New Guidance Published to Decarbonise UK Government Buildings

By admin In Environment On January 7, 2022

The Cabinet office has published new guidance in the form of an 88-page handbook which is aimed at decarbonising public sector buildings including schools, hospitals, prisons, offices and job centres. The UK Government’s new ‘playbook’ details how it plans to help departments and agencies to maximise their contribution to making the UK a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050.

The publication of the ‘playbook’ comes less than a month after the Government provided the first update to its ‘Greening the Government’ framework since the UK legislated for net-zero.

Measures such as reducing water consumption, waste and greenhouse gas emissions have always been included in this framework, but stricter decarbonisation targets and sustainable procurement targets have now been set. There are also new requirements for departments to produce Climate Change Adaptation Strategies and plans for restoring nature.

The UK public sector manages more than 300,000 individual properties according to the Net Zero Estate Playbook, which is the largest property portfolio in the UK. It is currently responsible for generating 2% of the nation’s carbon emissions or around 9% of the UK’s total annual building-related emissions.

The ‘playbook’ calls on departments and agencies to lead by example and outlines the practises that should be adopted in order to reduce the public sector estate’s environmental impact and deliver the 78% reduction in emissions that the Government has promised by 2035.

Guidance included in the document covers all steps of decarbonisation, from updating energy and emissions audits, to securing necessary funding, to installing mature technologies and testing emerging solutions, to monitoring progress post-installation and, finally, offsetting residual emissions.

The UK government is keen to take the lead and show other governments that it is taking its commitment to net zero by 2050 seriously. Being the first major country to legislate for net zero and as the host of COP26 recently, the UK has been leading the way in securing global action to tackle climate change. Giving departments, the public sector, and government property professionals clear guidance on the design, implementation, and monitoring of Net Zero strategies and delivery programmes will help to make the UK’s national infrastructure greener.

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay said decarbonising public buildings was “absolutely crucial” if the nation was going to meet its environmental targets.

He said:

“Property professionals should use the playbook to turn best-practice into standard-practice. It will put the public estate in a stronger position to deliver a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035, and fully net zero by 2050”.

The Net Zero Estate Playbook will ensure that a coordinated approach is applied across public buildings with the use of, for example, solar panels, LED lighting and greener building materials.

The ‘playbook’ also highlights examples of model projects, such as the Department for Work and Pensions’ hub in Tŷ Taf, which has been recently opened in Wales. The new site is leading the way in sustainability with energy efficient solar-powered technology and has electric vehicle charging points for staff, putting it at the forefront of the UK Government’s commitment to using Ultra Low Emission transport.

The guidance, which is applicable to both existing and new properties, will also assist the Department of Health and associated public bodies to improve the sustainability of their hospitals with the use of low carbon materials and an improved understanding of a building’s environmental impact over its whole lifespan.

All decision makers are encouraged to properly investigate the benefits of refurbishing or retro-fitting existing buildings as an alternative to “automatically” commissioning new-build properties. The ‘playbook’ acknowledges that most of the buildings which will be standing in the UK post-2035 and post-2050 already exist so retrofitting will be needed at pace and scale. Advice is also given for listed and other historic buildings.

The handbook outlines how developers of new buildings can meet the Future Buildings Standard, which is due to come into effect from 2025. There is specific advice for topics such as rooftop solar and corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy and for building in energy efficiency and choosing low-carbon heating systems.

The ‘playbook’ is different from the recently published Heat and Buildings Strategy in that it is unbiased in the specific technologies it focuses on, pointing out that different solutions will suit different contexts. The report recommends that developers undertake an updated assessment as soon as possible whether they are looking at heat pumps, district heating, biofuels or hydrogen.

Though the playbook stops short of setting a target for reducing embodied carbon it does recommend that developers work with suppliers to procure low-carbon building materials. Recently, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), concerned that businesses were failing to address emissions from materials, published what is thought to be the first UK-specific whole life carbon roadmap for the sector. Importantly, it is clearly stated in the ‘playbook’ that there will be “future versions” of the document with “further guidance” in the years to come.

All existing policies, such as the 25-Year Environmental Plan, the Greening Government Commitments, and the Net Zero Strategy (published in 2021) are supported by the Net Zero Estate Playbook.

The publication of the ‘playbook’ came after COP26 concluded with 197 Parties agreeing the Glasgow Climate Pact to urgently keep 1.5°C alive and finalise the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement.

The pact will accelerate the pace of climate action this decade, with all countries agreeing to return improved emissions targets in 2022, as well as doubling climate finance for action on adapting to climate change by 2025.