In the wake of Davos, what lies ahead for 2020?
From the breakfast table to the boardroom, 2019 saw the conversation around the climate emergency take root at every layer of society.
Last summer, the UK was the first major economy to set a legally binding net zero carbon target, leading to a wave of similar commitments from businesses spanning multiple industries. But the real driver for all of this has been the rise in public consciousness; the power of the everyday citizen has, and will continue to, transform the sustainability agenda.
Last year, perhaps more so than any other, the property sector was forced to wake up to its own contribution to climate change. Contributing nearly 40% of total carbon emissions, the industry has an absolute commercial and moral imperative to take action. In 2020, we expect to see industry-wide uptake of net-zero carbon goals, and for those organisations who have already set them, we anticipate more roadmaps, detailing how these net-zero goals will be achieved. The true pioneers will be those that go the extra mile and fundamentally reshape the way their business works in order to meet these commitments, and value meaningful progress as highly as financial performance.
As hosts of the COP26 UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow later this year, attention on UK environmental issues will only increase. This will be true for the Government, who are likely to use the summit to highlight its commitment to international solutions – a much-needed antidote to any negativity surrounding Brexit that may be felt during trade negotiations. This growing focus, alongside the increasing threat and disastrous impact of wildfires, flooding and poor air quality, is resulting in higher demand for transparency and honesty on the strategies and progress of individual organisations, as well as the governance that supports them.
Once again, the real estate sector is no exception, with stakeholders calling for clarity on the impact of buildings on the communities and places around them. Failure of businesses to ensure risks are adequately mitigated will only add fuel to the fire of larger social fissures, and create a challenging operating environment for buildings and their tenants. We predict that 2020 will be the tipping point towards more sustainable and responsible decision-making that incorporates a wider stakeholder focus, with thinking around societal and environmental impact at its core – reflected in the ‘Better Business’ theme at Davos this year.
For progress to stick, and to move at the extreme pace required, we will need to see the whole value chain shift to take greater ownership of environmental performance. We expect to see supply chains and delivery processes adapt, with more effective use of data and artificial intelligence becoming increasingly key to driving down the carbon footprint. The megatrend of the circular economy will grow, as the way in which we approach design and construction needs to become more sustainable; the focus shifting to use of fewer or new materials with lower embodied carbon and new construction techniques.
Moreover, the implementation of the Design for Performance approach, being led by the Better Buildings Partnership, promises hugely positive environmental impact as demonstrated by the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) scheme it is based on. Meanwhile, the UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) recently announced energy performance targets for commercial offices set out a trajectory of change that will need to be adopted as a priority if we are to meet net-zero carbon goals.
One of the key challenges we face is retrofitting the existing stock of buildings, and with only two refurbishment cycles between now and 2050, early action will be needed to decide the best route to achieving net-zero carbon performance.
The theme underpinning all of this is collaboration. We cannot afford to move slowly: the 2020s need to be the decade of delivery and this will only be achieved if we work together. It is no longer enough for a business to just make a profit; buildings are a part of a community that has the opportunity to deliver a positive environmental, social and economic impact. Embedding this thinking will allow the sector to unlock new potential and deliver the changes that are needed.Sophie Walker