Barr Ellison Solicitors – commercial property
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Carter Jonas
3 April, 2020 - 07:07 By Will Mooney, Partner, Commercial, Carter Jonas Cambridge

Much we can do to slash the carbon footprint of our buildings

The launch of our Cambridge Commercial Edge research report, the findings of which I discussed last month, in many ways seems like a distant memory, writes Will Mooney, partner at Carter Jonas in Cambridge

In just four weeks our world has been turned upside down and I can only hope that you are all safe and sound and keeping well.

I plan to write about the topic that we discussed during our launch – property, the road to net-zero and a carbon-neutral future – partly because once we are through this crisis, attention will again need to turn to these matters, and also because the long-term nature of the challenge provides some sort of focus for us all. 

In 2019, the UK Government set ambitious targets to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Indeed, an increasing number of countries, states, cities and organisations are committing to carbon neutrality by mid-century, and the Government’s dedication to achieving zero carbon requires an increased pace of change in the supply and use of energy. 

Quite rightly, zero-carbon buildings are now getting the attention they deserve as part of the solution. Presently only one per cent of new buildings are carbon neutral but more than 40 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by real estate. 

Clearly, the built environment has a major role to play in meeting these carbon-neutral objectives. Developers, landlords and occupiers are increasingly focusing their efforts on sustainable initiatives including looking at the energy use of the buildings we occupy and their property estates. 

Because whilst we can design new carbon-neutral buildings, one of the most pressing issues is what to do with the huge amount of existing stock.

My colleague, Greg Hilton of our energy team, discussed just this at our launch event. He is working with clients looking at their existing buildings and portfolios to reduce their carbon intensity and energy demand. They do this by monitoring how much energy a building or estate uses, and how are they employing that energy, to then consider what steps they can take to invest in renewable technology.

As an example, his team has been working with a client with an electricity-intensive building, but an extremely large roof space, which includes an above-ground car park. 

Having undertaken a site screening, feasibility studies and financial modelling he is working with his client to install solar carports and solar panels on the roof. 

Of course, not every client has the capabilities/infrastructure to invest in such initiatives but it is clear that we absolutely have to use less energy and design out heat demand from existing building stock and even new schemes.
Other innovations such as the use of LED lights and sensors in buildings enable us all to be smarter. This is software that actively increases efficiency in a building – turning off lights automatically when a room is not in use and adjusting the temperatures as and when required. 

For commercial building owners and occupiers, energy storage is also providing new opportunities. In buildings, battery storage is used to reduce the cost of electricity by maximising the self-consumption of local renewable production or by reducing periods of peak consumption.

Just these few examples demonstrate some of the steps that the property sector can take towards the road to net zero, but there are countless others including encouraging the use of sustainable materials in new-build schemes and designing new buildings that target high BREEAM, LEED and/or EPC ratings, to name but a few. 

Alongside this, new technologies such as mobile apps are being developed that will improve efficiency and the use of space during low times.

The subject matter is vast, but one of the main take-outs from our launch discussion is that the property sector has a critical role in helping to create a sustainable future. 

Our built environment is undoubtedly part of the problem, but if we share best practice and knowledge across the industry, there is a chance that we can form part of the solution and help in reducing that damning 40 per cent figure.

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