Benchmarking, roadmapping and delivering are the keys to portfolio decarbonisation, writes Atkins’ Stuart McLaren
“Decarbonise or die” screamed one recent newspaper headline paraphrasing the colourful language of one of the world’s most powerful investors – BlackRock’s Larry Fink.
The prompt for such a dramatic headline was the content of Mr Fink’s annual letter to chief executives urging a much greater focus on sustainability and net zero.
In his view, responding to the climate challenge by embracing decarbonisation is not only necessary but also good business as corporates who fail to do so risk being left behind by competitors.
Whatever your thoughts on BlackRock’s perspective or on the evidence that shows the financial benefits of high-performing buildings, it’s clear that the decarbonisation of the built environment should be at the centre of any strategy to reach net zero by 2050 globally.
Not least because as much as 80% of the buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built.
Very few serious construction sector leaders would argue against the need to decarbonise to deliver net zero, but the big challenge is in squaring that strategic intent with the reality of cost, how to make the case for investment and verifying that the carbon reductions have been achieved.
To achieve decarbonisation cost-effectively, establishing the conditions for strong collaborative partnerships between the client and their value chain will be key
With complex value chains and multiple variables to consider across the construction and asset management ecosystem, unified and meaningful progress will only be achieved where industry is able to make informed investment decisions by understanding the wider system across the whole lifecycle. Systems thinking is fairly hard in itself, but it is even more difficult to operationalise into something that can be used to do work.
Having a clear path to future-proofing data, digital and physical assets (including components) through standardisation should be a central focus for industry. Get these right and you stand a good chance of making substantial progress at not only decarbonising the built environment but also dramatically improving the sector’s longstanding poor productivity.
In response to these challenges, SNC-Lavalin (including Atkins and Faithful+Gould) has launched Decarbonomics. This is a data-driven solution which operationalises systems thinking into a deployable service to decarbonize the existing built environment in a cost-effective way and accelerate the global journey to net zero.
It is our belief that creating net zero communities of the future will be (mostly) dependent upon effective decarbonisation of existing assets. As such, Decarbonomics is a clear example of how we can help clients meet their net zero targets, by providing sustainable solutions.
For businesses and organisations with large property portfolios or estates, understanding the performance of their buildings and where their carbon emissions are is a real challenge. In turn, any inability to develop robust and credible decarbonisation roadmaps that can deliver against commitments, support investment cases and inform capital investment planning becomes a material issue that will impede meaningful progress.
At the benchmarking stage we capture, structure and manage client portfolio data to gain a deeper understanding of their properties, benchmarking current performance to create a framework to maximise the value of their data
Founded on principles of systems thinking, Decarbonomics brings our diverse expertise and knowledge of the whole lifecycle of the built environment and buildings together in a way that enables us to make carbon visible at the portfolio level and, in turn, empower our clients to make much more informed decisions about their investments in decarbonisation.
To achieve decarbonisation cost-effectively, establishing the conditions for strong collaborative partnerships between the client and their value chain will be key. We do this by significantly improving data accuracy and maturity early and by integrating people, data and technology to provide greater opportunities to embrace outcome-based commercial models that mutually incentivise delivery of net zero goals.
And by taking our simple three-step method of benchmarking, roadmapping and delivery, the client’s decarbonisation programme will be framed by a simple approach, making delivery much less opaque and building confidence and trust over the course of a decarbonisation programme.
At the benchmarking stage we capture, structure and manage client portfolio data to gain a deeper understanding of their properties, benchmarking current performance to create a framework to maximise the value of their data.
At the roadmapping stage, we analyse carbon, cost, asset data and engineering solutions to create enterprise-level data digital twins. By using scenario testing through our in-house asset management tools, augmented by artificial intelligence, we create bespoke roadmaps for the most cost-effective and pragmatic implementation. It is at this stage that we can support clients making investment cases and decisions to ensure the way forward is financially viable.
Once the direction of travel is set, our industry-leading management teams ensure quantifiable decarbonisation interventions are delivered throughout the lifecycle of the client’s assets. This provides real-time views of their performance against the plan and initial benchmarking process.
This three-step approach is underpinned by our Carbon Data Insights, which is a diverse mix of global open-source benchmark databases augmented by our own data-rich environment developed through the delivery of a wide range of global projects. By implementing a strategy for achieving carbon reduction from behaviour change to building retrofit interventions (and measuring progress across the portfolio and asset lifecycle), the end result will be a decarbonised estate.
For the first time, Decarbonomics will provide clients with a complete picture of carbon performance across their entire building estate over the whole decarbonisation programme, whatever the size and scale, through accessible and easy-to-use interactive dashboards.
With flexibility and accuracy built-in, Decarbonomics enables organisations to accelerate their net zero plans in the most cost- and programme-effective way, while at the same time minimising risk and maximising investment and funding opportunities.
Indeed, returning to Mr Fink, it is his contention that the next thousand “unicorns” won’t be search engines or social media companies but rather “sustainable, scalable innovators, start-ups that help the world decarbonise”.
Stuart McLaren is director for net zero infrastructure at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group