Zero carbon 'not possible' says property sector
Published:  16 June, 2010

UK: The biggest survey of the UK development industry states that nearly three-quarters of the sector do not believe the Government's current zero carbon targets by 2020 are realistic.

Called Hitting the Green Wall... and Beyond, the report is a collaboration between the British Property Federation, international law firm Taylor Wessing, and specialist research and communications consultancy Spada.

Over 7000 individuals were polled. Seventy-six per cent of respondents think that the Government's plans for making all new housing zero carbon by 2016 are unrealistic. Seventy-three per cent believe plans to make new commercial property zero carbon by 2019 are unrealistic.

However, respondents are also convinced that the 'stick' of regulation is most likely to drive progress in future, highlighting the need for closer industry-government collaboration.

The importance accorded to sustainability remains high, despite the recession, with over 68% saying sustainability was either 'very' or 'highly' important. Contractors, however, reported a 10% dip in importance.

Sustainability strategies are now widespread, but success is frequently not measured. Over 70% of those surveyed had a sustainability strategy in place, but only around half of respondents set internal targets, while only approximately a third set targets related to business dealings.

Top management take responsibility for sustainability. Over 80% of respondents said that senior management are responsible for sustainability. It is unclear who supports the senior management team as only a minority say they employ dedicated staff (36.18%) or consultants (36.05%).

A majority of all sectors (60%) have direct experience of using green leases and other green agreements. Of the 40% of respondents who had not yet used a green agreement, almost half said they would consider it in future. Non-binding arrangements are by far the most common.

The industry acknowledges that it is not communicating well with regards to sustainability. Only a minority of respondents say they are communicating sustainability performance 'quite well' or 'very well' to internal (47.4%) or external (33.7%) audiences. Traditional industry divides, the complexity and fragmentation of the industry and the lack of a common currency of frameworks and benchmarks combine to create a major communications challenge.

Benchmarking tools exist, but these all measure diverse factors and there is little common application. EPCs, BREEAM and ISO 14001 are all popular. Sustainability is reported on by the majority of respondents (72.33%) but across varying timeframes and in a multitude of ways.

Improved operational efficiency and greater flexibility of use are most likely to motivate respondents to retro-fit existing stock in order to meet sustainability goals. The industry seems unconcerned about future energy security.

The industry is taking tentative steps in trying to measure green value. Data relating to environmental performance is requested or provided during financial transactions by approximately one third of respondents.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation commented:  "With an industry that is sceptical about carbon reduction targets, closer collaboration between Government and the industry is essential if these are to be met.

"Government faces a huge challenge in striking the right balance between 'carrot' and 'stick' in order to secure its sustainability objectives, while the industry must engage as much as possible and attempt to meet and exceed targets."

Helen Garthwaite, UK head of construction and engineering at law firm Taylor Wessing added: "The burden and complexity of regulation affecting sustainability at EU and national levels will continue to increase.

"The industry believes that the 'stick' of regulation is necessary to drive the pace of change, alongside fiscal incentives and other measures.

"Non-binding green agreements are growing in popularity and we expect this trend to continue. The preference for non-binding agreements could shift towards binding agreements as the regulatory agenda evolves.

"The rationalisation of benchmarking tools and agreement over their application is needed. It is possible that some voluntary benchmarks could in effect become mandatory through industry promotion and use."

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