The built environment needs to do more to improve its sustainability credentials, particularly in relation to reducing carbon emissions, according to a new report.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Sustainability Report 2022 said that while progress had been made in certain areas, ‘the rate of advancement needs to accelerate significantly and become more widespread’.
A lack of tools, databases, established standards, and benchmarks were identified by respondents as key obstacles, alongside high costs or low availability of low carbon materials and skill shortage.
The RICS said the construction industry must, however, help drive the establishment of standards by adopting and utilising those that are available.
While the appetite to seek green buildings in the commercial property sector continues to rise in the UK, the change is modest.
Looking at investors and occupiers separately in the UK, around 65% of contributors note that occupier demand for green/sustainable buildings has risen over the past 12 months, however the UK is falling behind Europe as a whole, with Europe leading the way with around 52% of contributors across the region seeing a modest increase in demand, and just under one-quarter stating that occupier interest in green/sustainable buildings has increased significantly.
On the investment side around 45% of survey contributors in the UK report a modest increase in investor appetite for green/sustainable buildings over the past 12 months, which is 5% higher than the global average, noted the report. A further 21% suggest there has been a more significant increase in demand.
As demand for sustainable buildings continues to increase, there is now a market premium for them and falling rents or sale prices for properties not labelled green or sustainable.
The report noted: ‘In another signal that people in the UK are placing more focus on sustainable property, the majority of respondents (55%) note a rise in climate risk assessments by investors on their built assets, suggesting that climate issues are now rising up the agenda and could be influencing the behaviour of key market players.’
The survey showed that construction professionals in the UK are beginning to embrace digital tools and technologies to complete sustainability-related analysis for construction projects, mainly to assess energy needs and costs, but they are less likely to utilise these tools to reduce embodied carbon or to measure the impact on biodiversity.
Almost half (47%) of respondents in the UK report that digital tools and processes are used to complete sustainability assessments on less than half or none of their projects.
‘This year’s results also show that there is much room for improvement in measuring carbon emissions,’ said the RICS as 76% of professionals in the UK state that they make no operational measurement of carbon emissions on projects and more than half of them also saying that they don’t measure embodied carbon. Even for those that measure, less than 14% use it to select the materials they use in their project.
About 38% of respondents identified both the lack of established / adopted standards, guidance and tools and high costs or low availability of low-carbon products as the most fundamental barriers to progress, alongside established practices as a challenge.
Kisa Zehra, RICS Sustainability Analyst, commented: ‘It is of benefit to all to embrace climate strategy, and we must reduce our impact as the built environment. Behaviour change is happening, with higher rents and prices being seen for the more desirable sustainable properties, and climate risk assessments by investors on their built assets rising across the globe. But, measuring all forms of carbon, is also critical to the changes we need to see from the built environment.
‘Barriers to progress cited in the report have included a lack of established standards, guidance and tools. However, it is equally fair to say that industry must adopt these tools and standards where they are available and should make carbon assessment and management an integral part of business practice. Industry needs to work in collaboration to succeed. The work RICS is leading with partners, for example the ICMS coalition in developing a cost measurement standard that combines cost and carbon reporting, is a key example.
‘RICS will continue to promote research, and demand policy changes while working in collaboration with industry, governments and our professionals to increase the impact of the built environment on positive climate strategy.’
Syntegra MD Alan King said: ‘It is encouraging that progress has been made in this sector and we find ourselves having conversations about it with new and existing clients on a much more regular basis.
‘But it is clear that more should – and can – be done in this key area of development. I am pleased that an independent professional body has highlighted this and hope it lends credence to our conversations and proves we are not simply promoting sustainability as a commercial activity but there is real value in pursuing this agenda globally.’