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LCAW EP100 2022

Energy efficiency measures will lead the way to net zero buildings

12 August 2022, 11:30 BST 3 min read

Emily Parish

Energy efficiency measures will lead the way to net zero buildings.

In the climate decade, we need to make all new buildings net zero by 2030 and whole lifecycle net zero by 2050 to reduce the impact of the built environment on global emissions. This means accounting for the embodied carbon of the materials and construction processes associated with buildings. But progress in the built environment is falling behind and sector-related energy demand and emissions are continuing to grow as demand for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, appliances and construction rises.

The IEA calls energy efficiency ‘A source of enormous untapped efficiency potential’, so where is the action?  The built environment accounts for 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions globally, making it clear for the need to change how we construct and operate our buildings if we are to reach net zero.

Climate Group hosted an event as part of London Climate Action Week in London’s iconic Shard building, where EP100 member Mitie is headquartered, to discuss the benefits of energy efficiency which builds resilience into corporate decarbonisation plans.

The energy efficiency imperative

We cannot hit next zero without adopting ambitious energy efficiency measures. It should be the first step in a company’s journey to decarbonisation. Energy optimisation reduces costs and emissions while increasing productivity and environmental quality in the workplace. Globally, energy efficiency can achieve more than 40% of the energy-related emissions cuts needed to reach climate goals by 2040.

“Non-domestic buildings account for around a quarter of UK building emissions, so improving the energy efficiency of commercial buildings is vital for the UK to reach net zero and for businesses to reduce both carbon and cost. By fully optimising buildings and investing in low carbon heat and power solutions, business can help decarbonise Britain."

Mike Sewell, Mitie’s Plan Zero Director

Energy efficient buildings can lead to happier and healthier employees through the use of passive design and optimal working temperatures, with better working conditions resulting in reduced absenteeism and staff turnover, as well as increased productivity. This not only provides better wellbeing for staff but reduces costs of absent and disengaged staff.

Progress is being made to reduce emissions and fossil fuels with the use of more building codes. These include minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) which require buildings to adhere to certain energy ratings, plus minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) for energy-using products like air conditioners and heat pumps. But there’s still much more to be done.

“Good indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency measures are important to workplace design as they support physical health, mental wellbeing, and overall productivity. Healthy indoor living environments can be created through optimising temperature, thermal comfort, humidity, light, noise and air quality.

"By designing spaces with energy efficiency and wellbeing in mind, not only will it positively impact environmental quality that drives significant improvements in mental health, but it can also reduce both respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and allergies.”

Kavita Kumari, Associate Director, Cundall

New builds vs retrofitting

New buildings are more energy efficient, but 80% of buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built. We must prioritise upgrading the buildings we already have in order to avoid high embodied carbon emissions for decades to come.

One quarter of a building’s energy-related emissions comes from embodied carbon, or the emissions associated with making a building like the materials, manufacturing and construction. To stay in line with a 1.5C scenario, the built environment sector needs to account for its embodied carbon which means retrofitting the building stock we already have instead of demolishing it. Taking this whole lifecycle approach is critical as retrofitting halves the amount of carbon emissions.

The business case

Energy efficiency measures save money on energy bills and operational costs and should be the first priority for businesses making the net zero transition. Technologies such as LED lighting, insulation, electrification, and HVAC improvements can all lead to decarbonisation in existing buildings, whilst reducing costs.

It’s not all about the bottom-line though. Investors are increasingly interested in Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings when making decisions on investments and to attract and retain tenants in their buildings. Energy efficient equipment, cooling and heating and improved insulation are all at the top of the list to develop the energy performance of their assets. Policy changes in the UK to improve energy efficiency standards in buildings are showcasing the need to progress and get ahead of the curve, with a minimum EPC ‘C’ rating required by 2027. This only intensifies the need for investors, landlord, tenants and occupiers to work together to reduce our emissions and lead the way in the built environment.

“Invest together for mutual outcomes”

Kerry Conneely, Head of UK Facilities Management, ISG

As a society, we're becoming increasingly drawn to socially and environmentally conscious employers, with employees often seeking jobs that align with their own moral goals. Therefore, energy efficiency in our buildings isn’t just about decarbonisation and economical savings, it’s also about caring for employees and retaining talent.

Energy efficiency provides the tools we need to decarbonise. We can implement these changes today and have the power to change tomorrow.

Become a world leader on corporate energy efficiency action

EP100 members Mitie and Cundall are taking the lead with energy efficiency measures being at the centre of their climate strategies. We need more businesses from the global community to join them in trailblazing the way to net zero through energy efficiency.

To find out more, email EP100@theclimategroup.org.

This article is based on insights from our event as part of London Climate Action Week 2022, organised by Climate Group on Wednesday, 29th June 2022.