Fires have been raging from one corner of the planet to another. Rain has fallen at Greenland’s ice summit for the first time on record. Parts of Europe have experienced record high temperatures.
The warnings are very clear: change is needed, or irreversible environmental damage could place millions of people around the world in further harm’s way.
Yet, while the race to net zero is on, recent research from the British Chambers of Commerce involving 1,000 UK businesses found that 22% of companies do not know the meaning of net zero, 90% do not measure their carbon footprint and only 13% have carbon reduction targets.
Research from Lloyds Bank also found that although 75% of SMEs are aware of the government’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050, one in four said they did not know how the goal would affect them. An even higher proportion (85%) do not see reaching net zero as an opportunity for investment.
We see first-hand the challenges that businesses are facing when implementing net zero strategies. Cost and a general lack of understanding remain at the core of the concerns, with many SMEs turning to phased projects over two or three years to reduce the impact on their bottom line. So, where do businesses start?
The first step is to take control of systems more effectively. We recently visited one large education institution, which had a locked classroom door with lights, air conditioning and underfloor heating left on. Multiply that by the 150 rooms at this facility and the impact is significant.
Installing LED lighting can also provide compelling benefits, such as a 70% energy saving, reduced CO2 emissions and up to 100,000 hours life span. Additionally, they have no mercury and are 100% recyclable. LED lighting has already helped cut global CO2 emissions by 600 million tonnes a year.
We also see a surprising lack of awareness on how heat pumps can be used within commercial buildings. The UK has committed to installing 600,000 of these a year by 2028 because they provide significant short-, medium- and long-term financial and environmental benefits.
The heat and buildings strategy, to be published in the autumn, must provide bold commitments and incentives to replace all fossil fuel boilers from new-builds to reduce the environmental impact of domestic heating. But both commercial and residential contributions are vital to make a sustained difference. Private and public organisations need to make significant moves to improve their green credentials. Property developers, owners, occupiers and policy-makers must now determine the best means to improve the energy performance of their buildings, from insulation and double glazing to renewable heating, cooling, lighting and hot water alternatives.
Our national commitment to achieve net zero through more efficient homes and buildings depends upon unlocking the incentivised investment necessary to make it happen. It is all within reach. But right now, we need sustained and collective action.
Steve McGregor is group managing director of DMA Group