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New Net-Zero Estate Playbook plots decarbonisation of UK Government’s buildings

The UK Government has published a new ‘playbook’ detailing how it plans to decarbonise public sector buildings including schools, hospitals and prisons in line with national net-zero targets.

The UEA's Enterprise Centre, pictured, is used as a best-practice case study in the report. Image: BDP

The UEA’s Enterprise Centre, pictured, is used as a best-practice case study in the report. Image: BDP

The document, published today (23 November) by the Cabinet Office, outlines the practices which should be adopted to deliver the 78% reduction in emissions from the public sector estate that the Government has promised by 2035.

Government-owned buildings notably account for around 2% of the UK’s total annual domestic emissions, or around 9% of the UK’s total annual building-related emissions. The Government’s estate is the largest in the UK.

Guidance included in the document, which is intended for public sector organisations and government workers, covers all steps of decarbonisation, from updating energy and emissions audits, to securing necessary funding, to installing mature technologies and testing emerging solutions, to monitoring progress post-installation and, finally, offsetting residual emissions.

There is advice for both new-build projects and for upgrading or retrofitting existing buildings – including listed and other historic buildings.

On new buildings, the report outlines how developers can meet the Future Buildings Standard, which will come into effect from 2025. There is also specific advice on topics including rooftop solar and corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy; building in energy efficiency and choosing low-carbon heating systems.

On this latter point, the playbook – unlike the recently-published Heat and Buildings Strategy – is technology-agnostic and points out that different solutions will suit different contexts. Whether developers are looking at heat pumps, district heating, biofuels or hydrogen, the report recommends that they undertake an updated assessment as soon as possible.

The playbook recommends that developers work with suppliers to procure low-carbon building materials and services, but stops short of setting a target for reducing embodied carbon. The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) recently published what is thought to be the first UK-specific whole-life carbon roadmap for the sector, amid growing concerns that businesses are failing to address emissions from materials.

Crucially, the Playbook states that there will be “future versions” of the document with “further guidance” in the years to come.

For existing buildings, the Playbook acknowledges that most of the buildings which will be standing in the UK post-2035 and post-2050 already exist – so retrofitting will be needed at pace and scale.

The publication of the Playbook comes less than a month after the Government provided the first update to its ‘Greening the Government’ framework since the UK legislated for net-zero.

The framework had always included measures to reduce water consumption, waste and greenhouse gas emissions. It has now set stricter decarbonisation targets and sustainable procurement targets, and there are new requirements for departments to produce Climate Change Adaptation Strategies and plans for restoring nature.

Taking place THIS THURSDAY: edie’s online Net-Zero Carbon Inspiration Sessions

Readers interested in learning more about net-zero delivery for their own organisations are urged to register for edie’s digital Net-Zero Carbon Inspiration Sessions, taking place on Thursday 25 November.

Sustainability specialists from Pukka Herbs, EDF Energy, Virgin Media O2, Costain and the Zero Carbon Forum have been confirmed amongst the first speakers for this free-to-attend, half-day webinar event. Click here for full details and to register. 

Sarah George

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