News 14th December 2022 Net Zero

Over the past two years, Workman’s ESG experts have created Net Zero Asset Plans across 2.5 million sq. ft of commercial real estate.

By collaborating with clients and property management teams to create and implement bespoke Net Zero Asset Plans to meet carbon emission targets, our teams have gained a wealth of boots-on-the-ground experience.

Each Net Zero roadmap is a unique journey to creating zero-carbon buildings, providing recommendations and direction, while also collating existing data or identifying gaps.

Here, Hedley Jones, our Partner, Head of Refurbishment and Redevelopment and Charles Gibbons, Associate, share their most significant learnings, gained by creating real-world strategies across multiple assets.

Set the baseline for data – but don’t forget the hybrid-work factor

Collation and availability of data is the key starting point. Information about the base-build construction and current energy use provides an initial view of the asset. Capturing current and historic metering data validates the energy modelling, enabling precise recommendations for the asset.

Data benchmarking within the past three years might not reflect today’s typical asset occupancy or use. We must acknowledge that assets may not be occupied in the same pre-pandemic way. Assessing Net Zero goals now is crucial to understand how hybrid working impacts the journey to Net Zero.

Get occupiers onside – it’s a win-win

Engaging with occupiers to optimise energy usage and intelligent space utilisation can significantly contribute to achieving Net Zero goals.

We’ve evaluated several spaces with active systems and fully lit unoccupied sections like meeting rooms. In a period where energy costs rise and Net Zero goals emphasise energy efficiency, minimising wastage is crucial. To attain this, implementing intelligent building controls are crucial for systems to adapt to occupancy levels automatically.

Occupiers can efficiently handle changing occupancy by actively overseeing their space systems. This prevents unnecessary energy use and unwarranted service charge hikes.

Give up the gas – think air source heat pumps

Half of all the Net Zero Asset Plans so far undertaken by our ESG teams have been at buildings which still used gas-fired plant of some description. The usual recommendation is for removal and replacement of gas with heat pump technology and electric systems. This can present technical constraints and higher install costs which needs careful balancing against reductions in running costs and operational carbon. So, while removal of gas is in line with policy direction for stopping the sale of gas boilers by 2030, each building must be analysed individually.

Many buildings primarily rely on gas for hot water, but this can transition to heat pumps or electric heaters after evaluating demand. Given altered occupancy patterns, installing on-demand electric water heaters at specific tap locations is often sufficient.

Test permeability – it’s not just hot air

The tighter the building’s construction, the less energy is wasted through structural openings, reducing strain on heating and cooling systems. During construction or renovation, it’s straightforward to conduct tests to validate against the design objectives.

For older buildings, where the original air test value cannot be obtained, an air-permeability test can still be carried out. However, it will be more challenging within an occupied building. Our ESG experts can give recommendations and a guide as to how to air test an occupied building and what positive impacts this can have on performance as well as EPC ratings.

Light it up – make the switch to LEDs

Fluorescent lights and other non-LED light sources are still surprisingly prevalent in a large number of properties and occupier spaces.

This generally relates to how recently a fit out has taken place. LEDs are typically the default choice now. However, in older fit outs, there might still be lamps that can be easily switched to LED equivalents, resulting in substantial energy savings. Switching to LED lighting achieves energy savings of between 50% to 70% compared to old technologies, according to the Climate Group. Further efficiencies can be made by using daylight-dimming options where there is good natural light and smart technology. This ensures that only those areas with occupants are active.

Choose renewables – but only if the space fits

On-site renewables like solar PV can lower grid energy purchases. However, their viability depends on addressing energy demand reduction through building efficiency first. The availability of roof space is a key factor. It is often limited by services plant or conservation area constraints, associated with pitched roof orientation.

What a load of rubbish – check the waste strategy

As well as examining onsite energy and carbon, our ESG experts examine the wider Net Zero picture. Along with operational energy, aspects including the waste strategy have to be considered. Waste may be processed away from the building, but the associated carbon impact is still a relevant factor.

Most assessed sites have good waste strategies, aligning recycling collections with common waste streams like paper, plastic, and glass. However, there’s room for improvement, particularly in enhancing segregation for recycling and diversion from landfill. Occupier engagement programmes can help minimise waste at the source.

Get granular – use submetering

In retail sites where our teams crafted Net Zero Asset Plans, occupiers tended to prioritise upgrades for front-of-house and customer-facing systems. However, back-of-house and service spaces often still operate older heating and lighting systems.

Here, submetering and data visibility is an incredibly useful intervention. Achieving targets relies on data control and management. Encouraging occupiers’ buy-in for targets requires effective engagement at an individual level.

Knowing the energy usage of individual tenants, based on the granularity of submetering, means that our experts can track and understand what energy is being used through lighting, heating, or small plug-in electricals throughout the whole asset, helping identify and share best practice.

Check timings – align Net Zero strategies with maintenance schedules

Most Net Zero Asset Plan recommendations can align with Planned Preventative Maintenance schedules. This allows for seamless integration, ensuring timely replacement of end-of-life equipment with energy-efficient alternatives.

Improvements often incur service charges or non-capex costs, especially when replacing existing systems. Asset managers might opt for capital expenditure to enhance a replaced system. However, our primary focus is to align improvements with maintenance schedules.

Larger more disruptive works, such as replacement of on floor systems, should be aligned with occupier break or term dates. This often provides an opportunity for landlords to put bigger interventions in place, and opens up the conversation around improved performance (capital expenditure) and reduced energy costs (occupier benefit).

And finally – take a standardised approach

Having long endorsed the need for a common industry standard, Workman is keen to support The UK Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard, led by organisations including BBP, BRE, the Carbon Trust, CIBSE, IStructE, LETI, RICS, RIBA, and UKGBC, who are collaborating on a project to develop a standard for verifying UK buildings as Net Zero.

This is a significant and crucial step in simplifying and standardising the approach for Net Zero carbon in property and development. It will be based on current evidence as a starting point for the target-setting process.

To find out how to set your assets on a pathway to Net Zero, have a look at our latest achievements here: