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By Lee Chambers, Chief Commercial Officer, the Active Building Centre

2021 saw a lot of admirable and welcome discussion on the importance of reaching net-zero carbon, culminating, of course, in COP26 in Glasgow. We hosted our own virtual pavilion event on the built environment, as well as our own conference prior to COP, so we know first-hand how dedicated the industry is to helping reach these goals.  

The time for talking is over

A poignant  quote gleaned from the event we hosted was that “we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and the last to be able to do something about it”.

It’s a new year. The time for talking is over; now we need to take the difficult meaningful actions to reach the targets. We know that buildings make up a substantial proportion of emissions and, here at the ABC, we have a proven, evidenced-based methodology for cutting emissions and reducing energy consumption in buildings.

In recent years over 100 local authorities in the UK have declared climate emergencies, and this is a laudable recognition of the scale of the crisis facing us. But actual plans on what concrete steps can be taken at a local level are often thin on the ground. That’s where the ABC comes in.

40 % of carbon emissions come from buildings

One of the biggest things which councils and housing authorities have control over in the fight against climate change is their building stock. By building new housing to net-zero standards, they can prevent future emissions and, crucially, avoid  the future costs and upheaval of retrofitting these buildings. As my colleague Jo Atkinson says building to net-zero right in the first place is better than having to retrofit later.

A how to guide

Through our ongoing work with local authorities, housing associations and developers, we have established a series of blueprints that allow developments to be zero-carbon. We have the technologies and expert knowledge in our teams to make a house not only zero-carbon, but also a net producer of green energy, thereby easing constraints on the grid..

Developers  need to start at this blueprint stage. Post-planning is  too late. We know that even in brand-new housing stock, only 1% of homes meet net-zero targets. This is a problem which is totally avoidable, through the proper planning.

Live projects which show it can be done

We’re working with councils in England (in Stroud and Wokingham) and Wales (in Flintshire and Neath Port Talbot) to help make their new developments net-zero carbon. A part of this which always seems to surprise people is the orientation of buildings on the site to maximise light exposure for energy generation, while using the site intelligently to reduce the potential for overheating. You can’t fix this with retrofitting, so it’s vital that we come in during the pre-planning stage to really get the maximum energy efficiency out of any new development.

That being said, if the best time to retrofit a house is before it’s been built, the second-best is right now. We work with model homes built to various historic standards to measure the best way of matching up various technologies to minimise energy consumption and make even older homes as close to net zero as possible.

The tech is already out there

There are huge gains to be made from adding solar panels, heat pumps and smart systems to existing housing stock. As some of the biggest landlords in the country, local authorities and housing associations therefore have an opportunity to make a major contribution in averting the climate emergency. And, of course, by making tenants’ homes more energy efficient, they also help cut their bills and therefore help to improve their quality of life by reducing fuel poverty

2022 the year of action

So – the year ahead is going to be a challenging one. Councils and developers are going to have to break through the pain barrier of understanding how to make their building stock properly zero-carbon. Fortunately for them, we’ve already done the hard work, and are ready to conect and  partner with local authorities around the UK to help them keep that new year’s resolution to reach net-zero.