Top Tips for Getting Your Building Verified as Net Zero Carbon

Juno Heath

Building Performance Engineer

Max Fordham LLP

(c) Janie Airey

Does your organisation have a net zero commitment? Do you want to apply this to your buildings too?

Building Performance Engineer Juno Heath helps people achieve their net zero carbon goals for their buildings. She focusses on designing low energy buildings, and looks carefully at optimising and fine-tuning controls to improve energy efficiency in use. Juno has been putting her knowledge into practice on our own offices, where we're completing the process of Net Zero Verification for the second time.

Firstly, why did we choose the UKGBC Framework? There are a few out there but we think this one is currently the best, so we’re backing it. In 2019 we made a commitment to make our offices verified Net Zero Carbon and we fully encourage you to do this for your buildings too.

Here are a few tips to get you started on a route to verification:

  1. Wean your building off fossil fuels. To be verified as net zero carbon under the UKGBC framework, a new build cannot use fossil fuels for heating, hot water or cooking, which means no new gas boilers or gas CHP! For an existing building to be verified, if it is not already all-electric, means committing to phasing out the use of fossil fuels within the building over time. When we began the process of UKGBC net zero verification, four out of five of our buildings still used gas boilers, and now there are three. We recommend phasing out their use before their next procurement cycle.
  2. Compare your building’s performance to relevant metrics to understand its energy performance. The UKGBC have released Energy Use Intensity targets for offices, which should be met to achieve verification. UKGBC are planning to release them for other building typologies, too, but in the meantime you can check the RIBA 2030 and LETI targets which are likely to be similar. In order to compare your building to these metrics, you will need to know the gross internal area (GIA) or the net lettable area (NLA) if you’re a tenant and have some meter readings. Most of our offices meet the current targets except two, so we have developed an appropriate action plan for these offices, one of which we have already put into motion. So, if your building doesn’t currently meet its interim target, you can still get verification as long as you provide an action plan of how you plan to reduce its energy consumption. However, this flexibility is likely to change with updates from the UKGBC, where achieving the interim target will be mandatory to achieve net zero verification, therefore it is important you start to put into practise what your plan proposes.
  3. Change your electricity utility company. The UKGBC framework rewards renewable energy procurement. If you manage a large estate, an off-site Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with a renewables provider might be appropriate. If you have any spare roof space, or the building is in a windy position, then you could consider generating some renewable electricity using PV panels or wind turbines. If you are managing smaller buildings, you can access renewables through a few selected energy companies. There is a lot of greenwash in the energy market, which can be very confusing, however the latest UKGBC guidance outlines that just three UK suppliers are currently recognised by Ofgem to provide greater impact in growing the UK renewables market, beyond that generated by subsidy or other mechanisms. These companies are Ecotricity, Good Energy and Green Energy. We are already customers of Green Energy in our London office, and we’re working on trying to persuade the landlords of our other offices to switch to them too. We are also encouraging our landlords to install PVs on the roofs of our office buildings.
  4. Consider available carbon offsets. If your building already uses renewable electricity, and no fossil fuels, then your offsetting bill to achieve operational net zero carbon verification could already be zero under the UKGBC framework. Congratulations if so, but you will likely be in the minority! To offset the gas and remaining electricity usage for our offices we have previously purchased offsets offered by UK peatland restoration projects accredited via the UK Peatland Code, recognised by the UKGBC framework. Peatland restoration is key to the UK’s NZC goals and we have funded it as part of our NZC verification. More recently we chose offsets from The Gold Standard, another offsetting standard recognised by the UKGBC, which funds projects all over the world. A mistake easily made would be purchasing a pending insurance unit (PIU) type of offset. A PIU is a future project that will act to offset carbon, but is not currently operational or in existence i.e. trees that are not already planted. This type of offset is not counted by the UKGBC as credible to use for your residual carbon balance.
  5. Choose the leadership approach. If you really want to show your commitment, you can choose to go down the leadership route for getting verification. This is optional and not required to become verified under the UKGBC framework. It involves paying a higher carbon price that aligns to HM Green Book valuation of what carbon should be priced at, as opposed to what it is priced at, to produce a transition fund. Part of this transition fund must be spent on offsetting your residual carbon emissions as discussed in tip 4. Any left-over funds can then be spent on supporting projects of your choosing with more flexibility of where this money can be spent. It generates funds to further support the transition to net zero by supporting work and projects that might not count as an official offset, but which still have significant carbon reduction value.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas on how you can better prepare your building to be net zero verified. Get in touch if you think we can help!