Housebuilder ‘takes a stand’ against green policy changes with new carbon positive goal

EXCLUSIVE: The Berkeley Group is defying a lack of green policy support for the construction industry by pledging to lead a new sustainability movement, after unveiling a landmark plan to become Britain's first carbon-positive housebuilder.

Berkeley has today (9 May) revealed a new two-year plan to deliver a 10% reduction in carbon emissions per person, while utilising an internal carbon tax and carbon offsetting schemes to reach the new ambitious target which will see the group offset more carbon than it produces.

Speaking exclusively with edie, Berkeley’s sustainability manager Louise Clarke said: “In part, the decision came about because of changes in legislation that occurred over the last couple of years. It’s given us a chance to take a stand and lead within the industry to put environmental sustainability at the forefront of the sector.”

Policy uncertainty

The FTSE-100 firm hopes that this decision to focus on sustainability during a tumultuous period of green policy support for the housebuilding sector will inspire others to follow suit. Last month, the influential public-private body Zero Carbon Hub was forced to shut down following the Government’s controversial decision to stop pursuing zero-homes targets.

The House of Lords has since blocked that decision to scrap the zero-carbon homes standard, but these sudden changes to key energy efficiency policies has left a deep feeling of uncertainty across the built environment sector. 

In order to pursue the group’s new carbon positive target in the current political landscape, Berkeley will be using ESOS frameworks to drive an immediate in-house energy efficiency transition, before elements such as carbon taxes and green tariffs are introduced after April 2017.

“ESOS has been useful in getting an external opinion of our actions, plans and sites,” added Berkeley’s fellow group sustainability manager  Helen Wickham. “We now know our best practices and which sites they’ve been utilised on – we’ll be using it to implement minimum standards across the board.

“If we’re not being pushed by regulation, we need to push ourselves.”

Smart decision

While Clarke and Wickham both admitted that an in-depth deployment plan of which technologies would be used to reach this goal was yet to be agreed upon, the group’s managing director Rob Perrins revealed that the use of green tariffs could be complemented by introducing renewable energy retrofits to create ‘smart homes’ of the future.

Perrins said: “From this point, Berkeley will reduce carbon emissions intensity by 10%, encourage the use of green energy tariffs, and invest in projects that reduce or eliminate emissions elsewhere – for example, by investing in renewable energy or the retrofit of existing homes, to go beyond offsetting our remaining emissions.

“In today’s world, customers see access to a good internet connection as a basic entitlement. Berkeley already equips all new homes with fibre optic infrastructure. We now want to be the leaders in providing high-quality, smart-enabled, future-proof homes that make the everyday lives of our customers easier.”

While the political landscape may not be acting as an enabler for Berkeley at the moment – a point recently echoed by construction firm AECOM – signs of a new, business-driven sustainability movement are beginning to emerge across the built environment sector.

An influx of private sector investment – which could see 8,000 zero-carbon homes introduced in the UK by 2018 – and the recent revelation of construction firm Carillion’s £33m profit from sustainability action – serve to highlight Perrins’ belief that making a business more lean, green and accountable is “simply the right thing to do”.

Regulatory Challenges at edie Live

From May 17-18, the edie Leaders Theatre at edie Live will explore policy regulations and drivers, and what is on the policy horizon in regards to green building policy and business sustainability.

One of the edie Leaders seminars will examine the importance of long-term guidance when complying to carbon regulations.

Find out more about edie Live 2016 and register to attend for free here.

 Matt Mace

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