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Clearing the path towards net zero

Director Ben Taylor looks at the need for clarity and standardisation in the property sector’s green transition, and the contributions of the BPF’s ‘Towards Net Zero’ report.

This article is by Ben Taylor

Ben is a director at LOM, specialising in commercial and residential architecture and with a particular interest in how to balance material and structural innovation with sustainability and commercial viability.

In February, the British Property Federation (BPF) published its ‘Towards Net Zero’ report aiming to accelerate progress on net zero carbon targets right across the property industry, from residential to commercial.

In our work at LOM, we’re certainly seeing the increasing awareness within the commercial sector of the challenges we all face because of changing regulation, changing expectation, and changing evaluation of building stock.

Our role as advisors

Building owners, occupiers and tenants are all conscious of the need to reduce carbon and want to achieve it.  But they need help – particularly in navigating the changing legislation, understanding the challenges, and determining how best to implement improvements.  All of us who advise them have a role to play, explaining the actions to take, removing the barriers and clearing the path towards net zero.

The BPF report provides insight on where the industry currently stands in terms of net zero targets, while making some notable recommendations looking towards the future.  LOM plays a leading role in office retrofit and creative reuse, so we welcome the proposals to recognise the significance of retrofit in achieving these targets, as well as embodied carbon reporting and new renewable energy generation.

The report also goes beyond these top line ambitions – digging down to identify where the big barriers lie to the uptake of these approaches.  From LOM’s perspective, we have identified three core elements: 1) the use and quality of data, 2) how progress is regulated, and 3) the incentives available.

Modern curtained-off bunker area in office

Driving the business case for net zero

For those of us working closely with decision-makers when it comes to planning new buildings and managing portfolios, we know that the success of net zero will come through creating an appealing context for decarbonisation.  The desire is there and we have to help ensure that the financial incentive exists too.

Some of this will be achieved through the commercial reality of stranded asset risk and the premium now available for letting or selling more sustainable property.  We are already seeing media articles speculating on the potential scale and harm of assets that end up on ‘the wrong side of the line’ and therefore more of a liability than an asset.  This is likely to make property owners sit up and take note.

Getting the measurements right

To strengthen the drivers for change, and to help landlords and tenants understand the value of net zero investment, we badly need improved transparency and standardisation across data and measurement criteria.

Investors require a better understanding of the operational performance and development costs of a building, both in terms of pounds and pence, and the carbon impact.  We are currently missing a standardised measure that can robustly be used to assess, compare, and defend choices.  EPC Ratings are a useful guide, but fail to get underneath the skin of building performance.

The report points to the NABERS system of energy rating which has been voluntarily and successfully adopted by some in the sector – and also supported in the recent early update of BCO’s Guide to Specification.  But we need a comprehensive, robust and standardised measure, backed by Government, covering whole life carbon as well as real time data on performance.  Across the board, the sector would value greater clarity from government on the forward programme of regulation so that this can be taken into account in business cases and investment plans.

“We know that the success of net zero will come through creating an appealing context for decarbonisation. The desire is there and we have to help ensure that the financial incentive exists too.”

Carrot and stick

While these elements are very helpful for oiling the wheels of sustainable progress, more proactive measures are also needed and we support the report’s call for a review of the existing incentive structure for decarbonisation.  There needs to be a healthy balance of carrot and stick.  Mandating certain policies – such as increasing biodiversity, and PV panel installation – but also rewarding those who go the extra mile.  Tax reliefs on green development, wider ranging reductions in VAT on retrofit and energy saving enhancements, improved payback tariffs for sustainable energy production, or even profit share from energy savings distributed across occupiers and investors.

Given all the rhetoric both in the sector and the Government when it comes to our net zero targets, the road ahead remains long, winding, and decidedly bumpy in places.  But as ‘Towards Net Zero’ shows clearly, we have not yet taken advantage of all the low hanging fruit.

Clarity, standardisation, and incentivisation should be our watchwords.  Real progress is in touching distance if we have the willpower and strength of purpose to reach out and take it.

The work we do at LOM

LOM is currently helping a range of corporate clients grapple with some of the issues within this article.  This includes a number of commercial retrofit initiatives and opportunities to improve existing commercial stock, as well as tackling the challenges of changing EPC ratings.  The benefits of investing in your assets also go beyond just sustainability.  In all our work, we focus on making spaces more efficient and attractive for their users, while supporting health and wellbeing.  If this resonates with you, please get in touch, and we would be happy to discuss your specific case.

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