Fundamentally speaking, with Steve Smith
Like a tropical storm forming somewhere out in the Caribbean the global warming debate continues to gather momentum and intensity. Every time I turn on the radio or the television, or attend an industry gathering, I am assailed by passionate demands for immediate and ever more drastic action.
Everyone from our beloved prime minister downwards wants to save the world. Even the editor of this esteemed publication whipped himself into a veritable lather on the subject only a few months ago. I have a concern that in an atmosphere of competitive self-righteousness we do not have the conditions for a balanced debate. The case for the prosecution is apparently proven and anyone with the temerity to question the underlying science, let alone challenge any of the proposed solutions, is at grave risk of public ridicule or worse.
I am certainly not agnostic on the subject. Whatever the merits of the arguments on either side of the debate, there are sound reasons to advance the momentum of sustainable development and renewable energy. It makes sense to improve our environment in ways that are consistent with realistic economic goals and to develop sustainable local sources of energy.
Great causes tend to get hijacked by the politically adept and the results can be anarchic. Recently I attended a conference intended to raise awareness of the issues surrounding global warming and, while I was impressed by the presentations, I was not impressed by the competition among the speakers to demand outlandish solutions to the impending cataclysm.
One of the speakers described a new commercial building that has every Green modification – a paragon of sustainability.
I later spoke to an architect who told me that the building cost considerably more to construct than a traditional building and hinted that the green roof may not be performing its most basic function – to exclude the elements.
Most worryingly he suggested that the volume of steel necessary to support the roof might create a carbon footprint far greater than a more conventional structure.
Closer to home I have been involved in a planning application and was asked to produce detailed modelling for ‘a one in a 1,000 years event’. The request came days after a BBC programme about the New Orleans floods, and just before the hearing we were told we were not doing enough to support sustainability.
Rather than risk outright refusal after three years of negotiation, we have – in addition to grey water, green roofs, a combined heat and power installation and acres of solar panelling – a scheme with no accommodation on the ground floor and windmills on several buildings.
There is little doubt that the European Union Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will start to impact on investment markets as socially responsible corporate occupiers exert their influence through a preference for greener buildings. A two-tier market will evolve in which green buildings that deliver added value to the investor through increased occupier interest, increased energy efficiency and lower insurance costs will command a premium.
Meanwhile, the property industry needs to limit the anarchy that may descend on the built environment through well-intentioned but hastily concocted rules and regulations. Let’s join together to help the politicians save the world and bring a little common sense and cohesion to an increasingly unhinged debate.
Let’s engage government more fully, lead the debate on control and process, and create our own level playing field on which investors can compete on an equal footing.
Steve Smith is managing director of Axa Real Estate Investment Managers