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Berkeley, 21st October 2021 – Gloucestershire lived up to its reputation as “the greenest county in Britain” at the Active Building Centre’s inaugural COP Gloucestershire on 21st October 2021.

The sold-out event brought together industry and political experts from Gloucestershire and beyond to discuss the progress, challenges and opportunities in reaching net zero targets through keynote speeches and breakout sessions, all hosted in the unique environs of the Active Building Centre’s John Huggett Building, a decommissioned power station.

These were complemented by tours of the ABC’s state-of-the-art model homes, to demonstrate the technologies discussed throughout the day.

Highlights included remarks from Siobhan Baillie MP, and a keynote address from UKRI’s Sam Stacey.

Panel discussions focused on themes including how the construction industry can evolve, and where the leadership to reach net zero will come from.

Below, we explore the lessons of the headline sessions, and what business can do reach net zero.

“Build back active, not just better”

The opening session included Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity and the brains behind Forest Green Rovers FC’s move to carbon neutral.

Panellists recognised the importance of active buildings in any transition to net zero, with Tata Steel making clear that this should be a priority as we rebuild from the pandemic.

The other uniting theme of all the panellists, and the work of the ABC more broadly, was the focus on education.

Arguing that “people on the ground are intimidated by words like sustainability and ‘net zero’, and it’s our job to break down these barriers,” Nicola Bird, founder of AccXel, the first industry-led construction education centre, made clear that without new workers being trained to understand and, crucially, explain net zero and its aims, the move to net zero in buildings and more widely would be much more difficult.

“Tremendously confident that we can achieve our aims”

In his keynote address, Sam Stacey, Challenge Director of Transforming Construction at UKRI, praised the work of the Active Building Centre and the construction sector more widely, saying that “The ask for the ABC was to reduce whole life cost of buildings by 33% and double the speed at which assets are delivered, and halve carbon emissions. We’re achieving this. These things do work.”

Striking an encouraging tone, Stacey said that the goals of net zero in construction, and reducing buildings’ emissions, are more attainable than we may seem: “it’s not crazy, it’s not expensive, we can see how it works.”

He noted that the ABC’s technology is on course to improve the efficiency of heat pumps which could fundamentally change how the technology can be used.

By addressing these concerns head-on, Stacey hopes to make clear to businesses that net-zero won’t affect their long term profit, and may even present a chance for more commercial opportunity, not less.

He argued that “Not only is it feasible to achieve our targets, but there are also clear business opportunities.”

“We can’t reach Net Zero without you”

After the industry panel discussions dug deep into exactly what the construction industry needs to do and how, delegates reconvened for closing remarks from leading local voices, ending on a positive note by highlighting the opportunities which the Active Building Centre and its technologies present, while not shrinking away from the challenges that still remain.

Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie, who secured an endorsement video for the event from the Prime Minister, highlighted the importance of thinking of net zero pledges as commitments to our neighbours and each other, rather than vague statements.

She said that individual actions will solve the climate crisis, and business leaders should resolve to use their power to take such actions.

Jeremy Drew of Newland Homes showed the simple changes which construction firms can make to help make buildings active, highlighting that solar is “surprisingly cost effective,” echoing compere Robert Llewellyn’s statements earlier in the day.

Drew also highlighted the difference which charging points and underfloor heating can make, with his firm pledging to include these in all new builds.

Concluding proceedings, ABC CEO Ron Cowley stressed the importance of belief and evidence. “It’s not enough just to believe that we can reach our targets. We need the evidence of what works to do it. And the Active Building Centre’s technologies give us that evidence.”

The beginning, not the end

As over 150 delegates left the Active Building Centre in the stunning Severn Estuary, the clear conclusion was that this would be the first of many Gloucestershire COPs.

The importance of meeting the net zero goals was not diminished, but the path to doing to so was made much clearer.