We are repeatedly being told that the property industry is responsible for a massive 40% of total UK carbon emissions.

Vicky Cotton

Recent calls to arms for the sector to reduce its carbon footprint – including the Climate Crisis Challenge campaign run by Property Week and the UKGBC – should be applauded. We have a huge collective responsibility in this fight for survival that we all indisputably face.

As a parent, surveyor and ESG director at Workman, I believe there is nothing more important to our industry and planet than the climate emergency and the manner in which we approach it. We are on the cusp of a complete climate disaster, unless we can muster a legitimate planet-wide effort to save and sustain our environment.

Press coverage and ESG rhetoric in real estate has grown significantly, developing into a clamour in recent months. However, the setting of dedicated ESG targets has been left to voluntary organisations, with the possible exception of CRC and MEES, which have had limited impact. Now, for the first time, we may have legislation to drive real and practical change towards a real target – to produce net zero carbon by 2050.

While the target is 30 years away, we do not have that much time to turn the situation around. Realistically, we have just 10 years to embed real change – and the clock is ticking.

A large number of our clients are already committing to creating the required pathways, so it is now our job, with our combined specialist knowledge of property management and building consultancy, to help them achieve their targets at asset level.

Let’s be clear, this will hurt. There can be no short cuts and this initiative will fundamentally affect the way in which buildings operate and are managed. It will render obsolete the traditional model of recovering costs and two-year paybacks. Simply put, we can’t value engineer-out the important initiatives.

Climate change

Source: Shutterstock/ kwest

As UKGBC chief executive Julie Hirigoyen explained in her recent leader column as guest editor of Property Week, we need buildings to generate more clean energy than they use. Where there is a shortfall, buildings should consume only totally renewable energy from the grid. And for renewable energy sources to meet demand, we need to slash overall demand by at least 60%.

Changing lighting to LEDs and adjusting timers isn’t enough. We need large-scale changes – gas-fuelled systems must go, along with oil. And we must start addressing the elephant in the room, which is the urgent necessity for the wholesale refurbishment of almost all existing buildings.

While we can theoretically design new carbon-neutral buildings, we still need to tackle the many thousands of existing buildings that collectively produce over a third of the UK’s carbon footprint. This issue is not one where we can afford to wait either, as there isn’t going to be a second chance for any buildings that miss their next major refurbishment in the coming 30 years. Each and every refurbishment needs to undertake major efficiency initiatives and look at on-site generation opportunities.

For efficient asset management, we will need a new level of on-site skills and monitoring and evaluation expertise, along with new procurement strategies.

We need to acknowledge that data flows must improve across the industry. Without accurate and consistent data, we will continue to waste our time and resources when we could be getting assets into shape. We have been reporting environmental data for well over 10 years now and we still need real engagement from the energy, water and waste industries to streamline the process of getting decent data to where it is needed.

Over the past few years, we have seen a large-scale attempt to capture ‘whole building’ data, primarily via GRESB, but occupier data response rates still fell to around 5% in 2018. This demonstrates an urgent need to put robust automated data processes in place and all parties must consistently include data sharing clauses in their leases to help occupiers and landlords work together.

As managing agents, we are dependent on committed engagement and alignment of objectives. We need every stakeholder in every asset, from fund manager through to maintenance engineer, to play their part.

It is time for transparency, teamwork and best practice the like of which we have never seen before, and for us to come together for the sake of our long-term survival and to tackle this colossal undertaking.

There is an abundance of goodwill and positive words from across the industry, but it is time for goodwill to translate into action, as we meet the challenges facing our industry over the next 30 years.

Vicky Cotton is sustainability and wellbeing director at Workman