Collaboration is key to decarbonising our built environment

30 Jun 2021

A world-class city can be world-leading in its approach to climate change with the support of the built environment

The last year has been one of disruption and change for cities and regions across the world. Many great cities ground to a halt while they took measures to address Covid-19. We have seen huge tragedy and suffering around the world; and much closer to home amongst friends, family and our colleagues. 

It felt to me as if the world changed overnight in a multitude of ways, many of which we are still addressing now and will be for some time to come. While people heeded Government advice to work from home and help reduce transmission of the virus, we also saw a glimpse of how sustainable cities might look. No heavy traffic congestion, active transport becoming the preferred mode of travel, and thousands of people taking to their local parks and outside spaces to work and play. 

The pandemic also demonstrated the magnitude of the environmental challenge we face. Despite far less social and economic activity, carbon emissions in 2020 only fell by just over six per cent. But we know that to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, emissions need to be halved by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. 

It really demonstrates the size of the challenge and is food for thought as I write these words during London Climate Action Week. A week that looks to take the global perspective that is found in one of the planet’s leading cities, to help spark climate action around the world. 

I am very clear about the action that needs to be taken, and of the importance of the built environment in doing so. Our industry contributes 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions from construction processes, manufacturing of materials, and operational emissions. And our company is responsible for helping shape future places in London and many of the world’s other great cities; places that should be zero carbon, climate resilient and where future communities will thrive. 

At Lendlease we have seven major urban regeneration projects across London. Many of these will not be completed until sometime in the mid 2030s or 2040s. We have a responsibility to make sure that these places are fit for the future, and is why we have made it our mission for Lendlease to be a 1.5 degree aligned company; one which will do everything in its power to help prevent the world from reaching dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change. We have set targets to be Net Zero by 2025 for Scopes 1 and 2, and Absolute Zero Carbon, Scopes 1, 2 and 3, by 2040 – with no excuses, and no offsets. 

How will we do this? Firstly, we can minimise the carbon emissions associated with the fuels we burn, such as diesel on our construction sites, and the electricity we use across our assets over the next four years. We’re already working to phase-out the use of diesel across all of our European construction sites by trialling alternative fuels like renewable diesel and technologies like hydrogen. We’re also switching to 100 per cent renewable electricity across our business.

But to fully eradicate carbon emissions from our business we will need to tackle the embodied carbon in the materials we use in our buildings, and also the energy used by our tenants and occupiers in the places we create. 

A project in London that we are particularly proud of, and where we have already been able to begin a collaborative journey to zero carbon, is at Elephant Park. We’ve been working in partnership there with Southwark Council for over a decade to deliver a regeneration scheme with sustainability and thriving communities at its core. 

Tenants are supplied with affordable net-zero carbon heating and hot water to all homes and shops thanks to the site’s Energy Hub, where 100 per cent of the energy from the combined heat and power network is offset by grid-injected biomethane, produced from green waste. Public spaces are also lit by 100 per cent renewable electricity and usage is minimised through LED lighting. 

We’ve set some hugely ambitious targets. But I want to be clear that we are under no illusion. Whilst some actions to meet those targets are within our direct control, many are not. 

All of our projects are conceived, financed and delivered in partnership with others, and all depend on complex supply chains involving hundreds of other businesses. We simply cannot do this alone, and we need every business we engage with, at whatever level, to join us on this journey. 

A superb example of working in partnership to tackle climate change is at One Triton Square in the heart of central London where we have been working on a refurbishment for British Land. The net area of the building was increased by 57 per cent but by opting to refurbish and add new sustainable technology, rather than build afresh, a saving of 40,000 tonnes of carbon is being achieved. 

It has been a triumph of teamwork between our team, British Land and some exceptional designers at Arup. The project was ground-breaking because the whole team shared a mindset and a mission to drive through the kind of positive changes that we need to see if we are to achieve our environmental targets. 

These are just two of a number of projects across London that are already making progress towards decarbonisation. There is still a long way to go, but I am confident that a city like London and an industry like ours, can rise to the challenge and inspire global climate action.