BLOG: Action ramps up on net zero carbon buildings

UKGBC’s Advancing Net Zero Projects Manager, Karl Desai, examines recent developments on the journey to a net zero carbon built environment.
Attendees listening to presentation on UKGBC's Advancing Net Zero framework definition for net zero carbon buildings

Published on

May 21, 2019

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A flurry of recent announcements has sent a lightning bolt through the construction and property industry to act on climate change. The importance and urgency in tackling the issue cannot be underestimated, but the potential in taking collective action is what can now inspire us all. UKGBC’s ‘Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition’ marks a tidal shift in our industry, to leave behind disaggregated efforts and work towards a common goal.

UKGBC’s framework was released in Parliament last month during a week of headline-grabbing news on climate change. From the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to set a legally-binding target for the UK to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, to MP’s declaring an environmental and climate emergency – the discussion around action on climate change is finally getting the attention it deserves.

But amongst all the clamour, there needs to be some focus and clarity, and UKGBC’s framework aims to provide this for the construction and property sector. Given our sector contributes to roughly 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, we have a leading role to play in decarbonisation that can set a path for the rest of the economy.

The framework provides a clear summary of what ‘net zero carbon’ means for our sector. We’re proud to have built consensus on this industry-agreed definition, setting what we need to be doing right now to ensure we have a chance of achieving a net zero carbon built environment in 2050.

We’re all in this together

The framework has been built around a spirit of collaboration – if we are to deliver a net zero carbon built environment, we must all pull in the same direction. As stakeholders in the built environment and, by proxy, the natural environment, we are all responsible for the decarbonisation of our buildings. The time for shifting responsibility must end.

And it’s this theme that I’ve found most encouraging in the development of the framework, everyone is ready to take up the challenge. The end goal has been set, so now everyone can get on onboard and get busy heading in the right direction.

Members of the Advancing Net Zero task group working collaboratively to develop a framework definition for net zero carbon buildings.

Advancing Net Zero Task Group workshop

Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition

The framework outlines two approaches to achieve net zero carbon at different stages through a building’s lifecycle – construction and operational energy. These are the two most impactful stages for a building and represent what we can feasibly tackle today. The two approaches are:

  • Net zero carbon – construction, where the amount of carbon emissions associated with a building’s product and construction stages up to practical completion is zero or negative.
  • Net zero carbon – operational energy, where the amount of carbon emissions associated with the building’s operational energy on an annual basis is zero or negative.
Attendees listening to presentation on UKGBC's Advancing Net Zero framework definition for net zero carbon buildings

Parliamentary launch of UKGBC’s framework definition for net zero buildings

The framework sets out the industry agreed principles for how this can be achieved, including the minimum technical requirements, and approaches to measurement and verification. In broad terms, the principles for achieving a net zero carbon building are illustrated below.

Diagram of steps to achieving a net zero carbon building. Includes construction and operational energy scopes.

As a vested stakeholder in our built environment, there are three steps that we invite you to take:

  1. Test the framework and provide case studies – see if you can be one of the first to achieve a net zero carbon building in the UK.
  2. Sign up to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment – demonstrate your commitment to net zero carbon buildings.
  3. Help to develop the framework –let us know if you have ideas for the future development of the framework by getting in touch at ANZ@ukgbc.org.

Whilst the framework has the potential to mark a tidal shift in our industry, we must not be complacent. This is just the beginning, and our ambition is to move beyond construction and operational energy to encompass a building’s whole life carbon impacts. To achieve this, we must maintain the spirit of collaboration and urgently work together to create a net zero carbon built environment.

In addition to the framework, UKGBC is running a parallel Advancing Net Zero project to address barriers to scope 3 reporting for the commercial real estate sector. We are currently seeking feedback on the draft guidance up until 31 May – more information is available here.