14th June 2021

Why is the real estate sector important in the battle against climate change?

This year the UK is playing host to two major and highly significant global events: the G7 Summit and COP26. Earlier this year, Boris Johnson agreed to legislate a new target to reduce national emissions by 78% by 2035.

With these events taking place on our doorstep, the UK’s climate change policy has been thrown directly into the spotlight with an urgent need for businesses to set major and accountable targets to tackle climate change.

Where does the UK’s real estate sector stand when it comes to tackling climate change? Here Sarah Chicken, development surveyor at Tritax Symmetry takes a look at the challenges facing this sector and what opportunities there are to make a significant difference to an otherwise bleak future.

“In 2018, the real estate sector accounted for nearly 40% of energy and process related emissions in the UK. This statistic is extremely alarming but what does it mean and why is it significant in the battle against climate change?

What are emissions and how are they affecting the planet?

When we talk about emissions, for the most part we are referring to carbon released into the atmosphere. As a gas which makes up only 0.04% of our atmosphere, carbon has an outsized effect on our climate. This is because it has the ability to absorb heat, preventing the sun’s energy from being reflected back into space, which then causes an increase in global temperature if levels become too high. Given the delicate balance of our planet, it also has more knock-on effects than we yet understand.

Damage Limitation

The Paris Agreement highlighted the importance of curbing emissions in 2016 when it set a goal of limiting greenhouse gases with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. If we fail to meet this target, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we can expect high multiple interrelated climate risks such as severe heat events, plant and vertebrate species loss, the death of 99% of coral reefs and increased likelihood of pandemics amongst multiple other impacts.

Change of mindset

As a result of a greater knowledge of the impacts of climate change, it is encouraging to see a collective adoption of environmental and sustainability policies in the private sector. Investors and funders are now starting to see sustainability as a deciding factor when it comes to investment decisions and roles such as “head of sustainability” are becoming more commonplace.

In the logistics sector, we are working with occupiers for whom adherence to reduced emissions targets is vital and hugely impactful when it comes to decision making. We have had occupiers approach us directly because of our approach to low carbon and sustainable energy strategies and because this aligns with their own operational requirements and targets.

As a result, we are now starting to see significant and wholesale change in the way that we operate as an industry and how we approach the built environment. As developers in the logistics sector, we have already made significant changes to the way we operate for the better. This includes improving and increasing our use of sustainable energy sources such as Photo Voltaic, wind and waste-to-energy alongside the efficient storage of generated power.

Adopting a longer-term, sustainable future

But it is important to think bigger and as Gold-Leaf Members of the UKGBC, we are working extremely hard with our customers and supply chain to improve energy efficiency and help our occupiers to be net zero carbon in operational use. We have also committed to constructing all new development within our portfolio to net zero carbon in construction – one of the first logistics developers to do so. This is in addition to our commitment to ensuring that we operate our own premises to a net zero carbon standard, whilst continuing to search for ways to improve year-on-year.

It is hugely encouraging to see ambitious policies like this being adopted on an industry-wide level. Not only has it been extremely rewarding to incorporate these practices into our way of working, but we have also had the opportunity to learn a lot from the process and allow it to lead us on and identify areas where we can continue to make a huge impact.

For example, through our work toward Net Zero Carbon in Construction, we have been able to identify that 90% of our construction related emissions come from just 10 elements of our buildings, with steel and concrete as the main materials with potential for improvement. We see this as an opportunity for innovation and we look forward to continuing to work with our industry partners to find solutions.

While there are many challenges in the journey ahead, the drive to reduce emissions could act as a real catalyst for innovation and sustainable change within the industry; something in which we should all want to play a part.

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