By 2019 all new non-domestic buildings need to be zero carbon - we won’t make it if we don’t fundamentally change our thinking

Julie Hirigoyen

Confirming the zero carbon policy trajectories for both homes and non-domestic buildings should be one of the key priorities for the incoming government. While the zero carbon homes policy received a good deal of joined up attention from government and industry - mainly through the policy’s very own Zero Carbon Hub - the policy for non-domestic buildings remains under-developed.

The delivery target for all new non-domestic buildings to be zero carbon is 2019 - only four years away. Between now and then, our construction output is expected to grow by an average of 3% every year. While this is good news for the economy, it also flags the sheer volume of new floor space that will be coming out of the ground in the run up to 2019. Given the time it takes for the design, planning and construction of complex new commercial schemes in particular, many of the post 2019 completions will already be on the drawing board today. So it goes without saying that the industry urgently needs to understand the expectation for zero carbon non-domestic buildings and start upskilling to achieve this.

UK-GBC and its members continue to be preoccupied by key questions such as: how to design buildings with stringent fabric energy efficiency standards; what is a reasonable cost effectiveness test to maximise onsite carbon compliance measures; what investment opportunities will be available to developers through the Allowable Solutions market? Is the industry ready to deliver “zero carbon” new non-domestic buildings in 2019?

To answer these questions, we’re launching a major new piece of work on zero carbon non domestic policy, co-sponsored by Lafarge Tarmac and Saint-Gobain. We kick-started this at an event on Monday evening, featuring several of our members showcasing their low carbon designs for different non-domestic property types - including offices, community spaces, and schools. With carbon efficiencies ranging from 25-55% better than Part L (2010) Regulations on three different case studies, I was encouraged that much progress is already being achieved. The examples we learnt about suggested that the industry is capable of delivering low carbon envelopes and reduced regulated emissions loads without compromising the design, accessibility and productivity of our spaces.

Key opportunities such as integrated energy solutions and on/near site renewables are too often thwarted by planning processes and complex commercial negotiations between the relevant parties

But it is clear that buildings of the future will need to work hard - be flexible in use, both now and over time - yet be resilient in their energy and carbon performance. We cannot rely on technical design alone, we must adapt our ways of working to integrate the expertise of the whole design team at the very outset of any project, and create feedback loops for post occupancy evaluations to better inform the design intent. In due course, we will also need to move beyond operational carbon to encompass whole life carbon into our zero carbon definitions, balancing the ‘capital’ carbon embodied in construction with the ‘operational’ carbon of the building in use.

Key opportunities such as integrated energy solutions and on/near site renewables are too often thwarted by planning processes and complex commercial negotiations between the relevant parties. Identifying appropriate business models and financial incentives remains challenging, and agreement on the most viable and effective off-site measures (or Allowable Solutions) is elusive at present. The national framework for Allowable Solutions will be introduced next year in time for the 2016 zero carbon homes policy, and indeed already exists within many London boroughs. However, developers are not yet championing the opportunity to deliver real carbon savings off-site, nor are they clear how to ensure the value of this investment is retained within the local built environment.

Yet this part of the policy has the potential to spur new markets for innovative technologies, building materials and construction products, not to mention low-carbon financial instruments - all of which could prove instrumental to the further growth and international success of our construction industries.

So can we deliver zero carbon new non domestic buildings by 2019? Yes. But only by getting ahead of the game today, and thinking more strategically about the economic value that the policy might represent to the various different stakeholders of our built environment.

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive UK Green Building Council