UK will fail carbon targets

Published:  17 December, 2009

UK: The country’s biggest property developers have warned that carbon reduction targets will be missed unless measures to improve existing buildings are introduced.

Property giants including British Land, Hammerson, Hermes, Land Securities, Legal and General. Prupim and SEGRO, who own and manage the country’s biggest shopping centres and offices, want ministers to introduce mandatory grading certificates that would show how well buildings perform.

Display energy certificates (DECs) are already in place for public buildings and they clearly show the performance of building when in use. Although new buildings are generally built to high standards, tenants can quickly undermine a green building by leaving lights on or wasting heat.

Real estate is responsible for around half of the UK’s carbon emissions.

The industry however, believes government policy has ignored the fact that the majority of commercial property is rented out.

This means landlords cannot simply walk into a tenant’s shop, for example, and turn the lights off. Therefore, any incentives and responsibilities for improving energy performance are widely split between the two groups.

The BPF wants to see measurement based on actual energy use made obligatory for the private sector. This could happen by expanding display energy certificates (DECs) - which measure the operational performance of a building – so that they do not just cover public buildings. (See notes).

Property is responsible for a massive 50% of the UK’s carbon emissions, but one of the easiest places to make savings if data is shared and landlords and tenants work together.

Energy use needs to be made transparent if the industry has any hope of meeting green energy targets, believes BPF chief executive Liz Peace. The BPF is pushing for EU law to be changed so that landlords and tenants will be obliged to share energy data. If this happens, then both sides can work together to support real change.

However, Peace admits there is a critical need for firms to change the way they view energy and reduce usage via more effective management before looking at refitting buildings with expensive new gadgets. It is also vital to ensure that any newly installed kit delivers the promised energy and carbon savings, as there is evidence that some developments employ it at planning stage but often don’t use it properly. Essentially, it comes down to effectively measuring what is used.

Experts believe a third of energy use can be cut without any major expenditure, but want research carried out into what financial incentives could spur landlords on to undertake higher cost improvements, looking at where costs and benefits currently do not add up, when all other factors are balanced.

Despite setting up the new Department for Energy and Climate Change there has been no clear policy direction in government with various other departments all covering the same ground. A staggering 70 national and 96 regional bodies currently offer energy efficiency advice. The BPF therefore wants greater clarity on grants and advice that could help green the nation’s buildings. An array of financial benefits already exist (see notes) but few people really know about them.

Peter Clarke, executive officer at British Land, said: “We have found that simple improvements in energy use can be made by sharing data, which often reveals that changes to behaviour can yield big savings on energy and carbon. The key barrier is that, in many cases, landlords and tenants are unaware of where the opportunities lie. The BPF’s toolkit, developed with the Carbon Trust, provides a set of tools and a process to enable landlords and tenants to measure, understand and reduce their emissions."

Dave Farebrother, environmental director at Land Securities, which has recently announced it will voluntarily introduce DECs across its London portfolio, said: "At Land Securities we are finding a high degree of willingness among our clients to engage on matters of energy efficiency, and as existing buildings form the larger part of the ongoing carbon problem the quickest, cheapest and biggest wins for the sector come from changing attitudes and behaviours. DECs, which reflect how buildings actually operate, are much more helpful in this regard than a theoretical EPC."

Bill Hughes, managing director at Legal and General Property, said: “There is a clear desire at all levels for greener buildings, but this won’t be achieved by focusing exclusively on new build and it won’t be achieved unless the government begins to understand how the market in existing property actually works. Designing new efficient buildings is relatively easy, but without a government-backed initiative to manage down energy use in old stock, targets will remain aspirations.”

Martin Moore, chairman of the BPF’s sustainability committee and chief executive of Prupim, said: “We need to focus on methods to improve our understanding of what energy we’re actually using. Expanding display energy certificates and providing support to firms to help them measure and reduce energy use is vital. If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it and if you cannot manage it, you certainly cannot reduce it.”

Claudine Blamey, head of sustainability at SEGRO, said: “The most significant amount of carbon used during the life of a building is in its use phase. At the moment there are no real drivers for occupiers to reduce their energy. We need incentives to change behaviour if we are going to become a low carbon economy.”

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