The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has published Renewable Energy Procurement and Carbon Offsetting Guidance for Net Zero Carbon Buildings.
This guidance provides clarity for the property and construction industry on the procurement of high-quality renewable energy and carbon offsets for net-zero buildings and organisations in the UK.
A report by the Climate Change Committee in December 2020 identified that within the UK the procurement of renewable electricity is currently having a limited impact, and in many cases, no impact at all on emissions reductions either for the organisation or for the country.
This is because most of the renewable energy being procured today either already exists (eg, from an existing wind farm) or is supported by government subsidies. As a result, the procurement does not guarantee a causal relationship between an organisation’s action and any emission reduction delivered. This includes the vast majority of ‘green tariffs’, where the positive environmental impact is overstated.
The new UKGBC guidance includes a set of principles that should be used to evaluate the quality of renewable energy procurement routes, including how to create additionality – driving a material increase in the UK’s renewable energy capacity.
Whilst carbon offsetting has frequently come under scrutiny for potential ‘green-washing’, the use of high-quality carbon offsets can be employed as part of a credible pathway to 1.5 degrees aligned net-zero, if used responsibly. In line with UKGBC’s guidance, carbon offsets should only be used to compensate unavoidable emissions in a timeframe aligned to the point of pollution: annually for operational energy, and at the point of completion for construction.
The guidance outlines how the environmental integrity of an offset is determined, the existing carbon standards that provide this assurance of integrity, and how domestic carbon standards can play a role within organisational net-zero strategies. It also sets out a ‘leadership approach’, which demonstrates how organisations and consumers can use carbon offsetting to go beyond emission reductions and support the development of a broader value proposition that is aligned to long-term business strategies and/or supports the UK and the global transition to net-zero.
The guidance is intended to be used by building developers, designers, owners, occupiers and policymakers. Given the complexities of certain elements, it will be of most use to energy procurement, facility management and sustainability professionals within these organisations. It is applicable to all building types, sizes, and ownership scopes where annual public disclosure of energy use, generation and carbon offsets is possible.
This guidance has been developed in collaboration with a task group of 32 industry experts and informed by a consultation run by the UKGBC last year, which received feedback from 61 stakeholders.
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at the UKGBC: “Designing for reductions in whole-life carbon and greater energy efficiency are just two pieces of a complex puzzle when it comes to our transition to net-zero carbon buildings. The importance of the principles put forward in this guidance to evaluate the quality of renewable energy procurement routes, to calculate the residual emissions, and to offset those residual emissions in a meaningful way, is paramount to ensure the credibility of any net-zero carbon building claim. This guidance marks an important step forward in helping the industry to deliver on our net-zero targets, and ultimately respond to the climate crisis with buildings that are fit for the future.”
Chris Oglesby, chief executive at property company Bruntwood, said: “This guidance provides a vital definition of what good looks like. This will help the industry on its path towards a more sustainable future and, by setting clear standards to live up to, safeguard against greenwash. The UK is establishing an enviable track record in renewable power but there are many hard yards left to run in the race to net-zero. Property has a mission-critical role to play in investing in the infrastructure and technologies needed to reduce the sizeable share of emissions from the built environment.”
Syed Ahmed, director, Energy for London, said: “This new guidance from the UKGBC is a major contribution in helping developers better understand what routes are available to secure renewable energy supplies as a tool to deliver net-zero carbon buildings. This is a complex area, but one of growing importance as long-term procurement of renewables presents significant opportunities in driving forward new renewable generation capacity in cities and more widely, supporting the renewables sector at a challenging time.”