Green connections: from London to Liverpool

Last week I spent a day at Ecobuild and then took a train to Liverpool for the Green Party’s Spring conference. In the midst of Excel’s vast halls beside the Thames there was some deep green thinking going on and at the ACC, on the banks of the Mersey, social justice was as much discussed as the environment.

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At Ecobuild, Deloitte Real Estate Partner Miles Keeping (second from right above) presented an assessment of the political parties’ policies on sustainability – essentially carbon reduction. Almost without exception the Green Party topped the tables.

Keeping also quoted a recent survey of over 800 industry professionals by the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment which found that more than half thought Natalie Bennett of the Green Party shows the strongest leadership on climate change. The Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour leaders earned just 23% of the vote combined.

Throughout the day, speakers at Ecobuild made the connections between individual behaviour and wellbeing, building performance and climate change. If asset value, not cost savings, is what really drives change, as Richard Francis of Monomoy Company said, then surely the planet is the ultimate asset.

At times the arena at Excel took on the flavour of a political meeting as when Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 News, called for regulatory intervention to create ‘post-capitalism’: “The market needs re-structuring and supressing,” he said in a session entitled People, the planet and the banks: are they mutually exclusive? Phrases you don’t normally hear at a building trade show.

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The distance between Mason (centre above) and Andrew Sentance (right above, former member of the MPC) was stark. Sentance places his faith in markets but wants growth to be “reasonably shared”. Mason says markets are not allocating resources to where they’re needed.

At the Green Party Conference in Liverpool, Molly Scott Cato, an economist and Green MEP for the South West, took the diagnosis (and the prescription) further. The Green Party’s policy on the economy is characterised as zero growth – it’s actually more nuanced than that. See

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The aim is essentially zero net growth, says Cato. This is not the same as no growth, anywhere. Growth is clearly needed in some areas – sustainable housing, better public transport and environmental protection for example, but should be balanced by reducing wasteful consumption and damaging development.

Beyond that, the Greens want to replace GNP as an indicator of progress/prosperity as it doesn’t adequately measure people’s sense of well-being. They would look to alternative indicators that seek to provide a picture of how we are progressing towards sustainability, equity, and happiness.

In Liverpool Kate Raworth, proponent of Doughnut Economics asked simply “What does progress look like?” It’s balance not simply a rising line, she said.

At Ecobuild the panel essayed some solutions to the growth/sustainability conundrum including green capital accounting; an ‘entrepreneurial state’ that invests in major projects such as renewable energy; pricing externalities and a Nature and Wellbeing Act currently being promoted by UK conservation charities.

In London and Liverpool, I was encouraged by how much common ground there is between those working on energy efficiency, sustainability and wellbeing in the built environment and those working in local, national and European politics to bring about a sustainable future.

A radical report trying to get out?

Will Paul Morrell’s report, delivered at the end of last month, turn out to be a turning point for the construction industry or will it get lost in the plethora of policy initiatives coming our way next Spring, when the Government is due to respond.

The voice of the Government’s chief construction adviser comes through loud and clear. Anyone who has heard Morrell speak will recognise the logical approach and the pithy, punchy style. With a few exceptions it is also mercifully free of jargon.

The topic, nothing less than the re-engineering of an entire industry to meet arguably the most pressing problem facing the world, is enormous and it must have been difficult to know where to stop.

The Innovation & Growth Team’s remit was to look at the construction industry’s readiness to take on the challenge of carbon reduction but the report does not confine itself to technical matters of embedded carbon and Display Energy Certificates. It ranges across procurement, skills, innovation, regulation and data gathering.

What’s very striking is the number of recommendations that call on the Government to do something. Conceived under Labour, it was commissioned by Peter Mandelson, these aspects of the report might receive a frostier reception from the coalition. Morrell has said that, for this Government, regulation is the last resort.

The report makes 65 recommendations and there are some quite radical (or just plain sensible, depending on your perspective) ideas amongst them.

How about requiring landlords and tenants to co-operate on an energy management plan for their buildings?

Why not offer enhanced capital allowances for whole buildings, rather than just plant and equipment.

Not radical enough? Well what about this: “It may therefore be necessary to implement regulations to target the worst performing buildings by simply making it illegal to sell, lease, or insure them after a certain date. The 6% of buildings with EPC “G” ratings are responsible for around 15% of carbon emissions. Although there will be some overlap with other measures, this would ensure that the worst-performing buildings do not slip through the net.”

The final recommendation is not as strongly worded but it will be interesting to see the response of the property world to that one.

The report talks of a “quite spectacular programme of work, stretched out over at least the next 40 years.” That’s eight five-year parliaments. Throughout the report there are arguments for clarity and stability. The 2050 Group of young professionals calls for “confidence in the direction of long term policy.”

