Aiming for net zero alone is not ambitious enough. Reducing carbon emissions is the target and there is a whole host of technical solutions that can be applied to see that target become a reality; but unless these measures are lucrative or make strong social links, they are likely to fail.
When looking to create value or act ethically, there is a tendency to differentiate between environmental and social approaches; but the two are intrinsically linked and this false division hinders our capacity to think systemically and strategically.
After a particularly difficult few years for people and businesses alike, we need to seek a transition from a carbon intensive society, using a holistic approach that supports economic recovery and sustainable living; but more importantly, is resilient.
This can be achieved by taking an integrated approach, which encourages actions that are socially and environmentally sustainable, while offering a complete solution that educates, informs, and enables partners to move from pledges to measurable actions, to transition, to sustainable places and communities.
It’s clear that the traditional models are far too simplistic, focusing on direct costs and savings. When wider social benefits are considered, such as employment, health, and regeneration, as well as asset value gains from higher EPC ratings, the economic case for sustainability becomes even more compelling.
An integrated approach to sustainability is likely to generate financial savings on capital and operational costs, as well as increasing resilience of building and housing stock and improving quality of life.
By removing the potential blinkers of net zero into an investable approach (from boardroom to place), we can take strategic steps to transition and making sure there are investable outcome benefits, while making best use of current approaches and enabling further innovation across all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This will provide the golden thread to meet climate change challenges and transition to sustainable places and communities.
One of the most impactful projects we are working on at EQUANS is Zero Carbon Rugeley – and it is a leading example of this collaborative approach that looks beyond net zero. We have assembled a team of nine businesses, along with academics from Keele University to support us in designing a town wide smart local energy system (SLES), which will reduce carbon emissions and energy costs.
It is a government funded pilot and if successful, can be applied more broadly across the UK. The point of difference here, is that we are not one contractor looking to deliver a service that may reduce emissions. This is a consortium of local businesses that serve to benefit from the SLES and the local community is heavily involved as we seek to use this platform to educate them about energy use.
The results are therefore lucrative for businesses and communities alike; all while reducing emissions. A win-win-win.
Local authorities and housing providers currently have a unique opportunity to combine multiple benefits in a single action that would accelerate progress to net zero carbon, making communities safer and improving people’s quality of life. A joint approach to tackling these issues will save money, reduce disruption to residents and increase the resilience.
Ultimately, we believe it will simplify life for local authorities and housing providers too, so they no longer face urgent issues separately and consecutively.
It is a moment to think big and transform the way we live; but the transition must start today. This is about levelling up on the sector’s capabilities and capacity to drive positive step change.
I really hope that property owners and the industry recognise the unique opportunity this presents. This is a moment to truly make a difference and to change lives for the better.
This article originally featured in The MJ.