The UK Green Building Council is a non-profit organisation concerned with improving the sustainability of the built environment. Its members include some of the UK’s largest and most influential businesses. Here’s what the UK Green Building Council has to say about renewable energy, and why it matters.

What is the UK Green Building Council?

The UK Green Building Council (GBC) is a cross-sector membership organisation promoting sustainability in the built environment. The ‘built environment’ refers to any manmade structure where people live and work. The GBC provides resources and support to its members, usually businesses and public sector organisations, as they become more environmentally conscious.

One of the biggest missions of GBC is to assist in the creation of a net zero carbon economy by 2050. As established in the Paris Agreement, ceasing or offsetting 100% of our C02 emissions by 2050 is the only way to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5°C. Global warming is happening, but capping it at 1.5° will help to avoid the most catastrophic of side effects.

If we are to achieve net zero by 2050, the GBC believes we must account for and offset all carbon impacts from the built environment. Their research found that the operation of existing buildings contributed 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions in 2017.

To support its members on their journey to net zero, GBC has produced a comprehensive framework outlining the required processes. In it, they give much attention to the importance of renewable energy. In their opinion, generating renewables on-site is a priority, and preferable to purchasing green energy from other sources.


The role of renewables

The GBC’s framework offers a five-point plan for achieving net zero in the built environment:

  1. Establish net zero carbon scope
  2. Reduce the impact of construction
  3. Reduce operational energy use
  4. Increase renewable energy supply
  5. Offset any remaining carbon

As you can see, reducing the UK’s overall consumption by improving energy efficiency is the top priority. The remaining energy demand should be sourced from renewables to prevent C02 emissions. However, moving away from fossil fuels to electricity will place additional demand on the grid. Therefore, any building that can do so, should be proactive in securing their own onsite renewable energy supply and reduce their burden on the network

The GBC makes it clear that self-generated renewables are preferable to the use of solar and wind farms. Even switching to a 100% renewable energy tariff from your supplier, while an ethical and sensible choice, won’t reduce your carbon emissions as much as on-site solar due to its reliance on an ageing and inefficient energy network.

Promoting self-generation helps support a decentralised energy system, resulting in reduced demand on the grid and reduced transmission and distribution losses. It also preserves greenfield sites, as it reduces the need for solar farms etc. Implementing onsite renewables also increases the value of a property and is a valuable asset for reselling.


Reporting and monitoring energy use

The GBC makes it clear that generating renewable energy is an essential step on the journey towards net zero. Unfortunately, there is often a gap between modelled and measured results when it comes to the C02 offset of solar PV arrays. This is problematic: we can’t achieve net zero if we don’t know how much carbon we’re dealing with.

To combat this, the GBC member framework emphasises the importance of tracking how much carbon is offset. Where possible, buildings should rely on measurement systems, not estimated figures. In real terms, this means monitoring solutions should be installed at the same time as solar PV or other renewables.

As well as measuring carbon offset figures, the GBC promotes annual data reporting. This should be public, holding members accountable. The GBC has high standards: members must have their reported results verified before they can call themselves net zero carbon.

Reviewing the GBC’s reporting guidelines reiterates the importance they place on self-generated renewable energy. The template document (Appendix B in the framework) requires members to report:

  • Total energy generated by renewables
  • Displace of C02 by renewables

As you can see, this reporting framework takes it as given that members are utilising renewables.

Proper reporting of emissions is vital in the fight against climate change, so GBC is not the only framework that exists to support organisations on their journey to net zero. SCATTER is a carbon calculating framework for local authorities. It allows local authorities and city regions to standardise their C02 reporting and set green targets in line with the Paris Agreement. Unlike other frameworks, SCATTER is free of charge for local authorities.


Green for GBC and beyond

As you can see, embracing renewable energy is almost non-negotiable for GBC members. However, it may be prudent for non-members to also operate in line with this framework. To achieve net zero across the whole life of a building, the GBC encourages members to negotiate with low carbon suppliers and partners to “minimise embodied carbon and related liabilities for offsets”. In other words, businesses that wish to collaborate with GBC members must make net zero a priority, too.

The GBC is no small organisation: its members include key players in industry, property development, and many local authorities and universities. Perhaps businesses should consider whether they can afford not to operate within this framework. After all, everyone has a part to play in achieving net zero by 2050.