If ever the stars were aligned it would have to be this calendar year around #netzerocarbon.

Julie Hirigoyen - headshot

In a recent meeting of UKGBC’s Members Advisory Group, I heard one of our engineering members describe this as a “magic moment in time”. Clean technologies are emerging every day, construction is starting to clean up its act, businesses in every sector are launching net zero carbon commitments, and even the money is starting to flow in the right direction.

All that is needed now is for politicians to come to the table. This was looking favourable until just last week, when the government confirmed that millions of pounds unspent on the Green Homes Grant scheme – a central plank of its green recovery plan – would not roll over into the next financial year to support home retrofit action at scale.

Nothing about this announcement bore any resemblance to the market signals we at UKGBC and our members are picking up in terms of consumer appetite, business transformation, green finance and economic recovery needs.

So, it will be very interesting indeed to once again take a litmus test of the property industry’s attitude to the climate crisis and related issues of nature, risk and resilience, and social value more broadly.

Even in 2020, 91% of Property Week’s Climate Crisis Challenge survey respondents agreed that government should impose higher environmental standards across all stages of the building cycle, and the decarbonisation of the existing most important things many respondents wanted to see prioritised.

Conversely, in 2020, 40% of respondents either did not think their employer had a business strategy to tackle climate change or did not know whether they did. With the sheer number of net zero carbon corporate commitments emerging since then, we would expect that number to fall considerably in this year’s survey.

City skyline climate change

Source: Shutterstock/ kwest

For example, the number of UK organisations signing up to the World GBC Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment more than doubled in the past year alone, and UKGBC’s membership grew by 16%. Despite the challenges 2020 brought to all organisations, we believe this is evidence of real appetite for positive change across the built environment.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the survey – asking respondents if they felt equipped to tackle the crisis, and only 47% did in 2020 – is where we need to make the most urgent progress as an industry.

The scale and speed of the change required to radically overhaul business plans and building specifications far and wide calls for nothing short of a paradigm shift. And for this we need professionals with the right skills, knowledge, capabilities and leadership attributes to deliver.

This is key as we move from conscious awareness to climate action, such that our built assets genuinely avert the climate crisis they might otherwise be contributing to.

Julie Hirigoyen is chief executive of UKGBC

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