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Rachel Lekman reports on the net zero discussions

We took part in a roundtable last week with BESA (Building Engineering Services Association) which discussed the road to net zero and the opportunities that this offered the construction industry.

The target outcome is to develop guidance to help HVAC contractors and M&E contractors to understand more about net zero, so that BESA members see what they need to consider for their own business and for their customers.

One thing that quickly emerged is that we don’t need to wait for some ‘silver bullet’ or magical new system, as the technologies that can help (such as heat pumps) already exist.

Businesses should look beyond CAPEX and focus more on OPEX

Rachel Lekman Rachel Lekman Channel Marketing Manager

A wide range of topics

The BESA Round Table on Net Zero brought together members from the large construction companies and consultants including N G Bailey, Skanska, Gratte Brothers, Dalkia and Equans.

Chaired by Mark Snell, from Dalkia, the discussion covered a wide range of topics from the cost of carbon to the retrofit challenge, how to bring along your supply chain, and the differences between the public and the private sector.

One strong theme did emerge which we at Mitsubishi Electric were delighted to see, and that was the need for collaboration. 

We have long said that no one person, company, government or country has the ‘answer’ to the climate crisis and that we have to work together and share knowledge and experience if we are to get anywhere near the targets that we have all set.

A common standard

The Roundtable kicked off with a discussion on standards, with everyone agreeing that there is a need to develop one common system that not only stops businesses paying lip service to the environment, but also gives people an agreed approach to aim for.

It emerged that the NABERS standard is now around 90% of the discussion in the industry, but this is based very much on an Australian model which is very different to the UK. The discussion then focused on whether it was possible to develop a UK version.

One thing that did emerge is the need for more education on why businesses should look beyond CAPEX and focus more on OPEX, and a common theme was the need to look at the long term, rather than the annual budget cycle.

The retrofit challenge

During the roundtable it emerged that existing buildings can use up to 200% more energy than they should.

Accepting that 80% of the buildings that we will all occupy in 2050 are already built, brings home the urgency and challenge of the retrofit market.

The discussion also focused on the fact that it is often the poorest clients that need the most support, which is where government and the wider industry need to come together.

Whether we like it or not, the reality is that net zero equates to cost at this point, which is not ideal in a cost-of-living crisis, but something that we must address if we are to bring everyone along on the road to net zero.

Commercial businesses need carbon to be the cheapest option not the most expensive, and this is why the retrofit challenge is so big and where changes in planning and regulations need to be looked at. One example quoted was in listed buildings where it’s not possible to upgrade from single pane windows due to planning restrictions, which makes improving the fabric very difficult.

The meeting felt that for the retrofit market it is not really a fabric-first approach, but more often than not a fabric-5th or even a fabric-last approach.

One thing that everyone agreed on is the need to focus on the long term as this is not just a quick fix.

Backwards and forwards

There were many things that the Roundtable contributors agreed on and one was the need to look at how to support both clients and your supply chain in their journey to net zero.

Larger companies were already looking across their supply chain to see where these (often) SMEs are, what they can already do, and what support they need to come on the net zero journey.

I found the discussion fascinating and there were two moments that jumped out for me: One was when my colleague Chris Newman asked about legislation and everyone in the room agreed that they would like to see Government introduce legislation on net zero so that everyone had common targets and it was less of a ‘free-for-all’.

The other was when someone said that the environment used to be the last thing mentioned when tendering a contract. Now clients start the conversation by asking: how will you help us hit our targets?

So, the world is moving in the right direction and we are working closely with BESA’s net zero working group and the imminent launch of their net zero hub to help increase awareness of the shared knowledge that already exists.

Rachel Lekman is Channel Marketing Manager