The Built Environment and Climate Change - RSA

The Built Environment and Climate Change


  • Picture of Robert Chapman FRSA
    Robert Chapman FRSA
    Chartered Surveyor, Strategic Property & Regeneration Adviser with 31 years’ experience.
  • Architecture & built environment
  • Climate change
  • Fellowship

How can both landlords and tenants contribute to achieving renewable energy targets?

There are two facts that are clear:

  1. The built environment accounts for 40% of the UK’s Green House Gas emissions, and;
  2. Over half of UK commercial property is rented.

A piece of research by Edie in partnership with Big Clean Switch entitled ‘‘Going 100%: How landlords hold the key to corporate renewable energy targets’’ reveals that there is a distinct lack of engagement between Landlords and Tenants on the strategic and important matter of reducing carbon footprint(s). It doesn’t read well. For example:

  • Most businesses are encountering significant difficulties when it comes to having that conversation with their landlord in the first place;
  • When they do, it is challenging to convince a landlord to go green (switching to clean energy contracts) for the supply of energy to their buildings;
  • Indeed, Landlords are even more reluctant to agree to the deployment of sustainable energy technologies on their estates. It is suggested that ‘Landlords simply don’t care’, ‘they just want cheap energy’ and there is prevailing ignorance and inertia;
  • Some property professionals (with outdated perceptions) still believe that renewable energy remains a niche product, and that switching to renewable energy contracts or systems is prohibitively expensive.

In all of this, it is suggested that the one thing that would make it easier is if senior leadership in landlords or managing agents’ firms wanted their tenants to be more sustainable.

The report provides clear recommendations:

  1. Tenants must be much more proactive in communicating their needs to landlords.
  2. Landlords and managing agents need to put in place systems and processes to make it easy for occupiers to act on energy.
  3. Education is needed to overcome common misconceptions, especially around renewable power as a climate and decarbonisation solution.

At the heart of these is collaboration.

Clean energy transition in tenanted buildings requires Landlords and Tenants to collaborate. Why? Because against the backcloth of a climate change emergency, we should all be concerned about the UK’s progress in meeting its carbon targets and we should be thinking about future generations (in Wales, WFGA). Now is the time for real estate owners to step up to the plate.

Less than a week after edie published its exclusive report, Landlords in London and big names businesses joined forces to accelerate the clean energy transition in tenanted buildings with the objective of reducing their carbon footprint(s). London's lead is an example for other cities and towns across the UK to follow. So, if London can do it, then why can’t they?

I thought I would test this theory in Cardiff. Issued to circa 100 recipients, the predominant recipient of my e-mail and letter was the surveyor category. Why? Because the research by Edie revealed a distinct lack of engagement between Landlords and Tenants. From years of experience, I know that Landlords are represented by surveyors so it was logical that they should be the predominant category (50.5%) of my direct targeting bearing in mind Edie’s principal finding: lack of engagement. The results speak for themselves.

The fact that not one surveying practice replied is truly staggering. Does this response represent a proxy for other cities across the UK? I hope not. In any event, the result of my attempted engagement supports the findings in the Edie report.

So, I conclude by agreeing the Edie report’s recommendations:

  1. Tenants (preferably represented) must be more proactive in communicating their needs to landlords via the surveyor intermediaries;
  2. Education on sustainability is needed to overcome the problem of collaboration;
  3. Enlightened landlords and managing agents will instigate systems and processes to enhance the sustainability of their assets benefitting both parties.

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