What Role are We Responsible for Playing in the Net Zero Built Environment?
March 30, 2022
In the UK and around the world, the built environment has become increasingly committed to achieving Net Zero, and we must agree on what this means in pragmatic terms to make real progress.
According to the Institute for Government, ‘Net Zero’ refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. This means that any building that is not either operating at Net Zero Carbon performance, or it is not designed to be capable of doing so, is becoming a costly liability for future generations. The most important thing is to focus on the desired outcome, while also meeting the sustainability compliances & requirements.
So, how should the processes of design, procurement, construction and so on change to fulfil this vision? First and foremost, clients play a critical role in this, as they are the ones who have the power to encourage or prevent this achievement with the other stakeholders with whom they engage. The client will typically have their constraints in mind which naturally are budget and time, however it is evident that the law and statutory requirements regarding sustainability (many of which are in the pipeline) have resulted in sustainability, being an important facet to consider for any project at the offset. Clients are also receiving pressure from funders and investors to ensure that the projects they are aligned with take sustainability seriously and that it’s credentials are recorded and championed, otherwise funding can now be put at risk or not offered. Compliance is the main concern at the outset, however reviewing sustainability and the options regarding it, can, and typically will, result in greater value for clients in the long term. For example, re-using materials and structures, increasing energy efficiency when running assets and safe-guarding the value of an asset for re-sale.
Whilst the client will overall steer and decide how sustainability is weighted in their project credentials, the role of the Project Manager and the wider design team is critical. It is the Project Manager and the design team that can, and must highlight areas of opportunity to be holistically reviewed, in order to enable an intelligent client decision. At the very least, the Project Manager and design team need to highlight and identify any issues of compliance.
Some of the steps that can be taken starting from an initial concept to having a Net Zero Scheme built are:
- Establishing Net Zero Carbon scope
- Reducing the construction impacts
- Reducing the operational energy use
- Increase renewable energy supply
- Offsetting any remaining carbon
Buildings that are Net Zero carbon can add significant value over their lifetime, so it’s important to consider this added value in addition to the cost. This is because the value benefits are likely to outweigh the cost increase. A report published by UK GBC (Green Building Council) highlights 11 significant value drivers of Net Zero:
- Cost Saving: This includes costs associated with energy, water and materials. The cost of the resulting actions may be higher in the capital phase, but the operational phase will save far more money.
- Talent Attraction and Retention: Employee engagement, productivity and motivation are influenced by the primary business values, and these values are met with a sustainable strategy emphasising health, diversity and inclusivity.
- Meeting Tenant Demand: Driving sustainable business principles at all levels of the value chain can also help tenants/customers avoid or achieve their own sustainability goals.
- Brand & Reputation: This is one of the most valuable asset for all organisations, benefiting the investors, contractors, operator and the developers.
- Long-term Resilience: As we live in an uncertain and unpredictable world, the sustainability credentials include a risk assessment of social and environmental impacts, which improves resilience. This includes things such as the mitigation of insurance costs and liabilities resulting from extreme weather events etc..
- Innovation: Looking for new methods of production or delivery to improve efficiency can help identify new opportunities, such as use of new technology.
- Productivity: There is often a strong link between innovation and productivity. For instance adoption of a new technology can help increase the workforce productivity.
- Access to Capital: Net Zero assumptions can result in new sources of capital or capital at preferential interest rates.
- Quality: It can improve building quality during the design, construction, and management phases.
- Value of Assets: The benefits of Net Zero building and all of its other advantages can help to increase demand for the assets.
- Licence to Operate: Legal compliance is required in order to keep the licence to operate in the future and being Net Zero can help to that.
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