If the last two to three years have taught us anything, it is just how difficult it is to predict what’s going to happen in the year ahead.
Who could have seen the COVID pandemic affecting the world in quite the way it has?
No-one was predicting the dreadful war in Ukraine and the staggering effect this has had on energy and fuel prices.
And although we know the damage the climate crisis is causing, few were predicting the last summer’s soaring heatwaves in the UK.
Yet we are at that time of year where forecasts and predictions abound, so I want to look at some of the things I suggest are very likely to happen over the coming year.
I think we will see more demands to hold Government and companies to account
Decarbonising heat – The end of gas
Despite the ongoing campaign to keep hydrogen in the news as the ‘saviour’ of the gas sector, most people can see we are near the end of gas as the mainstream way of heating UK homes.
Even if hydrogen can be made to work in households, and enough homes can be switched to ‘hydrogen-ready’ gas boilers, we are still a long way from this becoming a reality and time is rapidly running out for us to find ways of heating homes that don’t involve ‘burning stuff’.
There are also other uses for hydrogen that make much more sense in climate change terms, such as helping heavy industry, agriculture and shipping become ‘cleaner’. Tackling these sectors will have a much more positive impact on the environment than finding ways to keep the gas boilers burning!
So, the answer has to be renewable heating and a ready solution already exists in the form of heat pumps. These are available now in many forms and sizes so can be fitted to almost any home or commercial building to deliver reliable heating all year round.
There are challenges in terms of training enough installers and we need to upgrade older buildings but there can be no doubt now that the age of the heat pump is upon us.
Understanding what Net Zero means
The United Nation’s ‘Conference of the Parties’ 27, or COP27 held in Egypt last November showed us that the world is aware of the urgent need to do something to tackle climate change and stop our planet from overheating.
What is also now clear though is that although everyone agrees that we must travel on the road to net zero, we are all starting from different places and travelling at different speeds.
One of the challenges facing us all is in the use of language, as there is still not one clear definition of what net zero really means, as this may be subtly different from sector to sector, let alone agreement on how we can possibly get there.
To achieve a global consensus on what needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis, we need to agree that net zero means the same thing to everyone.
Let’s hope that by the time of COP28 in November, those attending the event in the United Arab Emirates will bring clearer understanding of the need for global agreement on the definitions of the challenges facing us – and the possible solutions.
That brings me on to my next prediction, which is that we will see more collaboration to tackle climate change.
The pandemic showed just how interconnected the world is and even single incidents, such as the Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal, can have massive knock-on effects.
I think we will see more moves to end working in isolation and that doesn’t just mean on a governmental level as we can’t sit back and wait for the annual COP meeting for things to move on.
We are already seeing students demand universities demonstrate their sustainability, and those graduates are then going on to look for employment with companies that have robust environmental and wellbeing policies.
We will see customers demand better levels of sustainability whether from the manufacturers they buy from, or even from local councils, with demands for higher levels of recycling, more electric charging points and a clear sustainability strategy.
Companies are responding to this and pushing the market to continue to develop, raising the bar so that even those who haven’t quite started on their net zero journey will be forced to join in.
In construction, we will also see more collaboration, as demonstrated by the new block built at Salford University, where the client, the construction companies, the installers and the manufacturer, all came together to design and build the most sustainable solution.
Whole Life carbon
The ability to be able to clearly demonstrate the environmental impact of a product, service, or even a building is becoming increasingly important, and this will grow to cover all aspects of the lifecycle of that ‘thing’.
As a manufacturer, we’ve always looked at minimising the energy our products consume and maximising the value customers can get from their use.
We are also well advanced in the process of counting the embodied carbon in our products and this will extend throughout the construction industry to encompass the whole building and all of the components within it. I think the focus is definitely moving toward this information about a building holistically covering whole life carbon.
There is still a long way to go but I can see the day coming when each building will be labelled in some way to show how carbon conscious it is, and companies will compete to wear this as a ‘badge of honour’.
My final prediction is that 2023 will be a year of calling out greenwash.
I think we will see more demands to hold Government and companies to account.
I’ve already touched on how consumers are becoming more demanding about the companies they buy from and the products they want, and I think this will extend to brands being challenged on their environmental claims.
I think this could also extend to the ballot box and I can see May’s Local Elections in England having a major focus on sustainability in each neighbourhood and not just be about council tax and bin collections.
And I see this move as a good thing as we can only solve the climate crisis together.
We therefore need to work with our neighbours, our communities, our companies, and our governments on every level.
I’m certainly not saying we will solve everything in the next year but I hope that we are in a much better position one year from now.
Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability