Could the move by one of the UK’s largest commercial property agents begin to change the story for ‘green’ buildings?

One of the UK’s largest commercial property agents, JLL has signed up to the World Green Building Council (WGBC) Net Zero Buildings Commitment in September 2019.

It’s a bold step, but in the highly competitive world of commercial property one that could begin to change the story for ‘green’ buildings.

When large property groups like JLL view sustainability as a value-added for their portfolio, there is a momentum that gathers behind them, and this includes the financial investment needed for real movement on development of sustainable and energy efficient buildings.  

How often have building services designers, contractors and installers seen ‘sustainable’ building elements dropped because ‘there’s no budget for that’?  

With clients committed to achieving net zero, it is very much to be hoped that this phrase is heard a lot less often.

How often are sustainable building elements dropped because of budget?

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Head of Content for MBS and MBStv

Five steps towards zero carbon

The WGBC Commitment was launched in 2018 and is aimed at businesses, cities and regions. Participants are all aiming to reach net zero operating emissions by 2030, and to advocate for all buildings to be net zero by 2050.

There are five steps to being part of this programme. Once committed, members must measure, disclose and assess annual asset and portfolio energy demand and carbon emissions.  

The element of ‘disclosing’ is powerful on a number of levels.

Not only does it make any failures to improve very public, it also means that business are sharing information which is often hidden. This allows for far greater opportunity to share experiences and understanding.

Following this measurement and disclosure, those committed must develop and implement a decarbonisation roadmap that details actions and milestones.

The World Green Building Council’s Commitment is attracting a growing number of organisations and regions. London is a signatory to the Commitment, and its requirements are embodied in the new London Plan.

Let’s get ahead

Here in the UK, the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) is a group of building engineers, architects, owners and managers who are working to try to deliver these ambitious targets for properties in the capital.

In fact, LETI is pushing for all new buildings to be zero carbon by 2030, putting it 20 years ahead of the WGBC.  

LETI is very realistic about the challenge ahead. The construction industry has some big problems to solve in order to reach this sort of target.

As LETI says: “Currently, the industry is not even sure how to define zero carbon and what this means for our projects. Should the target depend on location, height, building topologies? Does it include embodied carbon or unregulated loads?”

Can we deliver?

These are complex engineering questions, and there is a decreasing amount of time left to answer them, particularly when we consider that a building constructed in 2030 will probably be in the planning stage as early as 2025.

What’s more, as LETI says: “As an industry, we need to be certain that we can deliver this, not just for pioneer projects, but for all projects.”

The building services sector, with its expertise in the big energy users of heating, cooling and ventilation, has a significant role to play in delivering low-carbon buildings.

The know-how has been there for some time, as has the energy efficient equipment.

Clients willing to invest are the last piece of the puzzle – let’s hope that JLL is the first of many.

Karen Fletcher, Head of Content for MBS and MBStv