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98% of new public buildings fail to meet highest energy standard

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Energy efficiency failings have been exposed at thousands of recently completed public buildings with less than 2 per cent managing to achieve the top eco-ranking

Government figures showed that of the 7,420 new Display Energy Certificates (DECs) submitted in the three months to 30 September, just 107 were given an A rating for operational efficiency.

More than two-thirds were given a rating between D and G (the lowest ranking) under the monitoring initiative. The scheme requires submissions from all state-occupied structures larger than 250mthat have either been newly finished or have been sold or rented for the first time in a decade.

The government figures show little improvement in the 10 years since the scheme was launched in a bid to encourage building designers to focus on sustainability.

Back in the third quarter of 2008, the proportion of buildings posting A ratings for operational energy efficiency through the certificates was 0.4 per cent. Ten years later it has only grown to 1.4 per cent.

More than 15 per cent of all buildings measured in the lifetime of the initiative have received F or G ratings, marking them at the foot of the sustainability scale. Just taking into account buildings registered this year, the proportion of F and G ratings remains higher than 10 per cent.

In Manchester, 0.9 per cent of buildings have received an A rating for energy performance on DECs. In Birmingham the figure is 0.6 per cent; in Westminster it is also 0.6 per cent.

UK Green Building Council public affairs and policy specialist Jenny Holland said: ‘Clearly there is a pressing need for targets to improve the energy performance of public buildings. The public sector has a responsibility to show leadership in both procuring high-quality new buildings and improving the efficiency of existing buildings.’

RIBA Sustainable Futures Group chair Gary Clark said the government should change legislation to require DECs to be renewed every three years.

’At the moment, DECs are only carried out once every 10 years for larger buildings, which means there is no incentive to make energy improvements,’ he said. ’But this isn’t just about improving what we have, the government needs to address the efficiency of our stock and create exemplary case studies for the construction industry.

’RIBA’s 2019 Plan of Work revision tackles this issue in a number of areas and we will be working on ensuring that sustainability is embedded into our architectural education system, so that students of the future are creating buildings that tackle the impacts of climate change.’

Looking at the related Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) scheme – where the ratings don’t have to be displayed – just 0.1 per cent of homes in England and Wales have achieved A ratings during the past decade. More than 6 per cent scored F or G.

Some 360,837 new EPC ratings were lodged for domestic dwellings in the third quarter of this year, the highest since early 2016.

Responding to the EPC figures, housing minister Kit Malthouse said: ‘While there is more to do, these figures show we are making great progress on delivering better and more efficient homes, driving down household bills for hard-working families.’


Hattie Hartman, AJ sustainability editor

Despite all the talk about climate change, the energy performance of buildings is not high on the public conscience. In the decade since DECs became mandatory, they have failed to drive change.

Public disclosure of energy use – making a building’s energy use visible by locating a DEC prominently at a building’s entrance (as is done at City Hall) – was intended to motivate building managers and occupiers to strive for good performance.

The reality is the data is buried and hard to access, and various loopholes mean that DECs are often not updated.

What is needed is easily accessed current data filtered by building type, so that offices can be benchmarked against offices, and schools against schools.

Rory Bergin, sustainability partner, HTA

Is there anything positive to say about this? No. In a year when the IPCC has released its most strident warnings yet published, and the WWF published a report describing how 60 per cent of our animals have been wiped out by our activities, it is salutary that in the last ten years the built environment in the UK has completely failed to up its game except in the area of eye-wateringly expensive exemplars. This is partially due to the lack of efforts of a lackadaisical Government which on the one hand promises a better environment for everyone, but on the other hand fails to make the actual hard decisions that would make a difference.

The fact that the last Budget failed to make any reference to climate tells you everything you need to know. The industry itself is still on a ‘lowest cost now’ or business-as-usual trajectory and is unlikely to change without strong external influence or a major geopolitical shock. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that city mayors like London continue to make progress in spite of industry and Government constantly putting their foot on the brake.

The construction industry needs to take a long hard look at itself and ask, what are we in business for? To make money for shareholders only, or to make a better world and make returns for shareholders, the two are not mutually exclusive.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • This is hardly news...are we really surprised that a simplistic label designed for white goods is not working for an asset as complex as a building?! I think we have run out of time to embed sustainability in our architectural education system. It requires some competent designers and motivated building occupiers, as the majority of it is behavioural over the life of the building. Simply calling your building sustainable does not make it so, whatever letter or adjective you use to grade it. I think a DEC ‘C’ rating is about building regs standard anyway?!

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