Houses of Parliament Westminster London

Westminster's buildings account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Credit: Ugur Akdemir


What a sustainable city charter demands from real estate

Decarbonisation isn’t easy at the best of times. When the goal is to decarbonise a city like Westminster, with 11,000 listed buildings and some of the UK’s most recognisable shops, restaurants and theatres, a systematic approach is necessary.

The Westminster Property Association – whose members include major landlords like Grosvenor, British Land and Derwent – and Westminster City Council have launched London’s first sustainable city charter, providing a framework for decarbonising the built environment.

With a goal to reach net zero carbon by 2040, Westminster is under pressure to retrofit its buildings, which account for 70% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Endorsed and supported by local business groups, the charter provides a framework for reducing operational carbon and applies to non-residential buildings.

Businesses that sign up commit to reducing emissions through measures around energy, waste, transport, procurement and sustainable fit-out and refurbishment.

Key recommendations are:

  • Undertake energy assessments of buildings in collaboration with other relevant stakeholders. Audits should be undertaken within two years of signing up to the charter and at three-year intervals after that
  • Deliver energy efficiency improvements through the installation of renewables, switching to electric heating and cooking or buying green electricity
  • Demonstrate a clear plan for sustainable procurement, including higher priority for local suppliers to reduce transport emissions
  • Enable and incentivise modes of active travel, including provision of shower facilities and cycle to work schemes
  • Commit to replace all diesel, petrol and hybrid vehicles with zero emission vehicles by 2040
  • Consolidate waste collection in collaboration with other stakeholders and commit to a clear waste reduction plan
  • Adopt green leases at renewal or change of occupancy that formalise elements of the charter.

A voluntary framework

The charter is purely voluntary. Participants commit to publishing progress reports annually, which will help inform further improvements to the framework.

Calling itself a “partnership”, the charter does not name and shame companies that fail to meet its targets on progress. However, the steering group behind the project can remove participants who “consistently fail to engage in this process”.

Focusing on existing buildings, the charter also has no bearing on planning policy. All the measures focus on reducing operational carbon, rather than embodied carbon, which comes from construction, renovation and demolition.

Paul Williams, chair of Westminster Property Association and CEO of Derwent London, said: “As a business community, and as citizens, we have a collective responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint and decarbonise our buildings and the ways in which we use them.

“Many of the companies and organisations working in Westminster today are making excellent progress, investing and innovating in order to decarbonise their assets and operations but we recognise that we need to move faster, and be bolder to ensure Westminster becomes a net zero city by 2040. The Sustainable City Charter will play a pivotal role in helping us to achieve this goal.”

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