The housebuilding industry has made a start on zero carbon. Here’s how the government can help

2006, I believe, will be judged as the year in which the environmental dog barked. Barely a week went by without the publication of an alarming statistic, trend or vision of the future. The Stern Review, in particular, gave impetus to an issue that was gaining traction.

In response, industry has been keen to display its green credentials. Over the course of just one month, Tesco and Marks & Spencer have announced radical environmental commitments. The launching of a CBI taskforce on climate change matched the announcement of an unprecedented alliance by some of Britain’s biggest companies, including B&Q, BSkyB and HSBC, which will work on a package of measures to be announced next month.

All of which leaves our industry with a clear choice. We can work with the government to shape a business-friendly and effective regulatory environment that allows us to build to higher standards and raise housing output. Or we can wait – wait and watch successive governments erect a regulatory framework around us.

It was in this context that I convened the Home Builders Federation’s roundtable summit last month. Recognising the importance of implementing zero carbon homes in 10 years, it brought together players from government, the housing industry, suppliers, utilities, regulators and environmental groups. Its objective was to work out exactly what zero carbon means, and identify the issues that we need to tackle collectively if we are to achieve the standard within a decade.

Most importantly, in a room of 50 people, nobody made a principled objection or said the government’s target could not be reached. Nobody was under any illusion about the scale of the task, either. In this way, the HBF has helped to inject basic realities into the policy-making process, an approach to which the government has been receptive.

The task now, therefore, is to create the right framework and the right mechanisms. By the right framework I mean the parameters the government sets industry – and then clears the pitch to allow it to deliver. By the right mechanisms I mean getting the relevant people and groups together to address the problems we face.