If the construction industry (and that very much includes FM on Morrell’s definition) is to achieve anything like the programme being suggested, then some sort of cross-party consensus must be reached. These policies need to survive changes of government.

Working together

The Construction Industry Council convened an important event last Thursday. Titled ‘Rethinking Professional Services for the Low Carbon Future’, the one-day conference brought together representatives from most of the built environment professions, government and industry to address possibly the most important issue facing us all.

There was a palpable sense of frustration in the room at Store Street but also determination. Frustration that pilot projects aren’t followed up, Government initiatives abandoned or downgraded, documented good practice ignored. Determination that things can be different.

Paul Morrell, chief construction advisor to the Government, pointed out that virtually everything in theUK’s Low Carbon Transition Plan* involves construction but the industry “does not have a plan for its own future.”

Morrell took over the work of the Innovation and Growth Team (IGT), commissioned by the last government to consider how theUKconstruction industry can rise to the challenge of the low carbon agenda. The team’s interim report was published in March and the new government has endorsed the initiative. A final report should be published at the end of this year.

The interim report calls for a “quantum change” in the industry’s response to the challenge if the commitments of the Climate Change Act are to be met. It identifies barriers to progress including: the structure of the industry; the need for “up-skilling” across the supply chain; the gap between the design criteria of buildings and their performance; and a continuing preoccupation with initial capital spend, rather than whole life basis cost.

In addition to its emerging findings, the report has just one key recommendation to Government: to commission a suitably qualified “programme manager” to prepare a detailed execution plan for the physical work assumed in the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan.

This recommendation is supported by 18 propositions and Morrell highlighted one of these – the need to include auditing of a building’s performance in a project’s costing. “Carbon is as important as money,” he said, “we must develop whole life carbon accounting.”

Morrell didn’t pull any punches when it came to vested interests which, he said, could slow progress. He was quite critical of the built environment professions which he said could be protectionist and competitive.

This point was picked up later, although more mildly, by Bill Bordass who called for more “learned societies” to develop and publish knowledge.

The internet has transformed our ability to disseminate information rapidly but is the Facebook approach right? No self-respecting project is now without a website, associated discussion forum and a presence on social networks.

This is fine if you’re living and breathing the subject but if you actually want to find out something it can lead to a frustrating virtual treasure hunt, following snippets of someone else’s conversation and picking up clues which often lead to another dead end.

We need to connect the knowledge locked-up in projects, research reports, and online document libraries across professional bodies, consultancies and many other organisations. This will require consistent tagging and a really good search engine plus unprecedented openness.

As someone said last week, knowledge transfer is a contact sport.



Transition to a low carbon economy

While FMs across the world were celebrating World FM Day yesterday, I was at a parliamentary reception in London, hosted by the Aldersgate Group. In its own words this is a “high level coalition of progressive businesses, environmental groups and MPs” which argues for high environmental standards as part of economic growth and international competitiveness.

Held on the back of the group’s ‘Accelerating the transition: priorities for the first 100 days of the new government’ report, launched just before the election, last night’s reception focused on the emergency budget and what it offered those wanting to see a more rapid move to a low carbon economy.

It also came the day after the revised directive on the energy performance of buildings (EPBD) was published in OJEU. The directive requires member states to ensure that all new buildings are nearly zero- energy buildings by the end of 2020, with a deadline two years earlier for all public buildings. The directive must be transposed intoUKlaw by July 2012.

With so many detailed spending decisions deferred to the autumn spending review, it was unlikely we were going to hear any surprise announcements but the mood music was certainly encouraging.

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Lord Smith of Finsbury, now Chair of the Environment Agency, said business understands that theUKneeds to move to a low carbon economy; it wants Government to lead the way but it also wants clarity and certainty – two commodities currently in short supply.

Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said the budget had reaffirmed the commitment to a carbon price floor and the government’s first flagship bill (due by the end of the year) would offer a “green deal” for housing, including a major retrofitting programme.

The Aldersgate Group is an eclectic mix – any organisation which counts Friends of the Earth, Biffa, John Edmonds, Willmott Dixon and the RSPB amongst its members is bound to have a wide perspective.

Tom Burke, founder of E3G and environmental policy advisor to Rio Tinto, raised the stakes. “We won’t wreck the economy making the transition,” he said “but we will wreck some business models.”

If all the revenue raised by “green taxes” goes to reduce the deficit, said Burke, then we won’t invest in the infrastructure of a low carbon economy – including CC&S and electric vehicle recharging networks – that the private sector is unlikely to provide.

It was heartening to know that the new government will be held to account by a non-party political “coalition” with a clear aim and the expertise to pursue it.