During the past year, after all we have been through, it would perhaps have been understandable for the property industry to have taken its foot off the pedal with regard to the climate emergency and deal with ‘one crisis at a time’.
It’s gratifying that if anything, the pandemic seems to have seen the industry redouble its focus on climate change and transforming the built environment. Not only have parts of industry committed to decarbonising, but we are starting to see tangible change to asset portfolios.
The government has also made progress. It was the first in the world to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and will soon bring global partners together at COP26 to accelerate adaptation and mitigation action.
In the government property function, our flagship event — the Government Property Conference – will this year focus on building a greener future and exploring how we can modernise and make the public estate more sustainable, including playing our part in the drive towards net zero emissions.
More than 700 public sector property professionals joined us yesterday (22 April), hearing directly from colleagues and leading industry voices about what is being done to maximise our impact in making our estate greener.
It’s no small task. The UK public estate consists of more than 300,000 properties, comprising schools, prisons, courts and offices with a £500bn balance-sheet value. We know the built environment is a big contributor to overall emissions, so as the stewards of the public estate, we play a significant role in the country’s journey towards net zero and enhancing the sustainability of our environment.
NHS England has signalled its intent to reach net-zero through a range of new programmes that will create 40 net-zero hospitals and pilot the world’s first zero-emissions ambulance by 2022. This is alongside a £50m LED lighting upgrade that will improve patient experience and comfort and save £3bn in energy bills over the next 10 years.
The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is investing more than £1bn to drive down emissions from public buildings like schools, hospitals and council buildings.
A series of products supporting government property professionals to drive towards net zero have also been developed. These include a carbon trajectory tool and whole-life asset management guidance to help government property teams estimate the cost, benefits and interventions required to upgrade and decarbonise their estate.
We’re also working hard to improve sustainability capability in government property through delivering an integrated learning and development programme for the thousands of property professionals and others working on property in government.
However, we can’t rest on our laurels and think the job is done, not for a moment. Delivering a more sustainable, net zero carbon government estate by 2050 is a massive challenge requiring big decisions innovation, radical change and cross-sector partnership.
I will be stepping down as head of the government’s property function next month and recruitment will soon be under way for my successor. I believe the function is well-placed to make a huge impact. Despite the high stakes, it is an exciting time to be working in property.
Mike Parsons is director general, government property