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4 steps developers can take to help tackle climate change

As demands for action over climate change grow, developers will increasingly need to ensure their schemes meet net zero carbon targets.

November 13, 2019

From protesters in the streets calling for action on climate change to companies creating more ambitious sustainability goals, global attention is increasingly focused on cutting carbon emissions.   

The big question is how. Buildings account for around 40 percent or carbon emissions in the UK and will need substantial changes to new and existing schemes if the government is to achieve its target of reaching net zero by 2050. Indeed, cities like Manchester and Bristol have set earlier deadlines.

“As sustainability becomes more of a priority among today’s companies, we’ll start to see more occupiers only wanting to take space in net zero carbon buildings,” says Emma Hoskyn, JLL UK Team Director - Upstream Sustainability Services.

“This is being driven not only by legislation from the Government and societal calls for change, but also organisations like the UK Green Building Council, which has published a framework for all new buildings to become net zero carbon by 2030 and existing buildings by 2050.”

Developers, in turn, are responding to the focus on a low-carbon economy although there’s still a way to go, says Elaine Rossall, head of JLL’s UK office research. “Developers know they need to create a product the occupiers of the future want to rent, lease or buy,” she adds. 

“There’s certainly starting to be a realisation that more sustainable buildings will generate more long-term value for investors.”

Here are four things they can do: 

1: Get energy efficient

Finding green energy solutions is key. Most building emissions come from its day-to-day running, and some are already starting to find innovative on-site energy solutions to power lighting, heating and air conditioning systems.

“Energy efficiency will need to be integrated into all aspects of property development,” says Darren Berman, Lead Director, JLL UK Upstream Sustainability Services.

“Developers will need to adopt technologies such as heat pumps, district heating – a means of distributing generated heating through insulated pipes - and fuel cells, which convert chemical energy into electricity. And all stakeholders need to work together, from brief to operation, to ensure performance gaps are removed.”

Schemes like Lendlease’s Elephant Park, in London, is a climate positive project which offers new homes, workspaces and retail, has an on-site combined heat and power plant (CHP) which will deliver net zero carbon, affordable heat and hot water to residents and businesses. Power plants traditionally emit heat during the generation of electricity, but CHP plants like this, capture and use this wasted heat. 

2: Design out carbon

Embodied carbon is present in many commonly-used construction materials such as steel, cement or plasterboard. But simple changes such as using recycled concrete and steel or low carbon options such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) can have a big impact.

Costa Coffee’s drive-through Eco Pod, in Swansea, was built using timber frame certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - a scheme which identifies wood from sustainable sources – to reduce inbuilt carbon while soft wood was used to insulate the building. In addition, photovoltaic solar panels and other efficiency measures have helped make it net zero.

3: Get smart with technology

High-tech solutions have a real role to play. From ensuring real-time data is used to monitor energy usage and identify energy-saving opportunities to leveraging the new generation of building management systems.

Developments like London’s 22 Bishopsgate use machine learning to monitor data to understand how energy bills can be reduced.

Meanwhile, opting to incorporate built-in smart technology will allow operators to analyse and optimise how space is used. Lighting sensors can turn off lights when rooms are not in use, for example, or heating systems can be programmed to respond to changing building temperatures. 

4: See the big picture

It’s not just what goes on behind the scenes; developers also need to pay attention to sustainable design features from charging points for electric vehicles, more bike racks and shower facilities to encourage employees to cycle to work or building facades made from recycled materials. Schemes like One Angel Square, in Manchester, have rooftops and drainage systems capable of harvesting recycled rainwater.

Considering a building’s lifecycle at the development stage, implementing measures to lower its environmental impacts over its lifetime and adapting these over time to optimise its efficiency and decrease its carbon footprint are all key to making a difference, says Rossall.

“If we can get to a point where sustainability becomes second nature, that’s when real change will happen,” she adds. 

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