Building Zero - Overcoming the challenge

Building Zero - Overcoming the challenge 28 March 2022

While some developers are already striving for net zero, biodiversity net gain, BREEAM Outstanding and EPC A ratings on new stock, the greatest challenge is how to upgrade existing buildings.

Improving the thermal performance, lighting efficiency and heating systems are the main opportunities for reducing built environment emissions and in many buildings, the viable improvement opportunities will be relatively quick and easy. Targeting lighting efficiency and utilising natural light can be a good first step.

Beyond these ‘low-hanging fruit’ upgrades, changes to the building fabric pose a more costly solution, such as installing additional insulation and any associated structural or fabric changes which may be required to the building envelope.

Aside from minimising energy use, ensuring renewable energy generation through the installation of heat pumps, solar PV and energy storage systems, while creating many benefits, also come at significant cost.

Bridging the performance gap

EPC standards provide an indication of the energy performance of a building. However, there is still a disconnect between EPCs and carbon savings – known as the performance gap.

While many new and refurbished buildings have the ability to operate at a high level of efficiency, earning good EPC grades and other environmental design accolades, very few buildings match their design estimate in operation.

Fit-outs can also impact a building’s operational energy performance, hence it is important to understand a tenant’s fit-out intentions prior to signing the lease to ensure the building will be used in a sustainable way. Although green lease clauses can help to cement this, requiring occupiers to maintain a set level of energy efficiency throughout their tenancy, these are not particularly common, hence fit-outs can be a common driver of the performance gap.


Meeting the EPC standard is a small but important part of the challenge to net zero carbon. While operational emissions from buildings and construction are responsible for 28% of all carbon emissions in the world, 11% comes from embodied carbon emissions: upfront embodied carbon that is associated with materials and construction processes, use stage embodied carbon emissions and end of life embodied carbon.

All of these need to be considered through assessment of the whole life-cycle carbon (WLC). The whole life-cycle approach puts an onus on reducing embodied carbon during the construction, refurbishment and maintenance of buildings, initiating improvements that can reduce energy and carbon consumption during operation and realising those savings with optimal use of the building controls throughout operation.

While every effort is made to extend the building life as long as practically and equitably possible through adaptable designs and retrofitting work, optimal end of life solutions for the building itself are also planned out to minimise or negate entirely the need for any waste to landfill.

Additionally, the whole life-cycle approach will require making greater use of what we already have. Across all asset classes, second-hand space is often perceived as less desirable due to a lack of suiting to exact specifications, or perhaps the amount of work required to become fit for purpose. However, the embodied carbon impact of utilising an existing property compared to building new is significant. Hence, encouraging the re-use of space wherever possible will be a key part of the road to net zero. This will require a greater degree of adaptability to be built into new spaces and installed into existing properties to ensure that each space can feel tailor-made to the tenant, regardless of its original purpose.

What should you do next?

Read our Building Zero report for the full analysis and contact us to discuss how we can guide you through the industrial green revolution.

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