UK Government urged to push ahead with zero carbon commercial buildings

light bulb turbine croppedThe UK’s Green Building Council has fired off its latest salvo in an ongoing battle with the Government over the implementation of environmental legislation for commercial buildings. A new report from the organisation’s Task Group urges the Government to push ahead with plans to ensure that by 2019 all new non domestic buildings will be built to zero carbon standards. The report claims that the implementation of appropriate regulations is hampered by a lack of clarity, including confusion over what zero carbon actually means as well as the government’s own stop-start  approach to the environment. The current 2019 commitment to zero carbon buildings falls a year ahead of the deadline specified in European Law, but a recent focus from the coalition on reducing relevant legislation has added to confusion about the overall approach.

The UK-GBC has found itself increasingly at loggerheads with the Government on the issue over recent months. In November, Prime Minister David Cameron was reported to have advised his aides to ‘ditch the green crap’ in a bid to cut energy bills. In January the Government pledged to scrap reams of environmental guidance for builders, a commitment that prompted  Paul King, the chief executive of the UK Green Buildings Council, to say: ‘The prime minister’s boast of ‘slashing 80,000 pages’ of environmental guidance is utterly reprehensible. It is the same poisonous political rhetoric from Number 10, devaluing environmental regulation in a slash-and-burn manner. These words are not only damaging and irresponsible, but misrepresent the wishes of so many modern businesses, both large and small.’

The new report ‘Building Zero Carbon – the case for action’, claims that there is a ‘very strong economic case’ for a widely recognised and meaningful definition of zero carbon but also argues that the Government’s current efforts to meet its own stated commitments are fragmented and hampered by the lack of a clear and consistent strategy which is creating inefficiencies and the loss of global export opportunities. The Task Group responsible for the report, which includes companies, from across the building industry led by BAM, BRE, British Land and Saint Gobain, is urging the Government to restate its commitment to the 2019 target and set out a clear and ambitious definition of zero carbon.

The report cites the example of Part L 2013, a cornerstone green regulation addressing energy usage which is currently six months behind schedule. Paul King said that ‘The business benefits of zero carbon non domestic buildings are huge, boosting innovation that could help to create export opportunities in excess of £1bn by 2050. Industry stands ready to invest in innovation and deliver higher standards in non-domestic buildings, but the Coalition’s failure to recommit to the 2019 target is holding it back. Government has dragged its feet over this issue for far too long to the detriment of both business and the environment, and must now act urgently to demonstrate it is serious about realising the vast economic benefits of this policy.’

The report is accompanied by an open letter to communities minister Stephen Williams, signed by 21 industry leaders from firms including Carillion, British Land, Balfour Beatty Construction Services. GVA, Lend Lease and Marks and Spencer. The letter claims that the ‘stop/start nature of policy implementation, with delayed announcements and incremental improvements which significantly varied from the original consultation options has been unhelpful for the industry. This in turn has failed to motivate investment into innovation or enable the industry to position the UK as a leader in efficient construction skills and technologies.’

The report argues for a new road map to ensure that the 2019 target is met which would include setting up a Zero Carbon Hub to provide clarity of definition and the extension of energy usage legislation to incorporate currently excluded elements of buildings such as lifts as well as a future commitment to incorporate consumers of unregulated energy such as computer equipment.

The report’s recommendations in full:

  • Government should restate its firm commitment to zero carbon non-domestic buildings from 2019 immediately.
  • Government should work with industry over the next year to create a ‘roadmap’ to 2019 and beyond – setting out the parameters of the zero carbon standard.
  • The impact assessment methodology used by government to assess the economic costs and benefits of policy should be revised to account for a broader range of impacts to the UK economy.
  • Industry, working with government, should form a Zero Carbon Non-Domestic Buildings Hub to finalise the definition of zero carbon, and facilitate implementation.
  • The technical definition of zero carbon should follow a similar model to that for the residential sector: a minimum building efficiency standard and a minimum on-site carbon emissions target.
  • The definition of regulated energy in 2016 should be extended to cover more fixed building services – lifts, escalators and over-door heaters. Whole life carbon emissions currently outside the scope of Part L should be brought into regulation over time (post 2019). These include other unregulated energy uses and embodied carbon.
  • To build the knowledge and data necessary to incorporate embodied carbon into regulations, designers, contractors and manufacturers should be encouraged to take practical steps now to measure and reduce embodied carbon using the applicable standards.
  • Modelling tool SBEM should be developed to provide additional and optional functionality which could be used to generate more accurate predictions of energy use in future, possibly presented as a range of results based on different occupancy scenarios, through incorporating feedback from the non domestic buildings sector and operational energy certificates.
  • There is a need for industry-wide measurement and disclosure of operational energy use, ensuring like for like building comparison is possible, and including building services/tenant responsibilities.
  • Further investigation should be conducted to assess the potential implementation of an alternative, quicker route to compliance for simple buildings.

Earlier this month, the Green Building Council made a similar call to the EU.  The Europe Regional Network of WorldGBC wrote to energy and environment Ministers within Europe outlining the need for a coherent set of legally binding targets within the EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy Framework.  The letter calls for three targets for 2030; for energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and member state renewable energy quotas, alongside a sector energy efficiency target for buildings.

A number of EU countries are currently pushing for a single GHG emissions target to replace the current ‘20-20-20’ targets within the EU’s 2020 framework, although the European Parliament has supported a three target approach.