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The (garden) path to Net Zero

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James Kirkwood's picture
Owner, kW Energy Consultants

Owner kW Energy Consultants; Experienced energy consultant and project manager of wide-ranging, varied and complex energy efficiency projects; Display Energy Certificate (DEC) assessor...

  • Member since 2020
  • 8 items added with 10,393 views
  • May 20, 2021

It has been a crazy few months here at kW Energy Consultants so we will try to quickly sum up what has been happening since we last spoke…(deep breath)…

The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme funding got snapped up by public bodies keen to reduce their carbon emissions (and save a pretty penny or two in the process, win win!) and we have been busy helping out by guiding academies and schools in particular up and down the country by producing Heat Decarbonisation Plans – these highlight the current practices and where to target next on the road to net zero.

The Government backed-Smarter Choices scheme has been ramping up and we have been working closely with clients following on from our in-depth bespoke energy audits; the project team of which we are proud to be a part are working hard to closely monitor energy consumption levels and engage with suppliers to install energy efficiency improvement measures for a range of SMEs nationwide.

We have continued to provide Display Energy Certificates to organisations of all sizes including schools, academy trusts and the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust; obviously the NHS have been going well beyond the extra mile that they usually deliver recently and being able to work with them was incredibly rewarding; by displaying the energy performance of their buildings the team can target which areas need close attention to help save energy and resources for the trust and the care of their patients as a whole – and travelling across the rolling hills of Lincolnshire was very pleasant as well (in between the snow drifts!).

Alongside this we have been busy producing Commercial Energy Performance Certificates (Levels 3, 4 & 5) for buildings of all shapes and sizes, industries and sectors across the region and further afield – whilst the lockdown was naturally a challenge for many, it did allow small business owners in particular to get site surveys and works completed before opening back up to the public. A larger EPC project is underway at East Midlands Railway across its network of railway stations; many of these older buildings are being targeted to ensure they meet the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards but also to go beyond basic compliance and futureproof their buildings to reach higher ratings – as well as this the energy bills of their tenants and carbon emissions are significantly reduced whilst improving customer comfort and satisfaction.

In addition to EPCs our SBEM/Part L (or BRUKL) check services (available for Levels 4 & 5 using advanced DSM software) have been kept busy, highlighting that new buildings are being designed and constructed at a rate of knots; the key of course is to ensure that these buildings have as low an impact on the environment as possible and this Part L check will pull up short any building design that falls short of these standards, taking into consideration everything from the fabric insulation, heating system efficiency, hot water systems, not just the type of lighting but the type & efficiency of LED lighting and much more besides – any failure in any of these areas and a re-design is required.

This is a great start when it comes to buildings but more needs to be done as our accreditation body Elmhurst Energy are keen to stress and are supporting the Construction Carbon Footprint Scheme – this goes beyond the building’s energy performance and tackles the issue of Life Cycle Analysis of a building; from extraction of raw materials right through its lifetime to final disposal. The demand amongst customers and stakeholders for ‘zero carbon buildings’ in this regard is growing, despite it not being a regulatory requirement yet, which just goes to show how on board everyone is and how big a deal climate change and net zero have become.

Carbon footprint reporting for businesses and organisations has really kicked on a notch and it is largely down to the greater awareness amongst business owners and the general public; never before has climate change been in the spotlight and never for such a prolonged spell – gone are the days where the voices of the many were being ignored or put down as ‘more important issues’ were taking place. As awful as the coronavirus pandemic has been, the biggest pandemic has been happening for far longer and will continue to rage and wreak havoc across the globe, namely climate change.

At the end of the day the big policy decisions have to come from the top, the national governments and global agreements have to be more strict (guidance from the latest report from the International Energy Agency certainly suggests so, well worth scrolling down the page to see ‘A clean energy world’) and leaders are finally taking it seriously; a cynic would say they only do what gets votes, so what? If solving the climate change crisis is the top of any politician’s agenda then they guarantee to get votes and save the planet, what is not to like about that?

