INSIGHT: The UKGBC's roadmap is a milestone moment for industry

By Paul Cahalan, Head of Communications, chapmanbdsp.

I’ll stick my neck out and say it, COP26 has been a success…for the UK's built environment at least. Forget, for a moment, fossil fuels, climate finance and the merits of GDP as a measure of wealth, and appreciate the UKGBC's Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap.

Clear, concise and focussed, it’s an important step to a net zero built environment. The report dissects complex industry strands and sub-sectors, creates standards and measures and gives clarity to a vitally important area – tracking all carbon emissions throughout the life of a building. Though defining stakeholder groups, their roles and actions - with timelines, technical details for implementation and proof-points - It not only signposts the journey, it also provides the stepping-stones.

Of course, once you have set the direction for a journey, it is useful to ensure you have someone in your party - the Government for instance - who can provide the right skills, advice, tools or equipment to make the journey, and any hazardous crossings, easier. 

In responding to the report’s launch, minsters spoke of tools and levers, challenges and hurdles, but there’s no hiding from the fact the government is now the problem. Some 16 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions come from domestic homes, yet there is no mass retro-fit plan or incentives for the industry to get started – and the government is still resisting calls to remove VAT on retro-fitting projects. You’d have thought the ‘Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day’ at COP26 would be the ideal time to give that signal to the market and industry, but no.

So what next? The industry needs to digest the report and take it further - and detailing strategies for measurement, consent and communication are key. Measurement and disclosure creates accountability and transparency, and, crucially, drives behavioural change.

Some big-hitters have already endorsed the report, but acquiring consent from wider industry will provide the agency and the mandate to go quicker and with purpose. But, why doesn’t UKGBC task the ‘key change agents’ it defines (including us at chapmanbdsp) with incorporating the report into their business or even making a named person directly responsible for implementation? Yes, there are legal questions over adopting the report as advice or guidance, but they are not insurmountable. A similar conversation could be had with policymakers and government.

My experiences at COP26 have illustrated the massive awareness and skills gap with regard to the art of communication. We have well established tools and frameworks for our engineering solutions and the route to net zero, but who is best placed to communicate them? Understanding how and what to communicate, and to who and when, is an acquired skillset, as is the ability to articulate the immediacy of climate change for different audiences.

The UKGBC report, and two other recent important reports – the Built For The Environment report for RIBA and Architects' Declare and LETI's recent Climate Emergency Retrofit Guide – have generated favourable press coverage in industry and trade magazines, but little coverage elsewhere. So many times, at COP and in the run-up to it, I heard peers say ‘we have won the argument’ on climate, I think that’s an introverted and dangerous assumption. We are good at communicating within our own industry, but we need to stop looking in the mirror and gain cross-over with wider audiences to create momentum for change.

The launch of the roadmap is a significant leap forward. A great achievement, a first step on a perilous journey.

INSIGHT: The UKGBC's roadmap is a milestone moment for industry