Reflections after COP26 by J-J Lorraine
“Our clients are crying out for expertise on the so-called ‘green premium’ - but surely it isn’t just about the bottom line, is it? ”
Attending COP26 has inspired and motivated me to bring greater focus to my responsibilities in helping prevent the most dangerous impacts of climate change from happening. In the first team meeting back from Glasgow we resolved to ‘up’ our sustainability literacy as a practice. It’s no good saying that we live and breathe sustainability in the studio if everyone gets their definitions for Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions data muddled-up.
So, a period of in-house training, learning and knowledge sharing has started. Why? Our clients are crying out for this kind of expertise, the so-called ‘green premium’ currently running at up to 18% for Net Zero Carbon (NZC) buildings means that there is money to be made – but surely it isn’t just about the bottom line, is it?
What we are discovering alongside our clients is that the ‘E – environmental’ of ESG is quickly followed by the ‘S – social’. Climate change disproportionately affects the disadvantaged and socially marginalised communities far quicker and more acutely than it does built environment professionals writing journal pieces for their company websites.
Warning: blindingly obvious statement coming.
Environment and society are one and the same. I cite a tragic example, Ella Adoo-Kiss-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl died in 2013 following an asthma attack. She became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. Environmental characteristics like proximity to a busy road combined with imbalances in social equity such as access to opportunity have created real-life disaster, in this case the needless loss of a child’s life.
It’s the everyday decisions we make that have far reaching and long-lasting effects. The degradation of air quality caused by pollutants casts an evil pall over our cities. So, will my own personal environmental choices to go #onestepgreener, like recycling my food waste in a Hot-Bin™ composter, or changing my car from petrol to electric, turn London’s air glacially clear? No, of course not. Just as my decision to replace my gas boiler with a heat pump won’t get COP26’s bloaty 2.4C pledge down to 1.5C as is necessary. What these micro-changes will do, is not only to shift my habits, but give credibility to the larger decisions I take in leading our practice to achieve our climate positive goals.
Listening recently to the former Republican governor of California, and hero of my childhood movie memories, Arnold Schwarzenegger being interviewed on BBC during COP26, he said “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” Let’s be more Arnie and “terminate pollution”.
“The topic of sustainability [must be] engaged in from the outset, placed front and centre, and rigorously pursued”
When I consider the built environment, it’s astonishing to me that 80% of what will exist in 2050 is already built – the majority of which are not NZC. This equals a huge opportunity to work with what we already have; retrofitting, reimagining and repurposing buildings is literally our future.
Storm clouds loom for those investors, propcos and developers whose buildings or portfolios aren’t already on the pathway to NZC. Veering off the path risks the spectre of a ‘brown discount’*, the reduction in value that will surely come when the carbon budget dips too far into the red. The ratcheted-up EPC regime known as MEES ‘Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards’ is old news now but those who haven’t yet started properly preparing are sure to catch a cold. JLLs Head of Sustainability and ESG Guy Grainger expands this notion to its logical conclusion *(see below).
As a practice we’ve invested in carbon-calculation software, but will this help quantify the choices available to clients commissioning environmentally-conscious buildings? Does having in-house certified Passivhaus designers and WELL Accredited Professionals help? Yes, but technology and training are not enough. We also need to foster and advocate for a healthy environment on our projects and within the design team. One where the topic of sustainability is engaged in from the outset, placed front and centre, and rigorously pursued.
From now, I will be even more mindful of using my privilege to advance the climate agenda, encourage radical collaboration, seek out the challenging and strive for better solutions.
If you’d like to discuss how together we can turn-the-tide on climate change within the built environment and on your next project, then please get in touch with me or our Head of Sustainability, Stephanie Crombie.
*The stark warning from JLLs Head of Sustainability and ESG Guy Grainger as summarised in the Estates Gazette COP26 review goes further. His view is that without plans to transition buildings to net zero carbon, he would be surprised if you will be able to get a loan in two years time. At all.