UK Net Zero Carbon (UK NZC) Buildings Standard

UK Net Zero Carbon (UK NZC) Buildings Standard 685 479 Greengage Environmental
Climate change

UK Net Zero Carbon (UK NZC) Buildings Standard – An update from Futurebuild 2024

An update on the eagerly awaited UK NZC Buildings Standard was provided at Futurebuild 2024 during a panel session comprising Katie Clemence Jackson and Rosie Bard (UK NZC Buildings Standard), Will Arnold (The Institution of Structural Engineers-IStructE) and Jess Hrivnak, RIBA.

What have they done so far?

UK NZC Buildings Standard Group created and tested a science-based limit setting tool to develop the targets and limits for various sectors. Sectors where limits are being set include homes, sport & leisure, hotels, offices, retail, commercial, residential, schools & further education, culture & entertainment, logistics/warehouses, healthcare, heritage, data centres and science & technology.

A consultation was run last summer asking the industry some pertinent questions. These questions were crucial for the ongoing development of the standard. They received an excellent response from the industry, a response that shaped and informed their decision-making. Key decisions comprised:

1. Role of offsetting

Offsetting will be voluntary and not mandatory to push the industry towards meeting the published targets and limits to get to the residual carbon to a point where the future UK grid can accommodate it. In essence, you will need to conform to the Standard’s limits and targets to achieve ‘net zero building’.

a. This is contrary to UKGBC’s earlier definition of net zero building – where residual emissions must be offset through on-site or off-site renewables for a building to be called ‘net zero’.

b. For organisations, the Science Based Targets Initiative still mandates that organisations first meet science-based targets and then offset their residual emissions by 2050 to claim ‘net zero’ status.

c. Greengage, in the response to the consultation, suggested making offsetting mandatory. Offsetting has an important role to play in supporting and funding projects specifically in sectors and regions that can accelerate global decarbonisation, but lack the funding to do so. This is specifically the case in developing nations and in sectors that rely on high funding to develop future technologies.

d. The standard is in alignment with UKGBC regarding purchasing quality offsets in line with latest carbon offsetting and pricing guidance.

2. Whole building approach versus demise-based approach

UK NZC Buildings Standard will release a beta version this spring as version 1. Version 1 of the standard will describe the whole building approach. The consultation proved useful in understanding how crucial it is to develop demise-based approaches for certain sectors, such as offices and retail, and the working group is currently working on this approach in parallel and it will be released later. This is also consistent with our response to the consultation where we suggested that the standard incorporates a demise-based approach along with a whole building approach. We also stated in our response that the drawback of allowing certain demises, or part building achieving net zero status would be that it would disincentive the collaborative working and systems thinking approach between owners and occupiers to achieving a net zero whole building. Hence the demise-based approach would need careful thought.

3. Verification

The UK NZC Buildings Standard is essentially a guidance document and not a scheme such as BREEAM or NABERS that offer a rating to a building. Even though it is voluntary for the real estate sector to use the standard, it will essentially become a de facto standard in the UK that offers a consistent definition for net zero carbon building across the 13 sectors. The ‘Net Zero’ claims will need verification to avoid greenwashing. Over a building lifecycle, the working group has made it voluntary to follow the standard at the design stage using their suggested design approach, voluntarily validate the building performance against the standard at practical completion and verify the net zero carbon status 1-year post-occupancy. Validation of the embodied carbon targets and limits will be crucial at the practical completion stage.

In essence, to be called Net Zero Carbon, the operational energy of the building needs to be verified with at least 1 year of metered energy use and the building must be occupied in this period.

Self-verification is not allowed, and the evidence will have to be verified by a third party. What constitutes ‘evidence’ is currently unclear, and we are hopeful that the beta version will provide further clarity on it.

This is where there is room for further development of the standard, as questions around whom we submit to for verification, what will be the qualifications of the third party, and how often we need to verify it, remain unanswered.

In our opinion, the standard should also publish a verification methodology and provide guidance on the qualifications required for a person or company to verify the evidence submitted. Forming or partnering with an accreditation organisation can also be looked at in future.

It was also confirmed that the beta version will provide targets and limits for all 13 sectors for both embodied and operational carbon. It was also confirmed that it will contain guidance for both existing buildings (retrofits) and new developments.

Will the standard supersede all other published guidance from LETI, RIBA and UKGBC?

The purpose of the standard was to get key industry organisations such as BBP, BRE, the Carbon Trust, CIBSE, IStructE, LETI, RIBA, RICS, and UKGBC to collaborate and work towards one consistent definition of net zero buildings across various sectors for operational and embodied carbon. Currently, as the panellists answered, there is commitment from RIBA and IstructE that they will align their guidance to this standard. BRE may also incorporate elements of this standard in their next revision of the BREEAM rating scheme. UKGBC on their webpage of Net Zero carbon Buildings – Framework definition have published the intent to align with this standard.

Finally, the working group is looking for beta version testers from the industry. If you would like to volunteer to try it out, please sign-up here. We already did!

For further information, please contact Apeksha Gupta.

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