Owners of Britain’s public and commercial buildings are taking too little action towards achieving the government’s Net Zero goals in non-domestic buildings, a new report has found.

Fewer than one in four companies responsible for non-domestic premises in the private or state sector is working to make them more environmentally sustainable, the research found.  Only one in ten has a budget to retrofit its estate towards new efficiency standards linked to government targets.

Property consultancy Ridge & Partners commissioned a survey of 101 major British property owners.

Over half of all facilities managers charged with delivering Net Zero across commercial portofolios say their directors don’t regard energy efficiency as their problem to manage.

At board level, nearly nine out of ten companies seriously underestimate the scope of remedies needed, the survey reveals.  86% of owners questioned mistakenly believe that less than 40% of commercial buildings now standing will still be in use by mid-century. Consensus among property experts is that it will be nearer 70%.

Government incoherence doesn’t help, say the advisors.  52% of respondents say VAT levied on refurbishment work should go.  Business rates, too, are structured to deter energy upgrades, in the opinion of 49% of facilities managers.

Whitehall’s contradictions are allowing property directors to look the other way, the survey indicates.  Despite 76% of organisations supposedly working towards Net Zero, 55% of facilities managers told the survey that their boards don’t see retrofitting as needed in attaining the goal.

Nearly a quarter, or 23%, of the heads of buildings in Britain’s largest property companies have been involved in no planning towards Net Zero. A further 47% report that, even when involved, they are too removed from internal discussions on a portfolio’s environmental impact to be able to make a meaningful contribution.

Last month the government upped its requirements in its Minimum Energy Emissions Standards (MEES) affecting non-domestic buildings.  They set a deadline of 2030 for all England & Wales’ built commercial environment to qualify for Energy Performance Certificates at level “B”.  Steps on the  road to that goal include this month’s supposed ban on owners having tenants in property commanding an “E” grade.  But landlords can apply for exemptions.

Property commentators see the raised MEES norms as a further boost for electricity as the preferred means of heating new non-domestic buildings.

“Vast swathes of UK organisations are sleepwalking towards a building crisis”, said Ridge partner Matt Richards.

“At this rate, when we reach 2050, we’ll have failed to reach the government’s net zero target due to the majority of businesses occupying old, inefficient buildings that haven’t been retrofitted. If this problem is to be avoided, a retrofit revolution needs to take place.”

The consultancy urges four improvements:

  • Facilities and property heads must be more involved in directors’ decisions. 19% are not made aware of their bosses’ strategic plans, let alone their environmental ambitions.
  • Over half of the sector’s organisations set their budgets based on the past year’s costs. This approach will never, says Ridge, accommodate improvements needed from an environmentally driven retrofit.
  • Retrofit myths need exploding. 45% of building supervisors believe if the grid is carbon neutral, they don’t need to raise their buildings’ performance to Net Zero. Others unfairly weigh up new-build versus retrofitting, with 52% overlooking in their calculations the energy used to make new buildings.
  • Organisations also need expert support. 31% fear retrofitting’s disruption, and 25% don’t know how to make a business or environmental case for it.

Read the report here.


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