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Cutting Operational Carbon: Key Strategies for Achieving Net-Zero Buildings

Cutting Operational Carbon in New and Existing Buildings

The UK has set a target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and while progress has been made, there is still work to be done. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) reported that UK emissions have been falling steadily, but warned that carbon reduction targets will become more challenging in the next carbon budget. One key area that needs attention is the carbon impact of building performance, specifically reducing operational carbon emissions.

Operational carbon refers to the carbon produced during a building’s use phase. This can include direct emissions from burning fossil fuels on-site for heating and hot water, as well as indirect emissions from electricity generated from fossil fuels. The UK Green Building Council states that 19% of the country’s carbon footprint comes from operational emissions produced by buildings, highlighting the need to understand strategies for reducing this impact.

Several standards and legislation are being implemented to address building emissions, including operational carbon emissions. Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) play a central role in government policies on building performance and energy efficiency. Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) require commercial buildings to achieve an EPC rating of B by 2030, or they cannot be leased or sold. This has led to the need for significant upgrades in many existing buildings to meet the new standard.

Efforts are also underway to define and set targets for “net-zero” buildings. Businesses in the construction, property, and installation sectors are adopting voluntary standards and more accurate measures of building energy use. They are also considering corporate sustainability and ESG strategies, estimating operating costs and carbon emissions. Measuring and reducing operational carbon is crucial to meet stringent standards and avoid buildings becoming “stranded assets” in the future.

There are various strategies to cut operational carbon emissions. Improving energy efficiency through insulation, efficient heating and cooling systems, and smart building management can significantly reduce carbon emissions. Transitioning to renewable energy sources such as solar panels and heat pumps can also make a significant impact. Additionally, adopting circular economy principles, such as reusing and recycling materials, can reduce the carbon footprint associated with construction and renovation.

In conclusion, reducing operational carbon emissions is a crucial step towards achieving the UK’s net-zero carbon target. With the implementation of standards and legislation, as well as the adoption of energy-efficient practices and renewable energy sources, buildings can play a significant role in decarbonization efforts. It is essential for businesses and industries to prioritize measuring and reducing operational carbon to meet future standards and ensure a sustainable and low-carbon future.

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