What is a Net Zero Building?

net zero building

Businesses across the UK know that they must decarbonise to meet government targets and to operate in a more future-facing manner. While some continue to drag their heels, many are now looking at ways to reduce emissions and energy consumption. One such opportunity for many is the idea of a net zero building – whether you are constructing a new premises or leasing one. 

Unfortunately in the grand scheme of things, there are very few truly ‘zero emission’ activities in our current world. In a business context, that’s even more apparent: the very fabric from which companies are operated tend to come with a heavy cost to the environment – even before any actual business is done. We’re talking, of course, about the ‘built environment’ which accounts for around 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. 

Whether you know it or not, the building you choose to house your business in has its own carbon impact. Existing property has its own energy demands that may be more or less harmful depending on what methods it uses – while any new premises is going to have a significant impact via carbon emissions. 

The construction industry, on a global scale, is responsible for 11% of total Co2e. The UK government has set out a plan to reduce carbon emissions called ‘Build Back Greener’ – but how does this actually apply to buildings and their design? 

Construction footprint

A building’s construction requires an enormous amount of energy consumption. From the extraction and transport of raw materials through to the actual building process, there are significant challenges in the way before anyone can claim their building is truly sustainable. The UK Green Building Council, or UKGBC, defined 17 barriers across the UK construction sector which limit the transition to net zero building. These are: 

  • Design – how to plan in net zero outcomes from the beginning of a project, including ways to add decarbonisation methods into the design process. 
  • Cost – looking at methods to finance net zero and to reassess buildings as whole life costs rather than initial capital investments. This includes accounting for future ‘brown discounts’ and ‘green premiums’.
  • Stakeholder engagement – implementing net zero at stakeholder level to make sure it’s part of the decision-making process. 
  • Innovation – the processes, mechanisms and technologies needed to facilitate net zero buildings.

Even with all of those processes followed, it’s clear that other measures like offsetting are needed to ensure a building is actually ‘net zero’. But realistically, a building must simply meet the expectations of regulatory bodies by following to achieve official net zero status. One such scheme is Design for Performance, which aims to make developers ensure their projects deliver against energy consumption targets and that those targets don’t break down or fail between the design and operation stage. 

This was apparent in recent months when in February 2022, Timber Square was officially recognised as the UK’s first Design For Performance project to complete an independent design review and score five stars. Timber Square has used digital modelling data to assess the carbon impact of each design decision – though even then it remains to be seen how it retains this approach when final construction is completed. 

Energy consumption

While we may still be in the early stages of true net zero construction, the UK does have a more achievable route for businesses to take. That is, of course, in redesigning the energy systems within your commercial buildings – again whether you’re moving premises or designing new ones. Simple ways to achieve this include: 

  1. Switch to a fully renewable electricity supplier with a REGO certificate
  2. Adopt a zero waste to landfill policy on all waste in your premises
  3. Optimise temperatures in controlled environments such as server rooms. Typically these are set too low for caution’s sake – a temperate of around 23C is ideal and will save more energy against a 19C setting 
  4. Switch any fleet vehicles to electric
  5. Remove gas heating systems in favour of air source or ground source heat pumps. 
  6. Offset carbon emissions 

Transition to net zero with Integral Energy

All of this article serves to showcase the current market challenges posed to UK businesses looking to decarbonise. Not only do you need to deal with the actual physical impact of your building on the environment, but you must also look at traditional energy efficiency measures and operational causes such as fleet transport to help reduce your carbon footprint. 

Here at Integral Energy, we can help your business assess your true carbon footprint and build a pathway to net zero that accounts for the building you occupy and your business as a whole. Contact us today to learn more.

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