A man dressed as a broccoli arrested on the streets of London and people glueing themselves to tube trains before getting a good shoeing in Canning Town can only mean that the Extinction Rebellion are back in town.
The merits of these protests can be debated endlessly.
But it is becoming increasingly accepted by both business and politicians that climate change must be taken seriously.
Clearly, property must play its part given that the built environment is responsible for roughly 40 percent of the UK’s total carbon footprint, according to the UK Green Building Council.
However, while property may often be maligned for being an old fashioned club of chaps in blue suits, real estate is increasingly becoming aware of its responsibility as an industry to implement changes to tackle climate change.
In September, 23 property companies with a total of over £300bn of assets under management signed up to a climate change commitment, launched by the Better Buildings Partnership, requiring them to pledge that their portfolios will be net zero carbon by 2050, and that they reveal how they intend to reach that target.
There are business reasons for investors and developers to look towards backing green projects. One, it reduces the risk of being exposed to stranded assets as the UK and global economy shifts towards this being the norm.
And, two, increasing numbers of investors are making it clear they will not put their money into vehicles that back projects that are harmful to our environment. This is becoming more than just a fashion for a small minority. It’s a clear and swelling trend.
Less polluting buildings, whether homes or offices or factories, will improve our air. Recent studies have shown that air pollution is killing as many Brits as smoking does a year. And of course, these pollutants in the air exacerbate conditions like asthma, adding stress to our already under pressure NHS with research showing 1,000 London hospital admissions a year due to asthma and other lung conditions caused by poor air, for example.
The benefits of a greener built environment are not just restricted to our health. More efficient homes will cut household bills, which in turn will increase their spending capacity. That’s good news for our economy.
But it’s not only in new builds where we need to see a push for green. Many of our older buildings are gas guzzlers, and an immediate and sensible step the government could take would be to eradicate VAT charges on refurbishment, much like the French have.
This would encourage investment appetite for refurbishment and help us start to fully decarbonise our building stock.
Design must also play its part.
Leading voices in the architectural world have acknowledged this fact, with Assael Architecture becoming the UK’s first practice to adopt the UN’s Climate Neutral Now Initiative. Through the initiative, Assael must now calculate and disclose its current carbon footprint, including international air travel, showing a clear pathway to reducing it year-on-year.
Architecture can also be a powerful tool towards building a sustainable future. Through the use of natural materials like timber and cork, as well as the use of greenery in developments, new buildings can absorb much of the greenhouse gasses that we produce, radically reducing our emissions and helping us to live healthier lives. Greener architecture has also proved itself to be a future proof investment, with green homes becoming quite the status symbol.
It’s clear that the property industry has in fact made a number of significant strides in the right direction. We have the means and motivation to transform the built environment in the UK and the way it operates, but now has to be the time to seize this opportunity.