The role of the Carbon Trust

Published:  19 February, 2006

The statistics of carbon emissions from buildings show just why the forthcoming Building Regulations are so timely.DR GARRY FELGATE explains how the Carbon Trust can help

With buildings responsible for more than 45% of carbon emissions in the UK, improving their carbon performance is an important area of focus in tackling climate change.

Energy typically accounts for 3 to 4% of the cost of occupying a building and has therefore not been viewed as a strategic priority. However, as energy costs have risen by a third in the last year alone, this has changed. Awareness is gradually growing that if buildings can become more energy efficient, businesses can cut their costs as well as help to tackle climate change. However, a significant challenge lies ahead if the Government is to meet its target of reducing the UK’s carbon emissions by 60% by 2050.


Buildings and climate change – the statistics

• Buildings are responsible for more than 45% of carbon emissions in the UK.

• Non-residential buildings accounted for about 20% of UK carbon emissions in 2002.

• European Community research has indicated that by improving energy efficiency, carbon emissions from buildings could be reduced by 22%.

• Amendments to the Building Regulations, due to come into force in 2006, aim to improve energy-efficiency standards

by 40%.


New measures

Regulation is currently the key driver in reducing emissions from buildings. and 2006 will see a range of new measures being introduced that will bring the issue of emissions reduction more sharply into focus.

In April, amendments to the 2002 Building Regulations will come into force making it a legal requirement for energy-efficient measures to be integrated into refurbishment projects. In addition, the introduction of the EU Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings will, amongst other requirements, impose minimum standards on the energy performance of large existing buildings that are subject to major renovation and require all public buildings such as hospitals and schools to display an energy-performance certificate.

But regulation should not and must not be the only incentive for action. Organisations need to be made aware of the significant cost savings and potential to cut emissions through installing low-carbon technologies and from making buildings more energy efficient.

Significant impact

Even the simplest technologies such as movement-sensitive light sensors can have a significant impact and do not require large financial investment. In addition, a straightforward energy-efficiency programme — taking actions such as turning down the temperature by 1 K and installing low energy light bulbs — can cut energy bills, deliver savings and, subsequently, reduce emissions.

Recognising that businesses need support and guidance to initiate low-carbon buildings, the Carbon Trust recently launched its advice service on low-carbon-building design service to help organisations understand the benefits of low-carbon design and provide them with practical advice about how to create and maintain an energy-efficient building.

Largest potential

Low-carbon buildings not only make good environmental sense but also good economic sense and can prove to be attractive long term investments. They cost less to run, are cheaper to maintain and can increase staff productivity and morale. This was supported by a recent report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors which suggested green buildings can also command higher rents and prices, attract tenants more quickly, reduce tenant turnover and cost less to operate and maintain.

The introduction of minimum energy-efficiency standards has, on the whole, helped reduce energy consumption in new buildings. However, the largest potential for energy saving lies in the refurbishment of existing stock.

Therefore, the Carbon Trust is also undertaking an initiative to provide proof of the cost-effectiveness and benefits of using low-carbon technologies in refurbishment projects.

The Low Carbon Buildings Accelerator programme aims to accelerate the use of low-carbon technologies through working with a handful of companies in the hospitality, retail and Government sectors to implement and monitor new technologies in a working environment. It will hopefully generate results that will encourage the widespread uptake of these technologies within the buildings industry.

Changing situation

Although regulation is still the most significant driver, the situation is changing, and economic, physical and reputational factors are likely to increase market demand for low-energy buildings in the near future.

Whereas energy was once considered too small a cost to merit investment, businesses are now looking for ways to reduce their bills in the face of ever-rising energy prices. Moreover, as climate change has risen up both the political and consumer agendas, companies are becoming acutely aware of their environmental impact and carbon footprint. Therefore, although further incentives will be needed for action to be taken on a wide-scale, organisations that act now to reduce buildings emissions will be best placed to succeed in the future.

Organisations looking to improve the energy efficiency of their building stock or for guidance on low carbon refurbishment can contact the Carbon Trust via its helpline (0800 085 2005) or visit the website.

Dr Garry Felgate is director of delivery and external relations with The Carbon Trust.



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