COMMENT | Getting the green light: reward rather than penalise

Too often green initiatives make people’s lives more difficult, writes Alison Key of DAC Beachcroft. What we need is an evolution in the philosophy of our approach.

Earlier this summer, we supported a round table discussion among private and public sector professionals with public policy thinktank Social Market Foundation to consider how the route to net zero carbon can be scaled up.

When the built environment accounts for about 40% of the country’s total carbon footprint, the real estate sector has a significant role to play in meeting the government’s sustainable agenda. The greater use of technology to evolve alternative power sources, facilitate new forms of transport and to measure effectiveness was an important point raised when we met.

What is equally important is the approach itself. Restraints and controls make little appeal to hearts and minds; rewards rather than penalties should inform our thinking.

Green bonds

The introduction of green bonds could be an alternative means for local authorities to fund sustainable energy, transportation and building solutions. They are already successfully used in Sweden. Green bonds would also help developers to raise capital and channel investor money towards more environmentally friendly buildings.

The March 2021 Budget saw the government announce that the first sovereign green bonds will be available later this year. The Budget also included the introduction of a green savings product as another reward-focused approach.

A suggestion made during our round table was to incentivise developers and builders to use more environmentally friendly materials and for more accurate measuring of embodied carbon in building materials. This measurement is complex, but the International Finance Corporation has created a Carbon Pricing Mechanism to do this and in doing so has established a worldwide standard.

Working together

Collaboration, support and clarity are also critical to making a leap forward in what is a shared goal for private and public sector, communities and individuals. Many efforts have tended to look at strands in isolation, rather than addressing the entire local ecosystem.

Local government has a critical role to play, but financial limitations impede progress. Councils can also struggle to find common contact points and support in central government.

Overly complex requirements can make it difficult for private developers to engage with local authorities. An increased number of local climate partnerships would support locally based private-public associations that develop practical and popular approaches that meet green ambitions and help improve co-operation for harder to implement measures.

Local government needs to support residents in shifting to green living. Improving public transport networks and the electric vehicle charging network, for example, and setting up car sharing clubs and cycle schemes with the private sector would be helpful. Innovative district heating schemes can successfully capture the imagination and more green spaces and community gardens can captivate our senses and inspire us all to do more.

Achieving net zero carbon requires us all to make changes that go well beyond what has already been done and will likely require some difficult choices.

  • Alison Key is DAC Beachcroft’s national head of commercial development, based in Manchester
  • The full report, Getting The Green Light, achieving sustainability at a local level, is available through this link


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