Departments get ‘how to’ guide on greening government estate

Cabinet Office playbook sets out how public-sector buildings can contribute to net-zero carbon goal
DWP's "exemplar" hub in South Wales Credit: McCann & Partners

By Jim Dunton

24 Nov 2021

The Cabinet office and the government property function have unveiled an 88-page handbook aimed at helping departments and agencies maximise their contribution to making the UK a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050.

According to the Net Zero Estate Playbook, the UK public sector manages more than 300,000 individual properties – the largest property portfolio in the country, while the public estate is responsible for generating 2% of the nation’s carbon emissions.

The playbook calls on departments and agencies to lead by example on the road to delivering the UK’s 2050 commitment, enshrined in law in 2019 by then- prime minister Theresa May, and gives advice on governance structures and developing estate decarbonisation plans.

It also highlights exemplar projects, such as the Department for Work and Pensions’ recently-opened hub in in Tŷ Taf, Wales, which boasts energy-efficient solar-powered technology and electric vehicle-charging points for staff.

Additionally, the guide encourages decision-makers to properly explore the benefits of refurbishing or retro-fitting existing buildings as an alternative to “automatically” commissioning new-build properties.

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay said decarbonising public buildings was “absolutely crucial” if the nation was going to meet its environmental targets.

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

Lord Theodore Agnew, who is a joint Cabinet Office and HM Treasury minister with responsibility for cross-government efficiency and public-sector transformation improvements, said the government had to go beyond decarbonising its own property and lead from the front.

“We are steadily working towards creating a greener public estate,” he said. “Since 2010, we have reduced carbon emissions by 50%, but there remains much more work to do.

“We have made significant progress on encouraging collaboration and co-location between parts of the public sector. We are working to improve maintenance, insulation, and efficiency across the public estate. We are prioritising retrofitting existing buildings where we can, and adopting modern and sustainable methods of construction where we need new buildings.”

Agnew said the playbook would support departments to go “further and faster”.

The Cabinet Office said the guide would help the Department of Health and Social Care, and associated public bodies, to improve sustainability of their hospitals through the use of low carbon materials and improved understanding of a building’s environmental impact over its entire lifespan.

Other areas of assistance include advice on how to navigate net-zero estate strategies for property with multiple uses – such as office and laboratories – or those that are publicly owned but leased to other organisations.

The playbook also provides an overview of the roles of key departments responsible for net-zero policy, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy,  the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,  the Office of Government Property, and the Government Property Agency.

It adds that the Infrastructure and Projects Authority is currently working on the roll-out of whole-life carbon assessments across government departments and arm’s-length bodies to deliver greater availability of estimates and data for a wide range of building types.

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