Mills Reeve Laura Ludlow

In search of green shoots

Could our enforced lockdown and ability to work from home result in real change around sustainability for the property sector? Laura Ludlow looks at the evidence.

Over recent months the British public has demonstrated an unprecedented ability to respond collectively to the risks posed by coronavirus and in doing so, our lives in lockdown have naturally become more eco-friendly.

Climate Assembly UK, a group of citizens looking at how the UK can reach zero net carbon emissions by 2050, has urged the government not to miss the unique opportunity to capitalise on this new-found sustainability by taking advantage of this capacity for collective action, combined with the growing appetite for change.

Some 93% of Assembly members believe employers should encourage lifestyle changes to cut emissions. After all, who can honestly say they’ve missed their commute during lockdown? Remote working will have a significant and ongoing effect on the property industry, as demand for office space perhaps reduces and certainly evolves. The reduction of carbon emissions from lower levels of commuting will certainly help the Green Recovery. But individual action will not be enough on its own and the whole property industry needs to reform.

In that regard, a collective of real estate ‘Declare’ groups have put forward a number of suggestions to Boris Johnson that will help protect the environment whilst enabling the government to quite literally ‘rebuild’ the economy post-Covid. These include:

  • reducing the VAT rate on refurbishment to 0% to encourage creative reuse of existing buildings;
  • requiring all new buildings to deliver positive impacts in terms of carbon, biodiversity, water, health and wellbeing;
  • using only materials that benefit public health and the environment, with fines to discourage the use of harmful building materials;
  • a mandated 80% carbon emission reduction by 2030 and absolute zero carbon by 2040.

Recent research from the University of Oxford supports that such green projects create more jobs and result in increased long-term savings in comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus. These jobs could range across sectors, including construction and commercial technology, as innovative collaboration would be required to deliver greater environmental sustainability in property than ever seen before.  If the UK government were to make such changes possible, the property and construction industries could expect major changes to the regulatory framework they operate within.

Whilst we all long for the coronavirus pandemic to pass, let us hope that it becomes the much-needed catalyst for those green shoots that will lead to the Green Recovery and a more sustainable property industry that will be here to stay.

Laura Ludlow is principal associate at Mills & Reeve

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