Meeting ambitious sustainability targets requires us all to pitch in, says Building Research Establishment chief executive Gillian Charlesworth
The government recently announced an ambitious 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which will help the UK forge ahead in its net-zero carbon by 2050 pledge ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year.
As part of this, ministers have pledged £1bn of investment towards making new and existing homes, and public buildings, more efficient. This includes an extension of the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme and Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. The government has also declared its intention to implement the Future Homes Standard in the shortest possible timeline, roll out heat pump installations and is consulting on the energy performance of homes. The range of measures and announcements are welcome progress towards recognising the contribution that the built environment must make in supporting the green agenda and reducing harmful emissions.
The Building Research Establishment (BRE) is an industry leader in this area, having spent nearly a century ensuring that the built environment is part of the solution and not the problem when it comes to innovation in sustainability. Key contributions BRE has made include: the rollout of BREEAM, which is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for masterplanning projects, infrastructure and buildings; the Green Guide to Specification, which details the lifecycle environmental impacts of construction materials and components; key advisory services in energy management; and waste management tools such as SmartWaste.
An important opportunity for sustainability
As the construction industry grapples with other key issues, such as the current housing shortage, our ageing population and reforms to the planning system, we have an important opportunity to ensure that sustainability is integrated throughout the lifecycle of a building. Effective standards are central in addressing these concerns and will be key to unlocking many of the challenges facing the built environment, especially the drive towards zero carbon and sustainability.
As the investor community takes an increasing interest in the environmental and social impact of assets, certification schemes like BREEAM have an important part to play in monitoring progress towards net-zero. And with millions of workers likely to return to their offices as the pandemic hopefully passes, committing to benchmarking and improving sustainability performance also provides a way for employers to send a signal to their employees about their commitment to improving the environment in which they work. The greater our understanding and measurement of the performance of buildings is, the more likely it is that our response will achieve real impact.
That is why the announcement that BRE has now partnered with the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) and the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) to launch NABERS UK is so welcome. The NABERS UK scheme is based on the Australian NABERS programme and has been developed via the Design for Performance initiative, led by the Better Buildings Partnership and funded by a range of industry stakeholders, including British Land, Derwent London, Federated Hermes/MEPC, Great Portland Estates, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, Landsec and Legal & General Investment Management.
NABERS energy ratings specifically measure and verify the actual energy use of existing offices, providing a rating from one to six stars, which can help building owners to accurately target, measure and communicate the energy performance of their buildings.
Through the adoption of NABERS, those responsible for commercial developments can therefore work together to play a vital role in bridging the performance gap between the design and in-use energy performance of offices in the UK, as well as reassure investors and occupiers that the buildings they own and occupy are on a net-zero trajectory and are aligned with their climate change ambitions. This complements our more holistic BREEAM scheme, which incorporates energy efficiency alongside many other sustainability indicators.
Working together to realise net-zero targets
As well as having significant industry support, the programme has also been endorsed by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This comes at a critical time, as the government’s consultation on energy performance disclosure for commercial buildings is expected before the end of the year. The partnership between BRE and NABERS demonstrates how two leading organisations within the global built environment can work together to help realise the British government’s net-zero targets.
By partnering with NABERS and BBP, BRE is delighted to continue to work collaboratively to tackle the unprecedented challenges presented by climate change.
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