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Zero carbon targets are unrealistic, warns survey

A survey of the UK development industry, shows that 75% of the industry - which accounts for nearly half of all UK carbon emissions - does not believe the government's zero carbon targets for the sector are realistic.
The survey's findings demonstrate the feeling among respondents that regulation is most likely to drive progress in future, highlighting the need for closer industry-government collaboration.

Called Hitting the Green Wall...and Beyond, the report is a collaboration between the British Property Federation, international law firm Taylor Wessing, and specialist research and communications consultancy Spada. More than 7,000 individuals were surveyed.

Despite difficult economic conditions, the survey finds the importance accorded to sustainability has held steady during the recession and highlights the increasing prevalence of green agreements.

Key findings of the report include:

  • All sectors of the UK development industry are sceptical of government's policy objectives. Some 76% of respondents think that government's plans for making all new housing zero carbon by 2016 are unrealistic. Around 73% believe plans to make new commercial property zero carbon by 2019 are unrealistic. However, respondents are also convinced that the 'stick' of regulation is most likely to drive progress in future, highlighting the need for closer industry-government collaboration.

  • The importance accorded to sustainability remains high, despite the recession, with more than 68% saying sustainability was either very or highly important. When compared with the 2009 report, importance dipped only marginally by 3%, a sign of durable commitment in the face of a severe recession. Contractors, however, reported a 10% dip in importance.

  • Sustainability strategies are now widespread, but success is frequently not measured. More than 70% of those surveyed had a sustainability strategy in place but only around half of respondents set internal targets, while only approximately a third set targets related to business dealings.

  • Top management take responsibility for sustainability. More than 80% of respondents said senior management are responsible for sustainability. It is unclear who supports the senior management team as only a minority say they employ dedicated staff (36.18%) or consultants (36.05%).

  • The industry acknowledges that it is not communicating well with regards to sustainability. Only a minority of respondents say they are communicating sustainability performance quite well or very well to internal (47.4%) or external (33.7%) audiences.

  • A plethora of benchmarking tools exist, but these all measure diverse factors and there is little common application. EPCs, BREEAM and ISO 14001 are all popular. Sustainability is reported on by the majority of respondents (72.33%) but across varying timeframes and in a multitude of ways.

  • Improved operational efficiency and greater flexibility of use are most likely to motivate respondents to retro-fit existing stock in order to meet sustainability goals. The industry seems unconcerned about future energy security.

    'With an industry that is sceptical about carbon reduction targets, closer collaboration between government and the industry is essential if these are to be met. Government will need to work with all sectors to understand fragmented views and identify why certain sectors feel the targets are more achievable than others,' said Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation.

    'Government faces a huge challenge in striking the right balance between carrot and stick in order to secure its sustainability objectives, while the industry must engage as much as possible and attempt to meet and exceed targets'.

    'The burden and complexity of regulation affecting sustainability at EU and national levels will continue to increase,' said Helen Garthwaite, UK head of Construction and Engineering at law firm Taylor Wessing.

    She added: 'The industry believes the stick of regulation is necessary to drive the pace of change, alongside fiscal incentives and other measures. Non-binding green agreements are growing in popularity and we expect this trend to continue. The preference for non-binding agreements could shift towards binding agreements as the regulatory agenda evolves'.

    To view the report click here
  • 15 June 2010

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