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Opinion – Let sustainability spend slip at your peril

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By Cal Bailey, sustainability director at NG Bailey

It's official: Britain is in a recession, and while one might argue the downturn reduces carbon emissions through a decrease in economic activity, on the flip-side it can cause surviving businesses to take the risk of delaying investment in sustainable measures in order to reduce short-term costs, without considering the effect this might have over time.

I'd argue this is not a long-term strategy for success, and urge businesses who may be pushing sustainability measures down the list of priorities because of the downturn to have a serious rethink if they're to stay ahead of the game. The changing property landscape means it makes better business sense to future-proof a building today, so as to maximise its asset value and payback in the longer term. 

The overall trend of rising energy prices, concerns over energy security and the strong direction of EU and UK policy increases the desire towards lower energy consumption and, as a result, a lower carbon output. Those that choose not to turn this desire into reality by investing in sustainable measures now, will fail to reap the rewards in the long run.

The long-term value of a property will be significantly affected by its energy performance. This will in part be a result of the implementation of policies such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) which will be introduced in April 2010 and the recent introduction of EPCs and DECs. These policies are mandatory and as a result will drive the demand for organisations to occupy energy efficient buildings, with weaker performing buildings losing value.

Through Carbon Action Yorkshire, NG Bailey is currently participating in a trial of the implementation of the CRC and when the policy comes into force, some 5,000 public and private sector organisations will form part of this emissions trading scheme, and will be required to report their UK-based CO2 emissions from all their fixed point energy sources. So, it has never been more important for companies to get their estate in ‘green' order; those that don't will suffer a penalty.

Companies looking to reduce carbon emissions do not merely require investment in technology – there must be an overall commitment to the strategy. My view is that there are three key priorities; the first is the measurement of energy consumption, which is increasingly required by law, and which is essential to good control.

The second priority is to manage this lower energy use of buildings. Poorly maintained and monitored buildings waste energy and generate unnecessary cost and carbon emissions. At the very least, organisations should implement a regular maintenance schedule for their services. However, an intelligent building management system is the key to controlling as much as 70% of a building's energy use.

The third is engaging stakeholders and the workforce and creating a culture to encourage people to get behind a carbon reduction strategy, so they feel empowered to take necessary action in their own area of work.

The industry must consider not only cost minimisation and emissions reduction, but also the cost to run a building and maintain its value throughout its lifespan – instead of just focusing on the initial capital expenditure. Reducing whole-life costs through innovative specification and ongoing maintenance, rather than simply concentrating on the short-term build cost, means adopting a complete ‘cradle to grave' responsibility, focused towards better environmental efficiency and creating a better life in buildings for occupiers.

Minimum standards will only become more stringent.  A new Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is anticipated in 2010, which will further increase the requirement for low carbon building design and performance once in operation. With environmental policies continuously strengthening in order to reduce the UK's carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, it will prove to be good planning and highly cost effective for companies to adopt sustainable measures, even during the economic downturn. Those that choose not to take this route should heed the implications this might have in the future.

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