Speeding up decarbonisation of the built environment is key to getting the UK to net zero
100 Liverpool Street is British Land's first Net Zero development
With COP 26 fading from memories as Omicron and the cost of living dominate the headlines, it would be easy for policy makers and business leaders to take their eye off the UK’s net zero goal. But in the property sector, which is estimated to be responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions, we must continue to reduce emissions and work together to tackle this challenge head on.
At British Land we’ve come a long way, reducing our carbon intensity by 73% over the last ten years and have committed to making our whole portfolio net zero by 2030, but there is still so much more that we can do.
The good news is that demand for sustainable real estate is rising, from the businesses who lease our office space to the retailers who occupy our retail parks. They are increasingly prioritising buildings that minimise their own carbon footprints and have a positive impact on their people.
However, leaving this to customer demand alone will not drive change fast enough. We need a clear policy and regulatory environment that helps to reduce emissions from the construction and operation of all buildings, which is why we are suggesting five simple levers which policy makers could pull, at little or no cost, to speed up decarbonisation of the built environment:
First, government can accelerate the adoption of sustainable construction materials, including the safe use of timber in commercial buildings, by investing in research and development to prove the safety, strength and energy performance of different materials. This would help to stimulate innovation in supply chains and support the development of standardised, insurable systems, underpinned by simple, clear and consistent guidance.
Second, Building Regulations could be updated to regulate embodied carbon emissions, embed mandatory reporting and introduce minimum performance standards for the construction of buildings.
We need a clear policy and regulatory environment that helps to reduce emissions from the construction and operation of all buildings
Third, we would like to see mandatory sharing of energy performance data between property owners and larger occupiers, to enable accurate reporting of total energy consumption. Greater collaboration is critical to improving performance.
Fourth, the planning system could be used to incentivise the use of Power Purchase Agreements between property owners and renewable energy generators. These importantly are certified as increasing renewable energy supplied to the grid rather than using existing capacity.
Finally, we need the green skills in every sector and region to support this transition. Further devolution of Adult Education Budgets would help equip the workforce with the green skills that local businesses and industries need to reach net zero and drive economic growth.
For example, off-site manufacturing has a significant role to play in reducing the embodied carbon of new developments and addressing traditional construction skills shortages. Local skills programmes would help the workforce access these opportunities and support growth of the industry in parts of the country with great manufacturing traditions.
Business has a huge opportunity and responsibility to lead the way, as consumers continue to feel the impacts of rising inflation and the domestic energy transition takes time.
At British Land, we are working with and learning from our supply chain to improve our own buildings, by adopting best practice, and sharing lessons learnt with the wider industry to raise standards and accelerate the transition to net zero.
I am also confident that with the right policy and regulatory environment we can do more and the five measures suggested here can help to drive the collaboration and innovation that net zero demands. With buildings accounting for a significant proportion of the nation’s carbon emissions, these are simple but powerful levers for government to pull.
Simon Carter is Chief Executive Officer of British Land, a FTSE 100 property company.
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