In the same breath it is unfair for those at the top to put the blame on the people; it should not be up to a person to solve the issue by themselves, despite the rallying cries from the wonderful Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough amongst others, it is not their job and their job alone; especially Greta, as she regularly points out, she’s a teenager, why should it be her job to clear up the mess left behind by the past? This goes back to the political agenda; any politician with half a brain will realise that the younger generations especially have had enough; they have been born and brought up in a world that has been and is still being devastated by the likes of mass de-forestation, funding fossil fuels (literally dinosaur technology, why oh why has this not been sorted yet?) and a lack of progress on wild promises – if politicians want to win over these generations then they need to tackle the climate crisis.

So, the big guns have to pull their weight, but inevitably we do all have a part to play; regulations and laws are only as good as those who follow them, or to put it a nicer way, give it a go. This could be making sure to put things into the humble recycling bin or to reduce waste as much as possible; this starts with avoiding waste in the first place by re-using items (ASDA are now selling pre-loved clothes in their stores, for example) or just not buying stuff we do not need in the first place; really thinking where items of food come from, checking the labels and opting for the British-grown and packaged product over one from the other side of the world, reducing carbon emissions and supporting local farmers.

Away from the policy and ‘serious stuff’ (perhaps this section should be called ‘And finally…’) energy and the environment go hand-in-hand and this time of the year is of course spring, when the sun feels red hot but is regularly obscured by showers and the winds pick up…birds are nesting, bees are buzzing and the days are getting longer, glorious. There is often no better place to experience this change than in our gardens; whatever size garden, yard or balcony/windowbox you have it is the place where our ‘territory’ is shared by wildlife. Combined, our gardens make up more space than all the protected pockets of land in the country, so they really do have a huge part to play when it comes to our interaction with the wildlife around us, especially as new-build houses are popping up left, right and centre, demolishing habitats for millions of creatures in the process and endangering entire species as a result. The very least we can do is offer a bit of help in return; a simple bird feeder, a pile of logs, a bucket with a few plants in can all attract insects, amphibians, birds and mammals that used to thrive on that same land before our house invaded it!

One of the easiest things we can all do (we have done, or not done it!) is…nothing! Let your garden grow a little bit wild as part of No Mow May. You may have noticed that your local verges and parts of parks have been left unclipped recently and it is a movement that really gained momentum last year with local authorities jumping on board to help our plants, flowers and our pollinator friends. By leaving a part of all of your lawn for the month of May, or longer if you wish, to just grow wild, you will be saving on the time spent mowing (as well as electricity or petrol depending upon your mower), protect the lawn by letting it self-seed and provide a haven for colourful wildflowers (yes, daisies and dandelions count!), bees, butterflies, birds and frogs.

In summary then, it really is a ‘boom’ period for the net zero movement and climate action in general and we do all have a part to play, however insignificant not mowing the lawn or buying a sustainable product may seem, it all adds in to the greater picture which includes the policy and regulations from the top and the assessors and consultants like ourselves guiding and enforcing those regulations to ensure our building stock is efficient and sustainable for generations to come, helping to save energy, reduce carbon emissions and protect our planet.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 20, 2021

Carbon footprint reporting for businesses and organisations has really kicked on a notch and it is largely down to the greater awareness amongst business owners and the general public

What I find frustrating in these efforts is there seems to be so little standardization or even agreement for standardization-- since these are more or less voluntary measures (albeit ones demanded by many investors), it looks like they're more boxes to check off then earnest thorough assessments. And when comparing the reporting for different businesses there's inevitably simply apples and oranges-- are we looking at scope 1/2/3 emissions? What are the boundaries? What are the formulas/assumptions/constants used? 

James-- have you seen any sort of widespread standardization or tool that can be used? I know there are private labels that can 'certify' how green or carbon neutral a business is, but then you get into the perverse incentive model where the viability of the business assigning the label depends on people receiving it so the thoroughness and accuracy may come into question. I'd love to see some widespread movement in this area, but it seems to be a bit of the wild west at the moment

James Kirkwood's picture
James Kirkwood on May 21, 2021

I agree, the vast majority of carbon footprints I do (apart from SECR and ESOS, though the latter in particular is more focused on energy consumption not carbon) are voluntary and whilst I follow guidance, that's all it is, guidance, not strict standardisation.

In general scope 3 especially causes problems and becomes quite grey; the Carbon Footprint Construction Scheme for new buildings is trying to standardise it for new buildings from cradle to grave but it's a bit of a minefield!

James Kirkwood's picture
Thank James for the Post!
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