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Businesses must take bigger strides towards net zero carbon
14 April 2020
Achieving great change comes from our ability to work as a community, not as individuals – and nowhere is this more applicable than in the drive to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
From citizens to businesses to government, we must all play our part in drastically reducing carbon emissions. Often these are simple steps which hold huge value. Whether that is replacing a car journey with public transport, installing sensors in offices which control lighting and heating, or a wider programme such as Transport for London’s Ultra Low Emissions Scheme.
But to achieve the large-scale reductions needed to reach net zero by 2050, businesses need to move from steps which are immediately tangible to taking those steps which are complex.. This involves moving beyond carbon reduction strategies which start and stop within a businesses’ portfolio and moving towards a strategy which interfaces with city-wide resources, building partnerships to explore and utilise untapped potential.
So, what does this look like in real life?
Take a standard office block, if there is such a thing. Like most existing building stock which needs to be decarbonised, its owners will probably have embedded energy efficiency measures, such as sensor activated lighting and energy efficient heating and air conditioning. Energy can be sourced from renewables, with some even having direct power agreements in place with a specified renewables source such as a wind or solar farm. Maintenance and additional construction on the property can be undertaken using as much recycled or sustainable material as possible. Through ramping energy use down, installing energy saving measures, sourcing renewables and offsetting emissions, businesses can make a huge contribution to the drive towards net zero.
But the next stage of decarbonising London’s building stock is more complex, and to navigate this, businesses need to build an overarching knowledge of local resources in a given area that they can utilise and shape. It involves a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach bringing together engineering, sustainability and planning expertise.
AECOM is working on the big-picture for delivering decarbonisation, supporting the government and local authorities on a range of strategic and practical projects. For example, we are currently supporting BEIS to develop and roll out a new pilot programme to develop city-scale Heat Decarbonisation Delivery Plans, which aim to help cities move from plans and strategies to the practical delivery of interventions that will drive the transition to decarbonised heat.
Businesses will be key stakeholders in these plans, which will involve the roll-out at scale of building fabric improvements and other demand reduction measures as well as switching from gas boilers to individual heat pumps and local heat networks served by low carbon sources of heat. Although challenging, these interventions represent huge opportunities for investment into the city’s built environment and utility infrastructure and can also deliver many wider social and environmental co-benefits.
A recent example of a heat network in action is on AECOM’s 339 Edgware Road project in London. This is a mixed-use development encompassing 183 residential units, a Morrison’s supermarket and Oriental and Far Eastern retail malls and food courts.
The BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rated scheme incorporates a district heating network primarily powered from waste heat from refrigeration systems from the food stores. We worked with the food store engineers and equipment suppliers and developers to come up with an innovative solution that would deliver in excess of 60% CO2 savings if compared against SAP10 carbon emissions factors. This was developed as a cost saving solution for the residential developer, delivering to an affordable housing specification and budget.
Schemes such as this have huge potential for London, as The London Plan – the Greater London Authority’s framework for economic, environmental and transport development – requires developers to investigate sources of secondary heat such as heat recovery from sewerage systems, canals, rivers and district heating.
It is crucial that businesses don’t just stop at baby steps towards decarbonisation but start to take much bigger strides. And if we can do that with a holistic, community-wide approach, we’re far more likely to reach the finish line.
Robert Spencer is Head of Sustainable Development at AECOM
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