I am sure I am not the only person heartened by the inclusion in the prime minister’s post-Cummings ‘reset’ agenda of a renewed emphasis on green matters.
The property industry has been talking about this issue for almost two decades. I spent the early 1990s exhorting BPF members to focus on their buildings’ environmental performance, and not only because the 40% of energy consumption and carbon emissions coming from the built environment made us a target for government (and protest) action.
Many in the industry responded positively. We had innumerable initiatives from individuals, trade bodies, pressure groups, government task forces and attempts to nudge or regulate the industry into action. But in this rush to do good, we created a monster – too many codes of practice, benchmarking systems and ‘how to’ guides. I recall the contest between those promoting the UK BREEAM rating and those who thought the US LEED system was the better way to measure how green buildings were.
The global financial crisis sadly halted much of the effort to go green. But thankfully, it has come back to the fore and, despite the devastating impact of the Covid crisis, I believe it is here to stay.
The government seems intent on embedding zero carbon objectives in its ‘build back better’ initiative and ensuring that its rush of Keynesian public spending projects are truly green. And we have enshrined in law the commitment to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050.
This is all great news, but again, we are also seeing a proliferation of initiatives and methodologies that make it hard for the well-intentioned companies to know where to start or where to direct their limited resources to make the greatest impact. I recently discussed with a sustainability professional which approach was best for improving company performance; we agreed that there was no obvious leader.
We need a single route map to show all entities in the built environment sector the most straightforward route towards environmental sustainability and zero carbon. I am not too fussed where it comes from – BRE, UKGBC, BBP, GRI or GRESB (I could go on with an endless string of initials).What is important is that the industry, through its representative bodies and including housebuilders and commercial property investors, agrees on that route map.
Government has a role in this, as somebody needs to knock heads together and make sure we end up with a co-ordinated plan, clear measurement, an ambitious but doable timetable and some of that Keynesian spending to support green retrofits. If more statutory intervention is needed, so be it.
But first and foremost, real estate should unite to get its house in order, stop the proliferation of initiatives and organisations and recognise the power of having a single route map for improved environmental performance that will help save the planet and show that our industry can be joined up when it matters.
Liz Peace is chair of Real Estate Balance