Over the past nine months it has been easy to dismiss David Miliband’s carbon rhetoric as that of a fairytale emperor convinced that his invisible clothes were the finest in the land.
Any mention of the need to address climate change was eagerly applauded, regardless of the substance behind it. But this week, in launching the draft Climate Change Bill, the environment secretary has laid out a clear statement of intent. By proposing a legally binding carbon reduction target of 26-32% over the next 13 years, Miliband has left no doubt that the way business is conducted will have to change, and fast.
For the built environment, this issue is already at the top of the agenda: new homes will have to be carbon neutral in just 10 years, the Code for Sustainable Homes comes into force next month and the government’s planning white paper, to be launched in a matter of days, seems certain to focus on green issues. On pages 40-47, we recognise some of the growing band of “green gurus” within the built environment who have been driving this change. By tackling issues such as waste reduction and carbon-negative building, these people, and many more like them, have pre-empted the government’s action.
And if you’re still not convinced, then you only have to listen to the chatter emanating from this week’s Mipim property conference in Cannes to realise that sustainability is at the heart of all construction policy.
So the government would do well to talk to the people within the industry who are already making a difference. While Whitehall mulls over the legal ramifications of failing to comply with the proposed carbon reduction targets, it will also be looking for some quick wins. Perhaps it will consider introducing tax incentives to improve the efficiency of existing buildings, as put forward by Building’s 99% campaign. The establishment of a parallel Code for Sustainable Non-housing, mandatory energy rating certificates for all buildings, or simply reducing stamp duty for energy-efficient buildings must also be seriously considered.
In time, the government’s focus will switch from the way buildings are constructed and refurbished to the way in which companies operate day to day. A corporate social responsibility document describing how you have changed to energy-saving light bulbs will no longer be enough. How long will it be before business has to cope with energy usage quotas or demonstrate how energy-efficient its staff’s travel arrangements are?
The proposed bill is clearly intended as the first step in a vast cultural shift in the way we work and conduct our lives. For this, the government is to be applauded. But so too, I think, are the countless people in the construction industry who have forced this issue to the top of the agenda.
Tom Broughton, executive editor