Aside from environmental damage businesses face a bleak future if they do not tackle this challenge right now, says ISG’s Debbie Hobbs
2050 seems a long time away – especially when we are considering the challenging target of achieving net zero emissions by this date. Planning for 30 years hence is inevitably going to take a back seat when we have got so many more immediately pressing issues to deal with in the here and now, right?
I sense that, especially at a time of global crisis, this way of thinking could prevail for many years to come. It is easy to see how if we collectively lose focus on our 2050 target, a myopic haze will devour a rapidly diminishing timeframe, that many already believe is highly stretched.
Most built environment professionals have already concluded that 2050 is actually 2020. Our industry has longevity at its core – we create building solutions that are designed to last for multiple generations. So, unlike most other sectors – the decisions we take today with our clients are fundamental to our ability to achieve net zero by 2050. The simple truth is that 40% of the UK’s current carbon emissions are attributable to the built environment – so we are both the issue and the solution to a global challenge that most believe will dwarf any crisis we have seen to date.
The moment has come to eliminate the procrastination over methodologies and modelling tools
The UK Green Building Council has issued a bold new vision for how buildings can reach net zero by 2050 – a great piece of work that maps out the journey we must now embrace to reach the target. But with such clarity, we must also address those pinch points that are going to sap time, energy and momentum from this process. The moment has come to eliminate the procrastination over methodologies and modelling tools, to create a single point of reference and calculation method for embodied carbon. Once we have this standard established and accepted we can all then get on and do what our industry does best – innovate and problem solve.
So, what is this all going to cost? A simple question with a simple answer – probably more – not necessarily in the construction, but in operation, maintenance, refurbishment and deconstruction. We all need to be upfront that there will be a premium in steering our entire economy towards net zero. However, this is the way that all transformational change happens – it costs more at the start and then the economies of scale kick in as the concept gains traction and iterative improvements generate efficiencies.
The real question is what is it going to cost if we do not do this? There is the obvious environmental and humanity response here, but what about reputational and economic damage. Businesses unable to attract talent because of poor ethical values, increased operational costs, the imposition of punitive taxes for non-compliance, falling property residuals and even the prospect of stranded unsaleable assets. But fear not, there is clear evidence that the best approach to driving cost efficiency is through early engagement. Bring teams together at the outset with a clear objective, facilitate and nurture collaboration and innovation and you will always maximise your outcomes.
Perceived wisdom is that the greenest building is the one that is already built, especially when we consider that 80% of the 2050 building stock already exists
Perceived wisdom is that the greenest building is the one that is already built, especially when we consider that 80% of the 2050 building stock already exists today. So how can we encourage more owners and developers to refurbish, reconfigure and retrofit their existing assets, sequestering the embodied carbon within their fabric, rather than demolishing and starting again? I think we can lead by example here, demonstrating the efficacy and cost efficiency of retrofit to net zero standards. We can also stress the importance of soft landings, aftercare, performance in use measurement and robust maintenance regimes – not as an afterthought to be outsourced to the lowest bidder, but as an essential element to keep buildings performing at optimum levels. External factors should also assist, whether through fast-track planning, financial and tax incentives.
As a final thought, one of the least asked questions is how local authorities are introducing the new planning legislation across their own property portfolios. Later this year ISG will launch its inaugural sustainable buildings monitor to help everyone better understand how the built environment in their part of the country is performing on the journey towards net zero. If this survey enables us to start that conversation and focus minds on that 2050 date we may just prove the sceptics wrong and provide a sustainable stimulus to our economy for future generations.
Debbie Hobbs, group director for sustainable business at ISG