Skyscrapers are major emitters of GHG emissions

There are many studies that show the potential for existing buildings to reduce GHG emissions and we know what their overall impact on emissions is.  It is good to see an article in The Times by Louisa Clarence-Smith about the impact of some of Britain’s best-known skyscrapers.

CO2 challenge that towers over tall buildings

Six of Britain’s best-known skyscrapers produce more than 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, equal to the annual emissions of about 3,000 cars, analysis by The Times has found.

The figures highlight the scale of the challenge for building owners to comply with the government’s commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Under the regime, due to become law via an amendment to the Climate Change Act of 2008, emissions from buildings will have to be completely avoided or offset by planting trees or using technology to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.

Though skyscrapers are an efficient use of land in prime locations, where thousands of people can live and work close to transport links and without the need for a car, their use of cement and steel means that they emit thousands of tonnes of carbon during construction — and once built, they and their occupants consume large amounts of energy, presenting a new set of challenges for their landlords.

The Times analysed energy performance certificates for some of Britain’s tallest buildings. Landlords are required to have the energy efficiency of their buildings assessed whenever a building is advertised for sale or let. The Shard, next to London Bridge railway station, emitted the most CO2, at 4,780 tonnes a year, although this was partly because of its larger scale. The 95-storey skyscraper in Southwark is the tallest building in both Britain and the European Union at 1,016ft high.

Tower 42, the 600ft landmark in the City of London, built in 1980 and originally known as the Natwest Tower, was the least energy-efficient, emitting 49kg of CO2 per square metre.

Building owners are taking steps to improve energy efficiency. Kirsh Group, the company controlled by Nathan Kirsh, 87, the South African billionaire, that acquired Tower 42 seven years ago, has spent £10 million renewing all 20 of its lifts, reducing its use of electricity by 82 per cent. It also has replaced car parking spaces with cycle bays, improved waste management and revised lighting installation so that the building uses only 8 per cent of the previous electricity consumption.

CC Land, the Hong Kong-listed investor that owns the Cheesegrater tower, also known as the Leadenhall Building and one of the City’s newer landmarks, oversaw an 8 per cent reduction in electricity usage, a 23 per cent cut in gas usage and an 8 per cent fall in water usage last year.

Ben Derbyshire, 66, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which joined the global declaration of an environment and climate emergency last month, said that the CO2 emissions figures showed the “considerable” challenge ahead for building owners. “Architects, working together with the entire sector, need to step up to the challenge,” he said. “Building regulations need to be strengthened to regulate and reduce energy use, embodied carbon and water consumption.”

Asif Din, sustainability director at Perkins+Will, an architecture and design firm, said: “These figures show that in order to meet our climate commitments, we need to reassess the way we design and operate large glass commercial buildings.”

Site owners have a financial imperative to improve energy efficiency and to protect their buildings against becoming obsolete and losing value if strict rules make them illegal or unattractive to let. Lloyds Banking Group launched a £1 billion green lending initiative last year that has a margin discount of 20 basis points on purchases over £10 million if the borrower delivers on a series of green commitments.

The message is getting through. Hermes Investment Management, a property investor that owns a stake in the £800 million “Noma” neighbourhood in Manchester, said that it had been able to sell assets for higher values in some locations when they have been refurbished to sustainable standards. M&G Real Estate, which has a £33 billion international property portfolio, has found that green-certified buildings in its European portfolio generate more than 50 basis points higher rental income than regular assets.

Yet other landlords are still playing catch-up. A recent survey of some of Britain’s biggest building occupiers by Edie and Big Clean Switch reported that 80 per cent of occupiers found it difficult to engage with their landlord about switching to renewable energy.

Jon Barnes, head of buildings and technical services at PWC, the Big Four consulting group, said: “We have to get past the idea that renewable tariffs come at a huge premium, or that commercial tenants don’t care about these issues.

“We have some fantastic, forward-thinking landlords who totally get the business case for clean energy and I think they can act as a catalyst for others. I’m confident we’ll get to 100 per cent renewable. The question is just how quickly.”

Since April last year it has become illegal for a commercial property to be let if it has energy performance rating below “E” on a scale of “A” to “G”, where “G” is the worst score.

However, research by Northumbria University has found that 18 per cent of non-residential property such as shops, offices and warehouses in England and Wales, valued at £157 billion, at present do not meet these existing minimum standards.

For landlords, the cost of not transitioning to net zero could be far higher if they don’t respond to new policies and investor and tenant demands.

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