Property Week’s webinar ‘Next steps to net zero carbon: how to transform your portfolio’, hosted in collaboration with UKGBC, Carbon Intelligence, chapmanbdsp and Hawkins\Brown, brought together a panel of experts to discuss what practical steps businesses can take to meet their net zero carbon targets.
Oliver Light, commercial director of real estate at Carbon Intelligence
Susan Hone-Brookes, director of sustainability at chapmanbdsp
Louisa Bowles, partner and sustainability lead at Hawkins\Brown
Alastair Mant, director of business transformation at UKGBC
Liz Hamson, editor at Property Week
Most of the property industry knows why urgent action is needed to tackle the climate crisis. The planet is heating, sea levels are rising and extreme weather events are becoming more common. Yet, despite the willingness many companies have to do something, many are unsure as to what their businesses need to do or how to achieve net zero carbon.
At Property Week’s Climate Crisis Challenge webinar ‘Next steps to net zero carbon: how to transform your portfolio’, hosted in collaboration with UKGBC and supporting partners Carbon Intelligence, chapmanbdsp and Hawkins\Brown, we gathered experts together to discuss what practical and tangible steps businesses can be taking to achieve their net zero ambitions.
The one-hour event on Friday 11 June kicked off with an introduction from PropertyWeek editor Liz Hamson, who outlined the importance of turning “bold statements of intent into meaningful action ahead of the COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow this November”. In the first poll of the event, Hamson asked the audience: “Do you feel your organisation is equipped to reduce your portfolio’s emissions 78% by 2035 in line with the UK government’s target?” Some 45% of respondents said “yes”, but a 55% majority said “no”.
Oliver Light, real estate commercial director at Carbon Intelligence, followed Hamson’s introduction with a presentation on developing a strategy for net zero. And the first step on this journey is to define net zero.
He said: “We need to consider your whole life carbon, which includes the use of materials and the process in construction, which allows us to calculate embodied carbon as well as minimising ongoing energy expenditure by 70% to access a constrained supply of renewable energy in the years ahead.”
Those businesses that need to define net zero and understand how to achieve it are not alone. The UK government is still wrestling with what net zero means – as Light pointed out, although it has committed to achieving net zero by 2050, the legislative framework for this transition has not yet been introduced.
“This means the policies our buildings are working within are shifting very quickly,” he explained. “What an EPC [Energy Performance Certificate] is today will change. Even high performance on BREEAM ratings will not produce buildings that meet compliance requirements for net zero.”
You’ve got to be able to decarbonise your stock or you are going to have a lesser value of portfolio
Those businesses that choose to act now will be doing the right thing not only from an ethical standpoint but also from a business standpoint. Light referenced a JLL study, which found that offices with high sustainability credentials in central London benefit from rental premiums of 6% to 11%.
According to Light, one of the most important things real estate owners can do is to determine accountability. “This accountability structure needs to be underpinned by data,” he said. This data needs to show clearly what each level of a company’s structure needs to achieve to get to net zero – from the individual asset level right up to the corporate level. Light added that this data can then be fed to investors to improve the marketability of certain schemes or the company as a whole.
After Light’s presentation came the event’s second poll, which asked: “Do you and/or your company understand how and where to start on the net zero journey?” Some 61.1% of respondents said “yes” while 38.9% said “no”.
The second presentation was delivered by Susan Hone-Brookes, director of sustainability at engineering consultancy champanbdsp. She began by stating the importance of retrofitting, adding that more than one million non-domestic buildings will need to be improved by 2030 to ensure the UK meets its 2050 net zero target.
She warned that the UK government was “quietly closing ranks” on the issue of sustainability by considering enforcing a minimum EPC rating of ‘B’ on any rented building by 2030. The current minimum standard is ‘E’. “Refurbishments must push the boundaries today to enable use past 2030,” she said.
One example of this sort of refurbishment highlighted by chapmanbdsp is British Land’s redevelopment of 100 Liverpool Street. The developer has said that by retaining 50% of the building’s original structure in the redevelopment, it was able to push embodied carbon emissions down while also making the building more energy efficient. Charles Horne, British Land’s project director for the building, added that the emissions the company could not eliminate at 100 Liverpool Street were offset by tree planting schemes in the UK, Mexico and China.
Embodied carbon was also the topic of the third poll, in which Hamson asked the audience: “When we talk about achieving net zero carbon performance, what do we really mean?” Some 8.9% said operational carbon, 4% said embodied carbon while a strong majority of 87% said both.
Hawkins\Brown delivered the third and final presentation on what architects can do to help decarbonise portfolios. Louisa Bowles, partner and sustainability lead at Hawkins\Brown, said companies need first to decide where they want to retrofit and where they want to build new. Bowles said this meant asking the question: “How can the potential of a building be unlocked with minimum intervention?”
She added: “Our view is that an architect has the best overview to lead in these discussions. The design then forms the next natural step.” Bowles went on to stress the importance, for example, of discussing what materials to use for a development or redevelopment with an architect right from the start, as these materials will ultimately lock in the embodied carbon for the whole life of the building.
The architectural firm’s presentation went on to show how it helped to achieve these ideas in practice with its redevelopment of Greenside House. First, Hawkins\Brown calculated the carbon emissions over a 60-year period and the cost difference between retrofitting the scheme and building a new passivhaus scheme. After finding that retrofitting was the best option, the architects then designed a space that was both nicer to work in and less carbon intensive. Building materials were chosen that had less carbon emissions associated with them and would be durable enough to be used for many years.
The online event wrapped up with a panel discussion hosted by Alastair Mant, UKGBC’s director of business transformation, who asked chapmanbdsp’s Hone-Brookes whether other companies were as ambitious as British Land was on 100 Liverpool Street. “We are seeing an appetite,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to decarbonise your stock or you are going to have a lesser value of portfolio. What British Land is seeing is an enhancement in its rental values because it has got a quality asset.”
Mant agreed that this chimed with conversations he has been having in the industry. “There is an increasing recognition that if you want to protect or even enhance the value of your assets, you need to take different actions now,” he said.
Hawkins\Brown’s Bowles said it was something she was seeing more of as well. “There’s definitely been a trajectory over the last 12 months across all the sectors that we work in,” she said. “All the sectors that we work in are taking this quite seriously.”
If Bowles is correct that businesses are now taking this issue seriously and if enough are able to enact practical next steps towards zero carbon, the industry as a whole could transition to net zero before the government’s targets force them to do so. Only time will tell.