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  • Writer's pictureCUBE

How landlords can overcome cost concerns and lead the way in sustainability

Originally published by UKGBC on 29th Nov 2023

The real estate sector remains one of the largest contributors to global carbon emissions, generating 39% according to recent research from Savills, with operational emissions alone accounting for 28%. In fact, approximately 30% of energy consumed in office buildings is wasted. With such a substantial role in the current climate crisis, the real estate sector must not delay in taking strong action to reduce its impact on the environment.

However, recent data revealed that nearly half of UK landlords find it too costly to comply with environmental regulations, particularly those related to energy efficiency standards. The reluctance to invest in green initiatives is alarming, especially considering that buildings are responsible for a significant portion of global carbon emissions. However, the road to net-zero doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive and can deliver significant cost savings. This is evidenced by programs like the CUBE Competition, a pioneering initiative demonstrating that one of the most effective ways to kickstart the journey to net-zero is through simple behavioural changes and minor building reprogramming. It aims at improving energy efficiency and occupier engagement in commercial buildings through gamification.

In fact, our program proves that there is a strong business case for net zero and shows why landlords cannot hide behind cost concerns to delay their contribution to a more sustainable future

In its inaugural year, the competition showed that simple changes can help made remarkable strides in reducing emissions and equivalent cost savings. Over 6,000 tonnes of CO2 were saved across 540,895 square meters of commercial space in 30 buildings, collectively reducing energy costs by approximately £8 million.

To put these savings into perspective, if the same principles were applied to the approximately 860 million square feet of office space in England, it could result in annual energy cost savings of £3.8 billion and a reduction of nearly 3 million tonnes of carbon emissions. These savings aren’t limited to a specific building type either, as medium-sized buildings saved 18% annually, often outperforming larger buildings, while even BREEAM-certified buildings achieved an average energy saving of 22%.

While simple behavioural changes are not the sole solution for achieving net-zero, they serve as a promising starting point. This competition demonstrates that substantial improvements in energy efficiency are within reach and can be cost-effective, especially considering the rising cost of energy and carbon emissions. Particularly, this means that landlords can no longer hide behind the excuse of high costs when it comes to tackling sustainability; they must take action to address their carbon footprint. In fact, with minimal investment, the average energy intensity of CUBE buildings went from 262 kWh/m² before the competition, to 215 kWh/m² after one year. While this is a substantial achievement, buildings across the UK must continue their efforts to meet the UK Green Building Office Intensity Targets of 90 kWh/m² by 2030.

To summarise the impressive results of CUBE Year 1:

  • A total of 31 GWh in energy savings, including 20 GWh in electricity, heating, and cooling savings, and 11 GWh in gas savings.

  • 540,895 square meters of commercial space were involved, with approximately £15 in energy cost savings per square meter.

  • An average energy consumption reduction of 17% for all participants, with the top three participants achieving a 36% average reduction.

The business case for achieving net-zero is clear. It delivers significant cost savings, substantial carbon reduction, and the potential for substantial financial gains. Landlords and property owners cannot continue to use cost concerns as a shield against sustainability efforts. CUBE’s success in reducing energy consumption through behavioural changes and minor technical adjustments demonstrates that a greener future is both affordable and attainable, and it’s time for the real estate sector to take a leading role in the global effort to combat climate change and transition to a net-zero future. Season two is coming soon, an opportunity for more landlords and building managers to play their part and drive greater positive impact for the sector.

Mark Bruno is chief ambassador of CUBE & partner at Ampersand Partners


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