By Mark Blyghton and Kendall O’Neill
In 2019, the United Kingdom passed legislation to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. It also set an interim goal to reduce emissions by 75% by 2035. These targets are some of the most ambitious in the world, with the overall project focusing on “clean growth at the heart” of its industrial strategy.
When the legislation passed, the country’s energy minister pointed out his nation’s historic role in launching the Industrial Revolution, the mid-18th century societal transition that created unprecedented economic growth. Relying on the substantial burning of fossil fuels, this transition spread across much of the world over nearly three centuries, fueling our modern economy but causing deadly atmospheric harm through greenhouse gas accumulation.
The UK’s new Green Industrial Revolution, impacting almost every aspect of the country’s economic framework, will also powerfully influence other countries. Since its inception, many nations, including the United States, have begun to create new regulations for lowering emissions, standardizing carbon reporting, and relying on renewable energy.
The UK’s Approach To Net Zero Emissions
In 2022, the United States launched a Net-Zero Government Initiative with 18 other nations to achieve net zero by 2050 in government properties. However, with a population almost five times the size of the UK’s, the U.S. is moving slower toward federal regulations that will reduce greenhouse gases from the private sector. The UK government is offering a highly managed approach to incentivize and guide the nation toward a sustainable, low-emission economy. These standards are already influencing legislation in the U.S., as cities and states set net-zero goals in the absence of federal mandates.
Because UK laws impact global corporations operating within the UK, organizations that conform will be ready for potentially similar U.S. federal legislation. The UK laws are particularly significant to building owners as new laws are phased in to encourage energy-efficient practices. One major part of the UK regulatory approach is the Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) ratings for commercial buildings. These benchmarks provide incentives for sustainable practices but also penalize low performance, with fines or being deemed unrentable. Other countries may start applying variations on this “carrot and stick” approach that both encourages greener practices while implementing substantial consequences to those who don’t update their energy practices.
In the UK, Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) are used in both residential and commercial properties to review a property’s energy efficiency. The government has established an ambitious target of a minimum EPC rating of B for all commercial properties by 2030. Building operators must meet minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES), which after 2028 make it illegal for a landlord to grant new tenancies or to extend existing tenancies of properties with an EPC rating of F or G.
Currently, there is a great potential to improve the energy ratings of UK commercial properties because some analysts warn that nearly 70% of London’s office spaces alone are under an EPC B rating. There are 185M sq. ft. of retail space in the UK—10% are currently listed at an F or G rating, effectively deeming these properties unrentable. The UK government is also introducing a performance-based energy assessment to correlate with the EPC ratings, similar to NABERS (the National Australian Built Environment Rating Scheme). This would require an annual submission of energy use data for buildings to maintain use.
Sustainability Progress In The U.S.
In contrast, the U.S. is at a very different stage in its sustainability journey, with piecemeal legislation throughout the country varying in standards and enforcement rules. The U.S. also lacks a national building or energy code. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy offers a model that cities and states can choose to follow, but there are no mandates requiring compliance.
The only comparable tracking certification equivalent to the UK’s EPC is the Energy STAR Certification for buildings. The Energy STAR Certification ranks performance on a scale of 1-100 and requires buildings to reach a score of 75 or higher. This ranking, based on the measurement of energy use in a building, factors in various operating conditions, including regional weather, building usage, and other considerations. Unlike other self-reporting in the U.S., Energy STAR conducts assessments with a verified third party but there aren’t any penalties for those buildings that are not Energy Star certified.
Some major U.S. cities are leading the efforts to tackle climate concerns. For example, New York City’s Local Law 97 (LL97), which comes into effect in 2024, is one of the most ambitious climate initiatives in the nation. Its goal is to reduce carbon emissions in the city by 40% by 2030 and 8% by 2050. LL97 will require most buildings over 25K sq. ft. to meet more aggressive energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards.
In the Northeast, Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) also has targeted ambitious goals, with requirements for large buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. BERDO outlines a process for large buildings in Boston to provide detailed, substantiated reports on their annual energy and water use to the city and steadily lower greenhouse gas emissions.
With nearly every part of Earth this summer experiencing record-breaking temperatures and prolonged heat waves, addressing global warming has come to the forefront of society. As the world faces the reality of climate change, nations will need to collaborate to create plans for lowering the carbon load that’s disrupting weather and setting humanity on a dangerous path of no return. The first step in creating long-lasting change is understanding current conditions. Technology that aids in tracking emissions and converting fossil fuel systems to renewable sources can turn this path into a sustainable journey that opens the way toward innovation and a green-based economy.
Blyghton is Regional Sales Manager – London and Southeast UK for Distech Controls. Blyghton assists Distech Controls partners to deliver Building Management Systems which achieve client energy, ESG and occupant experience goals.
O’Neill is the Director of Sales, Atrius, Acuity Brands. She has a comprehensive view of the industry’s need to leverage data from building systems and apply digital solutions that drive business initiatives.