BLOG: Construction and property is getting serious about net zero carbon

Karl Desai, Projects Manager – Advancing Net Zero, writes about how the construction and property industry is looking to take a lead on strengthening green building standards.
Sprawling plants on outdoor green living wall, vertical garden on modern office building façade on sunny day, low angle view, copy space

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January 25, 2019

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Last week, amidst the chaos of no deal, no confidence and, frankly, no idea, the government quietly published its long-overdue cost optimality assessment for NZEBs. For the uninitiated (lucky you) NZEBs or Nearly Zero Energy Buildings are a requirement of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. It’s a rather problematic policy which requires EU member states to calculate the best level of energy performance that can be achieved for a building whilst remaining cost effective in their country.

Some in the construction and property industry had been hopeful that the assessment would bring with it the tightening of energy performance standards and a shunt in the right direction for the efficiency of new buildings and ultimately a net zero carbon built environment. But alas no, the government concluded that our current regulations are cost optimal and that no change is needed. It’s disappointing, but not surprising. The reality is our current building standards are not sufficient, we will not meet our decarbonisation objectives if we carry on the way we are, and the industry needs to take control and do something.

And they are. Against this somewhat dreary policy backdrop, I find myself in a new role as Projects Manager on the UK Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero programme. The programme brings life to WorldGBC’s aim for a net zero carbon built environment by 2050. Our priority is to develop a framework definition for what a net zero carbon building is in the UK context, in close collaboration with over 50 experts from across the built environment value chain. The programme is intended to build consensus between construction and property professionals to ensure we are all working from a common understanding, and provide tools to accelerate the transition to a net zero carbon built environment.

With this spirit of collaboration in mind, we held our second technical working group meeting this week to interrogate the principles for net zero carbon. A broad range of stakeholders – including developers, property managers and sustainability professionals – spent the afternoon debating the principles across a range of topics – including, disclosure, energy efficiency and renewables. The challenge of the task lies in building agreement across a range of stakeholder views and opinions. If we all pull in separate directions, will we ever get to a unified outcome?

Thankfully, the mood in the room was constructive and all stakeholders sought to find broad agreement on the definition’s principles, rather than pushing their own agendas. A robust consultation process on the working group’s findings will shortly take place before the final definition is released in April. This will act as a building block for a range of other programme activities to ensure we’re truly advancing to a net zero carbon built environment.

Of course, we will work with government and policy-makers to ensure our industry’s consensus views are picked up and deployed at scale throughout the UK. The big chance to achieve this is the upcoming review of building regulations, which will provide an opportunity for this government to demonstrate true leadership by legislating for a better built environment.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” is what Mahatma Ghandi once said, and this week, amidst flailing examples of leadership in public life, there’s some wisdom here that truly resonates with me and I hope our industry too.