We all believe that looking after the environment and natural resources is important. However, the myriad of targets and regulations that impact the property sector are having a damaging effect on delivering the scale of change required in carbon reduction. At a recent parliamentary reception, Robert Noel of Land Securities challenged the sector and Government to stop pussyfooting around, and act now to bring focus and clarity to the industry’s efforts.
Commercial property is estimated to account for around 18% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, and we have been acutely aware for some time of the need for action. We were the first in our sector to have in-house energy teams, the first to have dedicated environment teams and we have an ambitious target to reduce our carbon emissions by 30%, by 2020.
But let’s dispel some myths.
Everyone assumes that the solution is simple – just set some targets for buildings and wait for technology to find a long term solution. The trouble is that only about one or two per cent of building stock is renewed each year, so this isn’t going to get us there – do the maths.
The reality is that for many commercial buildings, it is not possible to have on-site renewables that meet anything like all the energy demand. On a typical urban office building, even if you were to clad it entirely in solar panels, they would provide significantly less than 10% of the energy requirements of the building.
Fact is that technology simply cannot deliver an overnight solution. We know, because we have tried and tested many for a number of years at the sharp end. Our recent development at One New Change features Europe’s largest hybrid ground-source energy system – 60km of pipes. Over many developments, we have seen new technology work well, and not so well, and it is only through that sometimes painful learning that we can advance.
For technology to start playing a part we need investment and that throws up a big issue. The UK market has yet to establish the commercial incentive for low carbon buildings. As the market’s largest player, we have yet to see any evidence that being green drives a tangible return, as no one has shown a desire to pay a premium for an eco building. So the issue is not without problems. But we believe there are solutions to make a difference and I’d like to make three suggestions; common measurement, consistency and behaviour
First, common measurement. Our experience tells us that what you can’t measure you can’t manage. We should end the confusion of too many different measures. On the basis that how a building is used has a bigger influence on carbon reduction than how it is designed, we believe that Display Energy Certificates are a good measure. In the absence of legislative leadership, we have voluntarily introduced them in offices we control.
Common measures allow a differentiation between good and bad, and give us a baseline on which to build plans for improved performance.
Second is consistency, which brings certainty and allows us to build business models that encourage technologies and solutions.
Third and most importantly is behavioural change. The fact is that the most efficient light bulb in the world is still wasting energy if it is left on in an empty room. A change in behaviour at work could reduce CO2 emissions by 20% overnight.
Unfortunately, it has proved slow to catch on so we need to force the pace. This must be based on a polluter pays principle because then nobody has the excuse to opt out. Under the original Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) plans rewarding good behaviour and penalising bad aligned goals but CRC has changed. It’s now simply a tax on the provider. So no more pussyfooting around as with CRC. Government should admit it is a tax, tax the energy used so everyone will be forced to work together to find a way of using less.
These small steps will make a big difference in delivering change and will be easily understood and acted on.
Meanwhile, Land Securities will continue to lead from the front.