The UK Net Zero Carbon Building Standard: Once in a Lifetime


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After the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) last year, the UK committed to a 78% reduction of the production of greenhouse gases (GHG) in all sectors, including construction, by 2035 (from 1990 levels) and to being net zero by 2050.

So, in 2050 you may find yourself behind the wheel of a net zero automobile. And you may find yourself in a net zero house. And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?".

One of the main problems with achieving net zero targets is how net zero and the production of GHGs are measured and defined. Everyone, it seems, is publishing targets and policies and trying to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency, but common, agreed standards and methods of measurement of the production of GHGs and net zero claims are lacking. In the absence of a commonly agreed framework, claims of net zero or carbon reduction or green procurement are extremely difficult to assess and analyse.

To help bridge this gap, and to help the construction industry play its part in reaching the UK's climate targets, an industry-led, independent group was launched in May 2022 to agree a single methodology for calculating whether a building has achieved net zero. This will be called the UK Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard (the Standard).

Having a common standard will be of huge benefit in allowing net zero claims to be measured objectively and consistently by those designing, investing in, advising on, funding, building, buying, selling or using existing buildings and the buildings of the future.

The Standard is intended to apply to buildings (not infrastructure) during the construction (not operational) phase and only be relevant to the UK market. While this may narrow the scope of the Standard, it will set out metrics and targets in each sector, as well as an approach to carbon accounting at all the building stages of an asset from design right up to demolition.

The group brings together construction professionals and experts from across the industry and includes professional bodies, cross-industry bodies and networks, these include BRE, BBP, RICS, LETI, IstructE, RIBA and CIBSE, just to name a few.

A technical steering group will oversee the work of task groups and sector groups to develop the approach on the technical considerations and to develop sector specific benchmarks.

The Standard will build on existing work and analysis in this field. For example, LETI has already worked within industry to align key definitions (including "Whole Life Carbon", "Embodied Carbon" and "Greenhouse Gases") which will inform the benchmark for the asset over its whole life cycle. The Standard will build on market analysis carried out by the UK General Building Council (UKGBC) which explored the expectations for a net zero standard in the built environment sector. The analysis by the UKGBC outlined that the market preferred a new standard, as opposed to a new certification rating tool for the industry.

The Standard will not just apply to new buildings, and will be applicable to the retrofitting, refurbishment or adaptation of existing buildings. The greenest building is one that already exists. Retrofitting existing buildings to improve their energy efficiency, energy use and air quality will play a large part of reaching the 2050 net zero target. As we look ahead to the next 28 years, any asset (old or new) will be capable of being examined under the Standard.

It is still early days to know what the Standard will look like, or when it will be produced: the programme is still being developed.

Applications to join the task force closed in June, and nominations for an independent chair for the governance board closed in July. Once these roles have been finalised, we should expect to see the Standard come to life, and work to start in earnest. Industry engagement on the application of the Standard will be vital to produce a generally accepted framework for measuring net zero claims. From designers to engineers, from asset managers to local government, from asset-owners to occupiers, the Standard will affect everyone seeking to demonstrate that their building is a net zero building.

For more information, click here.

We wish the group well and shall be monitoring its progress.

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