Net Zero: Act now for the sake of the future

As we grapple with the climate emergency there is no more important first step for public sector bodies than the one taken on the road to Net Zero.

Not taking urgent action to decarbonise the built environment and ensure energy efficient projects will have catastrophic consequences in the years to come and for future generations. That’s a fact.

It’s a fact though that’s hard to swallow for some organisations. It’s one that people often, but wrongly associate with higher costs and smaller margins leading to hesitation, fear and in some cases inaction.

Inaction will cost us - and the planet

The vitally important topic - The Road to Net Zero – led the agenda at a recent Economic Forum organised by SCAPE Scotland in Edinburgh.

Key players from SCAPE, our seven framework partners, as well as investors, government officials in the built environment field and businesses, gathered for an informative panel discussion on the climate emergency and what can be done to help the public sector in Scotland deliver sustainable projects that enhance and support communities.

The event saw industry experts Robin Presswood from Dundee City Council, Iain Casson from Kier, James Holliday of Triskelion, Elizabeth Halliday from Morgan Sindall and SCAPE’s Chris Clarke discussing how the industry can transition to Net Zero and respond to the climate emergency.

What was clear from the discussions is that more action and collaboration around sustainability in the built environment is needed and needed now.

What is Net Zero and why is it important?

The construction sector in the UK, depending on how you measure it, is responsible for 38% to 45% of the UK’s carbon footprint. The UK government has set a target to decarbonise all sectors of the economy by 2050. In Scotland, the target is 2045. It is a colossal challenge. But not an impossible one if people are willing to act now.

One of the important questions raised during the lively panel discussion was do organisations truly understand what Net Zero means for them, what that looks like and why moving forward to achieve it is so vitally important? Do they understand how to move forward? Do they have the skills required? Understanding your own carbon footprint as an organisation is the first step.

Is there a business case?

Convincing people to change the way they’ve done something for decades however is not an easy task, especially in a financially challenging landscape. Changing the mindset to bring Net Zero to the forefront of current and future projects is vital.

The business argument for decarbonising the built environment is compelling. There is a strong economic case for the local delivery of low carbon infrastructure projects. You will see an ultimate return on your investment in a net zero building as you get your money back with whole life cost savings. Organisations need to look at the long-term picture rather than focussing on the initial capital investment. Low carbon buildings are cheaper to run! If you think that a building has a 60-year life, you’ll get your money back in 10 to 15 years maximum.

In Scotland the public sector building standard obligates clients to look at the whole life of a project. It’s world-leading in this respect.

We need to move to a position where decisions are made around a carbon budget alongside our financial budgets. The panel agreed that Net Zero needs to be at the heart of decision making as well as project management and suggest, going forward, that financial strategy should be aligned with Net Zero strategy.

But it’s not just about new building projects. Retrofitting old buildings will be key to meeting the 2050 target set by the UK Government. Essentially it means making sure older buildings are energy efficient – which is no small task. Looking at existing stock and understanding the benefits of retrofitting buildings, instantly or progressively is something the panel underlined as essential for public sector bodies.

Most local authorities have declared a climate emergency and recognise the need for immediate intervention. But not all have shifted their financial models to reflect that. The ambition is clear but help is needed.

Recognising this, SCAPE Scotland has launched a procurement guide that enables public bodies to achieve the Scottish Government’s Net Zero Public Sector Building Standard for construction projects.

The guide is the first in the UK to offer a procurement and delivery vehicle for public sector construction projects.

“Do Something and Do it Now”

Panellist and SCAPE Performance and Improvement Director, Chris Clarke, urged organisations to be brave and take that first step.

“We can show people how. The low carbon journey starts with specification, with ambition, with targets and we support that process. Construction is a big source of emissions. Cutting emissions quickly is an urgent requirement. Morally we have a duty to support how that happens at SCAPE. We can provide procurement solutions that fit the bill. But what I say to organisations is just ‘do something and do it now’. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly but it does need to start now. We can help people accelerate what they are doing through procurement. To our clients we say ‘be brave, you are in control of a lot more than you think you are. Now set some ambitious targets and make it happen.”

Chris Clarke
Performance and Improvement Director, SCAPE