its stores, creating a sizeable challenge for M&E consultant and environmental specialist GDM Partnership.

GDM has been appointed building services designer for the multinational retailer’s first city centre scheme – a £40m store in Coventry. In this open-ended deal, GDM is responsible for directing the retailer’s strategic thinking on energy efficiency.

“The city centre store is a new concept for Ikea,” says John Biscoe, GDM director. “But like other stores we’ve done with them recently, environmental technologies are high up in their thinking. The latest two involved geothermal technologies, and were fully Part L compliant.”

The introduction of the Part L regulations, which set higher standards for energy efficiency, last April has proven something of a watershed for GDM. The firm, established in 1990 by Biscoe’s fellow directors Gary Draper and David Moseby, started as a building services specialist, but with the growing need for environmental compliance early in the project, it has evolved into a “building engineer”, working alongside architects to design energy efficient structures.

Left to right: David Moseby, John Biscoe and Gary Draper
Left to right: David Moseby, John Biscoe and Gary Draper

Our framework involves us in Ikea’s environmental thinking before plans are even drawn up

Gary Draper

“Not everyone understands the consequences of Part L, but it’s creating a cultural change in the design process. Traditionally, we were given a project by architects and worked within their confines, but now we tend to be involved much earlier,” says Gary Draper. “That’s what is happening with Ikea, where our framework involves us in their environmental thinking before plans are even drawn up.”

Early environmental input has contributed to a 12% rise in turnover at the company in the past year. It has also seen the firm, which has offices in Dartford, Manchester and Jersey, win its first contract in Dubai. Biscoe says this work, on a healthcare village, is in the “very early stages”, but already the environmental expertise GDM has gained in the UK is proving useful.

“We’re looking at using solar power, which the client hadn’t even thought of,” he says. “It’s surprising that somewhere like Dubai isn’t really harnessing solar energy, but it’s a potential that they’re just waking up to.”

Although continuing to develop its energy expertise is a significant part of GDM’s five-year growth plan – it wants to increase its staff from 35 to 50 in that time – the firm also wants to reach into sectors outside its core work: currently regeneration schemes and work for financial clients. Projects include the regeneration of Jersey’s water front and transport facilities with architect Axis Mason.

Target markets for expansion include healthcare, public sector and Ministry of Defence schemes.

Biscoe says GDM would consider expansion through acquisition to reach different sectors: “We will be looking closely at opportunities over the next couple of years.”

Of course, GDM has attracted attention from predators. “Over the years we’ve had three or four serious approaches, usually merger opportunities with bigger consultants,” says Draper. However, Moseby says the firm is unlikely to accept a bid. “We’d rather attract like-minded people to our practice,” he says. “We’re all here for the long term.”