If we want net zero results, we need to deliver

Following the recent FOOTPRINT+ event held on Hove’s seafront, newly appointed CEO of the UKAA shares his experience of the conference.

Hove seafront where the FOOTPRINT+ zero net carbon future event was held - UKAA | BTR News
Hove seafront where the FOOTPRINT+ zero net carbon future event was held.

FOOTPRINT+ recently held its first property event for a zero carbon future on the Hove seafront. Attended by many across the property industry, newly appointed CEO of the UKAA shares insights and his experience of the conference.

By Brendan Geraghty, CEO, UKAA the UK Apartment Association

Sitting and listening to speakers at the recent FOOTPRINT+ Conference, held on the Hove Seafront, I was struck by the symbolism of the location at the edge of land and sea. Looking out over the vast seascape, we came together to consider our challenging future in the face of the climate crisis. Is this dynamic water, that offers so much, part of our solution or, as an island nation, one of our greatest natural threats? Climate change is forcing us to get comfortable living with such paradoxes. 

Sustainability was the focus of the event, with buildings at its core. The conference itself was held in a large-scale popup, meaning that it will only be the earthworms who will complain about a temporary loss of habitat after its removal (along with a single protestor on this point). How can we hope to minimise our environmental impact in a similar way in property development?

The key topics at FOOTPRINT+ were the climate crisis, carbon reduction strategies and technical solutions. The mood was optimistic when discussing zero carbon solutions for buildings ‘in use’, with many delegates feeling that we now know how to do this now. So, it comes down to a need to urgently apply this knowledge. What a huge step forward.

Moving forward, there will be a great deal more scrutiny of buildings to ensure they perform as designed and achieve net zero carbon operational efficiency. This will turn a spotlight on systemic design, construction quality and integrated building management. If we want net zero results, we will be responsible for delivering it. 

From an embodied carbon perspective, however, the mood was more sombre. This is the new frontier and few would deny that it is very challenging. We are beginning to understand how to lower embodied carbon in buildings, but net zero embodied carbon seems a very long way off.

That said, at least we have clear objectives. To my mind, this is a supply chain governance issue: the G of ESG. To deliver this will take time and involve capital, government and the entire built environment sector. That’s a big task. Huge, in fact. But not impossible. After all, we did it with FSC timber, so a model exists. Now we need to do it again – this time with carbon.

For me, the best part of the conference was witnessing the clear shift in thinking away from the pursuit of silver bullet solutions. There is a broad recognition that the answer to the climate crisis lies in us joining many dots to create an integrated and co-ordinated response. If I may continue with the ballistic analogy, we now need multiple silver pellets – enough to fill a whole shotgun cartridge.

Of course, the solution isn’t just limited to carbon reduction. This is simply the most mature element of the ESG agenda. Our sustainable future will also rely on developing our understanding of the value of wider environmental issues, social impact and the governance of our supply chains. 

Expectations around ESG are already growing. Institutional finance is very focused on it. This along with the increasing customer-centricity of the Build to Rent sector continues to lead the transition to net zero carbon and positive social impact in residential real estate. Increasing customer focus will provide not just a competitive edge but also a deeper understanding of social impact and the economic value of serving customers and community well.

As evidence of lifecycle costing, net zero carbon in use and future proofing grow in importance, so too will the governance of our supply chain and the management of our Build to Rent assets. Value will be perceived in both asset and overall performance terms. 

As this continues to evolve, UKAA will provide leadership and support to our members in pursuit of best practice and deliverable solutions.

The climate threat is huge, and urgency is required, but if we act boldly then there is still room for optimism.