Paul King argues that the sheer amount of eco-activities worldwide can end up holding us back by creating confusion
The property sector has reached a critical juncture. The sheer amount of activity on sustainability not just in the form of European Union and UK government requirements, but also from the industry itself is phenomenal. This level of engagement is to be welcomed, but there is a real danger that a plethora of voices and ‘initiativitis’ could create a confusion that ends up holding us back.
That is the last thing we need because, as the science on climate change gets ever clearer, the need for the built environment to dramatically cut emissions from new builds, and particularly the existing stock, becomes more acute.
Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said buildings offered the most significant opportunity for cost-effective emissions reductions worldwide. This is perhaps not surprising, given that they are responsible for 40%-50% of global emissions. And, of course, it is not just carbon emissions, but water, waste and other impacts.
We know that we cannot manage and reduce our environmental impacts effectively unless we measure and report on them consistently, to facilitate learning, sharing of best practice and benchmarking. So far, so good. But the industry is grappling with more measurement and reporting frameworks and metrics by the day.
To be frank, we have more tools in the toolbox than we know what to do with.
Although they all do slightly different jobs, we have got display energy certificates, energy performance certificates, the Carbon Reduction Commitment, the Investment Property Databank’s Environment Code, AECB Carbonlite, RIBA’s Carbon Buzz, BREEAM (and other rating tools), GRI (and other corporate reporting frameworks and standards) and so on. The use of these tools is becoming more complicated as a result of attempts to incorporate all the new technologies that the industry is developing to tackle the problems being unearthed.
Guidance and leadership
The UK Green Building Council was established by the industry to help provide guidance and leadership on sustainability. Rather than add to the noise, we are taking stock of the activity that is going on, so that we can set a clear direction of travel. Our membership spans developers, architects, engineers, planners, product manufacturers, consultants, investors, government agencies and non-governmental organisations. All need reliable and consistent data, to enable better planning and design, construction and manufacture, and better performance of buildings in use.
This is why we launched our Campaign for Real Data, the starting point of which is a need for clear, consistent and reliable information on sustainability impacts, to implement effective solutions and ensure measurable progress.
To help inform this, we brought together a measurement and reporting task group, chaired by Lend Lease’s chief executive Dan Labbad, to begin to assess the range of tools, standards and frameworks, in the UK and internationally, and to seek to rationalise them where possible.
Our aim is to provide the industry with a clear set of guidelines and recommended reporting and measurement tools that can be used in the knowledge that they will add real value.
At the moment, for too many in the industry, it is like trying to complete a jigsaw using pieces from several different sets – and not knowing what the picture is supposed to look like.
The industry needs a common framework for the collection of sustainability data, and an industry-wide reporting standard incorporating the core measures of energy, waste and water.
We need consistent metrics, to allow for meaningful comparisons of different building types and uses. We need a consistency of approach, so the same data can be used for different purposes, from corporate reporting to the design and performance management of an individual building. We need a flexible reporting process that recognises the different responsibilities and needs of landlord and tenant. And we need open and transparent access to data, to be able to measure progress.
This is no small task, but the reaction of all those with whom we have engaged has been positive. Nobody wants to duplicate effort, and most of the work going on is useful.
The hard part is in making sure it all joins up.
To do this, the industry needs to be more self-disciplined. We will holding an event in June, where we will update members and other key stakeholders on the progress we have made.
This article first appeared in the sustainability supplement of Property Week on 2 May 2008.
Paul King is the chief executive of the UK Green Building Council and will be chairing the Think08 conference on 7-8 May at London’s Excel Centre.