The zero carbon initiative proposed by Gordon Brown (8 December, page 10) looks impressive, with “every new home to be zero carbon by 2010”. His statement is backed up by the fiscal incentive of zero carbon homes being exempt from stamp duty. This is a bold statement, however like many of these initiatives, the devil will be in the detail.

The easiest route to zero carbon is to offset the carbon emissions by investing in “carbon sinks”, and many have signed up to achieve this status. The popularity of these schemes has, however, led to the inappropriate planting of forests as the preferred option to offset as these are the cheapest schemes. These sometimes lead to monoculture (single species) forests, which create further problems because they don’t encourage biodiversity. To be effective carbon needs to be locked into the timber when the trees are eventually felled. This is achieved if the timber is locked up in a building’s fabric or used for furniture.

I want to know exactly what they mean by zero carbon – do they mean carbon offset or, more challengingly, zero carbon through the use of renewables on site? These are very different scenarios with different risks and costs.

The same issues occur when a client asks for a “green building”. When presented with this challenge, the first thing we do is define what they mean. This needs to occur with zero carbon.

Sean Lockie, regional director, Faithful + Gould