Net Zero Carbon – how to set up for success

Your carbon footprint might be complex, but your journey to net zero doesn’t have to be. Alex Mozaffari, Director for Sustainability looks at some of the challenges businesses face as they strive to achieve net zero carbon and how they can set up for success by getting the right strategy in place.

Apart from the lack of clarity in a zero-carbon definition, a major obstacle for businesses is often the inability to direct resources away from their core processes in order to focus on creating a strategic plan. 

This is often where our clients find real value in the support that we can provide to refine and shape direction, and provide integrated solutions to take the complexity out of what can be an overwhelming challenge.


Planning for success

Before any strategy can be implemented it’s important to have a clear roadmap and target. For many companies, whilst the vision is clear, often there is no defined target - i.e. what do we mean by zero carbon? Is it:

  • Net zero carbon (100% CO2 reduction)?
  • Zero carbon through off-set actions off site?
  • A percentage CO2 reduction combined with an off-set payment?

The latter cannot be justified if we are serious about meeting net zero carbon in the UK by 2050.  

Now let’s assume the aim is to achieve net zero carbon for a certain asset. There are questions which must be addressed at the initial stage:

  • How far can passive design measures go in CO2 reduction? Where is the limit?
  • What technologies should we use?
  • Are the chosen options affordable, practical and repeatable?
  • Is the available technical software capable to model and analyse the outcome?

It might not be easy to formulate coherent responses to the above questions; however, this will make defining the strategy and roadmap much easier.

Starting point

The first step towards zero carbon, and the foundation of a net zero strategy, is identifying where your greenhouse gas emissions are coming from. Split into three categories, they can be:

  • Direct emissions: from fuel combustion, owned vehicle fleet and fugitive emissions
  • Indirect emissions: originating from electricity, heat, steam and cooling purchased for own use
  • Other indirect emissions, such as those from purchased goods and vehicles, product use, waste disposal, transportation, distribution and employee business travel.
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Zero-carbon transition

Moving forward, you need to establish a baseline understanding of the following areas to formulate a detailed plan of action:

  • An appreciation of each of your business’ global needs, whether its achievable carbon reduction or net zero carbon target.
  • A map of energy use for energy and carbon savings, helping to achieve substantial cuts in energy use and CO2
  • What old infrastructure equipment needs to be upgraded or replaced to improve efficiency.
  • Supplies with greener energy, be it on-site or off-site.
  • How leveraging big data can support continuous improvement; current energy data and monitoring future energy consumption.
  • Operations of installations.
  • A complete financial analysis to build a cost-effective solution.


What about operational carbon emissions?

Most of the operational carbon emissions for a building are associated with energy consumption, i.e. gas and electricity consumption for heating, cooling, power, during use. Operational carbon is generally considered to be responsible for the biggest share of total emissions.  There is an intuitive link between design choices and operational carbon performance: using more insulation, efficient building services and renewable energy generation will result in proportionally lower CO2 emissions, while the link between design choices and embodied carbon performance is not so intuitive. Achieving better performance requires all aspects of the design to be considered simultaneously.

Our net zero carbon team can set up an energy reduction target and bespoke plan to reduce your energy intensity by a practical percentage, for assets that have been under your operational control for at least two years.  

A bespoke energy reduction plan can:

  • Support businesses to improve energy productivity by at least 20-30 per cent or even more by 2030.
  • Establish an energy efficiency scheme to help large companies install measures to cut their energy use and bills.
  • Publish decarbonisation and energy efficiency action plans.
  • Phase out the installation of high carbon forms of fossil fuel heating in new and existing businesses off the gas grid.
  • Support the recycling of heat produced in industrial processes, to reduce business energy bills and benefit local communities.

Design for performance

When a building is designed, there is a targeted level of energy performance. Once a building is completed however, the reality is that these targets often aren’t achieved. This is called performance gap. The gap might originate from building material/fabric durability and usability, ventilation strategy, building service performance or any other operational installations. Most of the problems arise in the design and construction (or renovation) of buildings which can be addressed through better knowledge and more care. It is plausible that those projects which fail to meet the performance which is required for a good building should not merely be seen as average, but as unacceptable, but as failures.

To ensure that our client’s future assets also meet these targets, we have developed a Design for Performance approach to set energy intensity targets. This tool aims to close the performance gap by ensuring that new developments as well as existing assets operate as efficiently as they were designed to. We will then map the performance against the UK Green Building Council's (UKGBC) pathway to net zero to ensure that they are in line with industry best practice.

Find out how we can help you achieve net zero carbon

For businesses and the UK to achieve our target of net zero carbon by 2050, the next few years will be crucial in laying the groundwork and putting the right strategy in place. We can support your sustainability strategies, business transformation and development plans. 

Your carbon footprint may be complex, but your journey to net zero doesn't have to be.

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