London can lead the UK’s net-zero ambition as a world beating sustainable city

Boris Johnson's party conference address confirmed an already established belief that the green economy is no longer a fringe idea but is ripe for centre stage. The government is wholeheartedly committing to our net-zero targets - and is now detailing the tangible measures that can make this a reality.

London can lead the UK’s net-zero ambition as a world beating sustainable city

A new long-term strategy for the UK economy is a pertinent signal that the government is placing big bets on science and innovation to lead us out of the pandemic, a recession, and the climate emergency. 

The pandemic has thrust the green economy into the spotlight by demonstrating that the way we functioned before Covid-19, with disregard for the planet, the environment, and public health could not be sustained, whilst also highlighting just how adaptable we are. Now we’re presented with a massive opportunity not to just ‘build back better’ but greener, healthier and smarter.

In every defining societal moment, there are places that emerge as setting the agenda and driving the best practice. London currently has the resources and credentials to pioneer the net-zero movement. A result of its unique ecosystem seldom found elsewhere in the world.

London is uniquely placed to pull the same levers that ignited its tech boom to build one of the world’s most sustainable cities. Here, we have influential local Government and policymakers, City Hall, a tech sector and the financiers to unite behind the net-zero objectives. This is rare and it is these crucial tenets that combined – are what will make innovation happen, before it is too late. 

Uplifting London’s sustainability is not only important environmentally but also economically, with the city’s low carbon economy worth £40bn in sales – 5% of London’s total GVA. The unfortunate truth is businesses will rarely make the change towards low carbon supply chains and processes if it flies in the face of financial interests. London’s key stakeholders have both the resources and influence to provide the economic incentives to push progress, faster than others and lead the UK in net-zero.

The financial firepower of the city also means its influence can stretch far beyond London and can also shift the economics and rewards of impact funds, renewable energy usage and green-tech, nationally. Imagine the tech sector fully mobilised and driving real solutions to our climate emergency. We stand at the forefront of implementing the innovation and creativity needed to fix the big global challenges that stare us in the face.  At Canary Wharf Group (CWG) this is something we have been supporting for almost a decade through our tech community at One Canada Square, Level39.

Looking from that 39th floor in Canary Wharf across London’s famous skyline, it is easy to see the huge opportunity the built environment has to address these challenges. Whilst there is undoubtedly tremendous leadership in our sector, collectively, we can do so much more. According to the World Green Building Council, 39% of outdoor air pollution can be attributed to buildings – 28% of which is building in operation (heating, cooling, lighting), and the further 11% on construction.  

London has a real opportunity to capitalise on this moment and act, as do all cities as powerhouses where innovation is driven. The Capital is also home to great industry bodies and organisations, such as the UK Green Building Council, the Better Buildings Partnership and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that are campaigning for, and, delivering the practical solutions to set and lead the sustainability agenda. 

There are now a record number of BREEAM certified ‘Outstanding’ developments in London which are helping to create sustainable environments for the future of work across Europe. CWG is at the forefront of this, and completed its first BREEAM Outstanding office development, One & Five Bank Street, this summer. At the end of this year, we will have delivered more certified sustainable space than any other London developer.

Across the Estate, we have taken major steps to reduce our impact on the environment. Canary Wharf has run on 100% renewable electricity purchased since 2012. We have sent zero waste to landfill from our managed areas since 2009. In 2019 we were awarded Plastic Free Community status from Surfers Against Sewage, the first commercial centre in the world to achieve this. Our new district, Wood Wharf, is home to further high performing buildings and has been designed to offer some of the most energy-efficient and healthy – residential, commercial and public spaces – anywhere in the world. At Wood Wharf, we are also increasing the use of clean energy, reducing air pollution, and it is home to first-class recycling facilities, as well as our award-winning campaign, Breaking the Plastic Habit. 

We are also setting out our own net-zero future. By the end of this year, we will publish our Net Zero Carbon Pathway as part of the Better Buildings Partnership Climate Commitment and in June this year, our first science-based targets were ratified by SBTI. These targets involve our tenants and our supply chain, and we are the first commercial district in the world to set such targets. We will reduce our emissions by 65%, by 2030, with the aim of being net-zero by 2040. It is an ongoing journey with our tenants our customers and our suppliers.

We recognise that net-zero targets can’t be achieved in isolation which is why CWG are partners in Supply Chain Sustainability School where I chair the Climate Action Group. A net-zero future, by its definition, involves all of us, and places such as Canary Wharf that involve their whole community in this journey will lead the way.

Organisations and individuals stepping up to this collective mission is crucial because the built environment is made up of complex, legacy, supply chains and commercial contracts which can be hard to navigate. You cannot simply place tariffs on organisations to become ‘net zero’ and expect them to react. A collaborative approach is required, with organisations needing assistance to create the right economic climate to deliver a more sustainable future.  

London is a colossus which can use all of its resources and might to drive a truly transformative break from the past and supercharge the green economy, thrust the UK towards its net-zero targets and become a world-leading sustainable city, but we need to do this together, and we need to do this now. 

edie’s Net-Zero November and Net-Zero Live

Through dedicated virtual events, online articles, business guides, podcasts and masterclasses, Net-Zero November will help sustainability and energy professionals on their net-zero journey; from agreeing and setting targets through to scaling-up on-site solutions and empowering others in the business to accelerate change.

This month-long programme of content is brought to you in association with edie’s headline partner EDF Energy and will include the virtual Net-Zero Live, edie’s flagship event which is all about accelerating climate action.

View all of edie’s Net-Zero November content here.

Register for your free Net-Zero Live pass here.


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