Greater Collaboration is a 'must' of commercial buildings are to meet Net Zero goals
A new report from the British Council of Offices underlines the importance of sharing data when designing buildings and specifying technology for offices and commercial buildings – including lighting – if a low-carbon future is to be achieved, writes Tamlite’s Debbie-Sue Farrell.
There is increasing evidence that effective cooperation – including the sharing of data and insight between stakeholders – is going to be essential to achieving a Net Zero future across the built environment. It is a message that comes through loud and clear in a recent University College London Consultants (UCLC) report commissioned by the British Council of Offices (BCO). Entitled Delivering Net Zero Carbon in the Workplace, the study starts from the recognition that achieving Net Zero is now a “major component” of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies in the commercial real estate sector. This requirement, notes the BCO, is “driven by a growing expectation from businesses, their customers and ultimately the public, to respond to the effects of climate change” (1).
Drawing on the input of more than 100 office occupiers and building professionals, the report outlines the barriers businesses still face in reducing their workplace carbon footprint – and then goes on to suggest a host of corrective measures. These include ‘greener and longer’ leases in which office occupiers have more say over refurbishments; more rigorous sharing of data between owners and occupiers; and a greater willingness to employ sub-metering and sensors to ascertain where energy is used. Underpinning all of these recommendations is an awareness that collaboration is ‘often lacking’, and that this is having a negative impact on decarbonisation.
This is not a positive or cheering picture. But as bleak as it may seem, the current energy crisis surely provides us with an opportunity for a major reset? There is no doubt that everyone connected with the built environment is more focused on energy usage than ever before. Similarly, awareness of the need to make buildings old and new as energy efficient as possible is at an all-time high. Most people see that things have to change rapidly, as so do some of the processes that feed into design & build.
More meaningful collaboration is going to be essential to all aspects – not least the selection of technology which ensures occupiers can benefit from buildings that are both functional and environmentally progressive.
Craving a circular economy
From our conversations with customers and our supply-chain, we know that many are now cognisant of the circular economy – in which there is an emphasis on sharing, leasing and using existing products and materials. They want it to be a central component of their operations – and this is something we urge building and energy managers to be aware of when considering suppliers and their technologies for retrofits (or indeed new projects).
Circular economy principles and considerations can be applied to most types of building systems. However, as the guidance in the BCO’s report points out, it is often the design and specification of lighting – and lighting systems - that benefit from this approach. And, where there is collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders too, there are positive environmental outcomes.
- ‘Category A’ fit-outs can be counter-productive. The BCO report emphasises that Category A interior fit-outs can prove to be very wasteful. These typically include lighting and basic finishes, such as flooring, being installed by the building owner, only to be ripped out by the occupier in favour of something that more closely matches their needs.
Ideally, this approach would be supplanted by an early-stage dialogue between owner and occupier that eliminates the requirement for a further fit-out. But this is not always possible, and instead it’s clear that a ‘Cat A+’ model would be more effective in many cases. This approach is a mid-point between Cat A and the customisation-intensive Cat B, and priorities a policy of reuse and locally-sourced products offering lower embodied carbon. This is certainly something we have focused on in the evolution of our own product ranges.
- LED lighting can deliver on multiple fronts in the pursuit of a low-carbon future. A good collaboration between stakeholders that recognises the huge contribution to be made by the appropriate deployment of LED lighting can be hugely productive. For example, on the operational carbon side – which is concerned with the energy required to actually use the light fittings over their entire lifecycle – it is often possible to reduce energy consumption by two-thirds. Large-scale reductions in energy consumption translate to huge cost-savings when compared to traditional equivalents.
The implications for embodied carbon – which encompasses installation, maintenance and materials – can also be dramatic. On the basis that LED lights now afford at least 50,000 hours of operation, and the lights are used in a workplace for 10 hours per day, their lifespan could surpass 13 years. Meanwhile, the greatly reduced failure rate of LEDs means fewer replacements and call-outs, and therefore less carbon-related travel.
- Dialogue between owners and occupiers is vital to minimising carbon emissions over the long-term.
The installation of a well-specified LED lighting system will make a massive contribution to decarbonisation throughout a building’s complete lifespan. But that doesn’t mean the dialogue between owner and occupier should stop there. Indeed, it’s essential for both parties to keep talking so they can identify potential problems early on – not to mention improvements that might accelerate progress to Net Zero.
If the practical and environmental benefits of increased collaboration around lighting and other building systems aren’t enough to recommend it, then there could seen be extra legislative factors. For example, the Government has just announced proposals to ensure that lighting in both domestic and non-domestic buildings in England, Scotland and Wales meets minimum energy performance standards which are higher than regulations currently in place in the US or EU (2).
All of which means that the need to start the technical discussion at an early stage – and then keep the conversation going – could hardly be more critical.