Achieving a Carbon Net Zero Estate

Paul Taylor
Meeting the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 is an enormous challenge. How do you understand what needs to change in your building portfolio?

On the 12th June 2019 the UKs Climate Change Act was amended to make the 2050 target for UK carbon emissions reduction net zero. By carrying out the May 2019 recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), this amendment to the Climate Change Act made the UK the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to legislate for net zero carbon emissions.

But what exactly does net zero carbon mean? 

The Committee on Climate Change describe a net zero target as “Deep Reductions in emissions of Green House Gases, with any remaining sources off-set by removals of CO2 from the atmosphere. Net emissions, after accounting for removals must be reduced by 100%, to zero.”

Visible action by the general public and NGOs has brought the issue of climate change high enough up the agenda to make this change in law take place, and this in turn has caused many organisations in both public and private sector to talk about change, and many to announce their own response to the ‘climate emergency’, whilst others are planning announcements.

How can we deliver net zero carbon?

To announce organisational commitment to net zero carbon by 2050 is straightforward but delivering the change in sometimes even more aggressive timescales (some by 2030) is very challenging, so it is vital that the activities and the costs of those activities are well understood.

To implement the organisational change required to meet the target means starting now. Any decisions made today about replacing carbon emitting assets with a ‘like for like’ approach will mean carbon emissions will be locked in for years to come. The work has to start now.  

The built environment plays its part as a major emitter of CO2 and there is much work to be done to address this. We are seeing organisations take their building portfolio responsibilities more seriously and employing tactics such as specifying higher EPC rated buildings when relocating as part of their sustainability strategy. Well maintained buildings are not only more energy efficient, they also generally perform better from a wellbeing perspective because the correct internal environment is being delivered to occupants by building plant and controls; this helps to attract and retain talent. 

Where once it was enough to report emissions and consider the box sufficiently ticked for the annual report, there is a culture change, with shareholders, employees, board members and the public now much more interested and discerning on climate change issues – organisations need their shareholders to ‘invest’ not ‘divest’ on the basis of their climate credentials.

The operation of the UK’s buildings account for over 30% of emissions, so when we consider that 70% of our existing building stock will still be with us in 2050, the need to improve the performance of these assets, through low carbon retrofitting, becomes obvious. The replacement or modification of elements of building fabric and building services is essential, with existing heating systems being a particular challenge as we have to drastically reduce our consumption of natural gas and use low carbon electricity to achieve the savings.

Understanding the challenge 

To understand the challenge, a high-level review is required to appreciate the issues and order of costs to maintain an existing estate of buildings, it is then necessary to assess the requirements and costs to implement the mitigating measures needed to minimise carbon emissions, and off-set what remains to reach the 100% reduction.

In this respect, large portfolio holders face what can seem an overwhelming task.  In many cases, estate data can be incomplete or unavailable meaning there is insufficient understanding of asset condition. This can hinder strategic planning for CO2 emissions reduction.  

At Faithful+Gould we can support clients with a range of approaches to maximise the value of the data available and target any further necessary expenditure for data acquisition in the right areas to minimise costs.

We have been working with organisations to help them understand their asset data and use this to model order of costs to get to a net zero portfolio. We can support organisations with a range of services from detailed single building models, to estate-wide net zero carbon strategies to identify costs and the potential for reductions of carbon emissions. 

Our net zero carbon analysis utilises asset data and life-cycle analysis to model a range of appropriate low carbon interventions to demonstrate the whole life value of these low-carbon measures. The measures include mechanical and electrical interventions, building fabric improvements and renewable technologies.

Our Strategic Asset Management team will support your organisation, on its journey to net zero by 2050 or sooner. Our sustainability, whole life costing, facilities and asset management experts will work with you to develop sustainable solutions to built environment challenges, ideally beginning with early intervention – from strategy setting, through design development, procurement, construction and commissioning, to handover, occupation and use. The retrofitting of existing buildings has become an increasingly prominent part of our work, as we help clients optimise the balance between carbon management objectives and practical and financial constraints.

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