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Zero emissions and beyond

Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

By Heidi Lee, Interim Chief Operations Officer, Beyond Zero Emissions

Businesses that rely on fossil fuels are faced with ever-increasing utility costs, while those signing up for cheap renewable energy are reaping the commercial benefits of the early shift. Beyond Zero Emissions’ (BZE’s) vision is for all building owners to plan for a zero emissions future, implement efficiency strategies, get off gas, and sign up to renewables to improve the health of our cities and the performance of building assets.

As nations around the world battle the COVID-19 pandemic, our built environment remains one of the largest sources of air pollution, a major cause of death and disease globally, and a condition that lowers our resilience to respiratory illness. Facilities managers can play an important role in reducing pollution from the built environment, thereby helping to improve our public health baseline for a more resilient community in the face of future emergencies.

BZE’s research demonstrates that it is both possible and advantageous for the Australian economy to decarbonise within 10 years. Those who decarbonise sooner are most advantaged by the shift, with government funding support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), as well as a large number of state and local finance offers, making them well positioned to support building owners and managers to quickly move to renewables.

Worldwide trends also show an increasing uptake of renewable energy and insecurity in traditional fossil fuel technologies. That, plus the added pressure from communities and governments to address climate change and lower emissions, means that most sectors are already planning and progressing towards zero emissions.

As Australian environmentalist Paul Gilding says, scale and speed are the only game in town. Businesses that don’t change risk being left behind in the transition, and facilities managers are well placed to move their sector to zero emissions. Initiatives like the Science Based Targets are helping to drive change for large corporations around the world.

As the climate and our world change, our economy needs to become more diversified and resilient. Changing climatic conditions – hotter summers, fluctuating air quality, energy challenges, health pandemics, and economic and social upheaval, to name a few – are very real impacts that will test business resilience. Facilities managers should therefore ask: how will our buildings adapt to these changing needs, and what resilience and ability to respond exist in our management systems?

Let’s not play this down: these are challenging, tough impacts to grapple with, but we must rise to the challenge of adapting our systems and planning for the future. BZE has worked with a variety of communities, businesses, governments, and other stakeholders to create zero carbon road maps, including on exciting work underway to help a very large company deliver a world-first zero emissions project. The drive and dedication to ‘go zero’ is out there, and BZE is excited to see where facilities managers can take their businesses in the next decade. Planning, implementing and tracking progress towards emissions reductions targets is key.

Energy management in buildings is already an important part of FM. Monitoring building climate control for users, keeping an eye on energy bills, and managing work health and safety impacts are all critical, and a zero emissions strategy cuts across all of these responsibilities. Many businesses are now using sophisticated methods to monitor and manage their energy, but this must be translated into tracking emissions outcomes against a corporate zero emissions target.

BZE welcomes the recent expansion of Green Star’s credit range to include embodied emissions, as this helps to shine a light on the less-understood parts of our supply chain: the emissions produced by the factories and trucks where building materials and products are made before they arrive on site.

Get off gas. Tim Forcey demonstrates how natural gas supply on the eastern seaboard is compromised in his recent article, which is important reading for any manager still running gas boilers and cogeneration. Investing in electric equipment and batteries won’t only lower emissions, but it’s also a smarter long-term solution for buildings and their managers.

Investing in battery storage is also a sensible solution for resilient building energy provision. Battery storage has become a reliable, accessible technology with benefits that include the ability to load share, produce energy on site and reduce energy costs.

Our upcoming One Million Jobs report will identify the huge potential for localised battery manufacturing and a rollout of onsite solar, batteries and energy efficiency measures that will have the co-benefit of eliminating gas bills and reducing energy bills overall.

Facilities managers should also explore opportunities for precinct solutions. Sometimes it makes sense to collaborate with your neighbours to balance load/ demand management, and to share energy costs, such as storage and microgrids.

Leading building owners and managers are also reaping the benefits of renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs). PPAs are long-term contracts between power providers and large users. Businesses can negotiate with power retailers to provide favourable rates for renewable energy that may also include onsite power generation and storage. There are also great opportunities to collaborate with others to find the cheapest access to renewable energy for your building.

Government and industry leaders are already making key decisions that will determine what a post-pandemic world will be. Countries in Europe and around the world are calling for a ‘green recovery’, choosing to see the opportunity in the situation and to reset our economic systems for a more sustainable world. BZE considers this an ideal time for building owners and facilities managers to advocate for any support needed in order for your assets to run on zero emissions in order to be modernised, futureproof and efficient, and to eliminate pollution.

No matter where you are on your zero-emissions journey as a facilities manager, there are next steps you can take. You may be only thinking about the potential, or your business may be well advanced and looking beyond zero emissions. If you’re starting out, engage across your team and other business units. Collect and gather, and assess where you’re at and how to achieve zero emissions. The market is already rewarding the early adopters. Speak to other facilities managers and businesses who may have already started their zero-emissions journey – the FMA may be able to link you with relevant people.

BZE exists to deliver the nation-wide transition to a zero-emissions economy. Its work with the built environment began almost 10 years ago, and it is very willing to help share knowledge and resources with businesses who want to decarbonise. BZE thrives on the impossible and would welcome organisations who have found an insurmountable challenge in their zero-emissions journey to reach out for support.

This story was originally pusblihed in Facility Perspectives Vol 14 No 2