Net Zero Estate Playbook sets out best practices for decarbonising schools, hospitals, prisons, job centres, offices, and other public sector buildings

The Cabinet Office has published guidance for decarbonising public sector buildings such as schools, hospitals, prisons, and job centres, in a bid to “drive consistency in the design, implementation and monitoring of the net zero transition across the UK government estate”.

Launched today, the Net Zero Estate Playbook aims to ensure consistent approaches – such as using solar panels, LED lighting, and greener building materials – are applied across public buildings as the government pushes forward with its drive to decarbonise Britain’s largest property portfolio.

The government is targeting a 78 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the public sector estate by 2035, and aims to then reach net zero by 2050, in line with the UK’s wider legally-binding carbon targets.

At present, however, the public estate generates around two per cent of the UK’s total emissions, and accounts for around nine per cent of emissions from the UK’s notoriously inefficient and draughty building stock.

Designed for public sector bodies and government property professionals, the new Playbook therefore sets out advice and tools for assessing current emissions and energy use in buildings, and includes a raft of recommendations for implementing greener technologies and practices.

The Playbook includes advice for on a range of challenges faced by the public sector estate, such as how to curb emissions through the maintainance and repair existing buildings, how to install insulation or low carbon heating systems, how to upgrade historic buildings, how to undertake major refurbishment projects, and how to deliver net zero newbuild projects.

It also sets out recommendations for securing funding, offsetting remaining carbon emissions, monitoring the success and carbon impact of projects, and introducing green procurement policies.

The guidance, which is being applied to both existing and new properties, is also aimed at helping the Department for Health and associated public bodies improve the sustainability of hospitals through the use of low carbon materials and better understanding of a building’s environmental impact over its entire lifespan, the Cabinet Office explained.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Steve Barclay, said the decarbonisation of public buildings was “absolutely crucial if we’re going to meet our environmental targets”.

“Property professionals should use the Playbook to turn best-practice into standard-practice,” he explained. “It will put the public estate in a stronger position to deliver a 78 per cent reduction in emissions by 2035, and fully net zero by 2050.” 

However, the Playbook does not include recommendations for taking into account ‘whole life carbon’ impact, which includes the amount of embodied and operational carbon emissions over the lifespan of a building, including construction.

Assessing a building’s whole lifecycle carbon (WLC) has attracted growing interest in the property and construction sectors, with planners – including guidance from the Mayor of London – increasingly encouraging developers to calculate and reduce the WLC of their buildings.

Earlier this month, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) also set out its own guidance for assessing and addressing the whole life carbon associated with proposed, new and existing buildings.

However, the Cabinet Office said whole life carbon was not in the scope for the government’s Net Zero Estate Playbook “as the concept is currently in its early stages of development” and remains a “challenging area”.

But it added that “future work will be needed to define the scope and requirements for this approach in a future version of this guidance”.

“As a major land and property owner, UK government must transition its estate to NZ,” the Playbook states. “The Office of Government Property (OGP) sets standards, provides guidance and tools, drives best practice to facilitate this transition and improve capability across government. As part of this work OGP has developed the NZE Playbook as an initial step to provide guidance and consistency in how to address net zero across the wider government property portfolio.”

It added: “As aspects of wider government net zero policy are still under development, further guidance and commitments that emerge will be reflected in future versions of the NZE Playbook.”

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