Whilst climate change may not be the most prominent issue in the public consciousness currently, investment in reducing carbon emissions has recently been positioned as one of the driving forces of economic recovery post COVID-19. Although the energy and transport sectors have been the primary focus of this investment, the property sector also has an important role to play.

We recently released research into ‘Public attitudes to net zero emissions in the UK’ which highlighted the need to view the climate as a challenge in which all sectors must contribute. However, the research also found that the property sector is largely overlooked by the public when considering the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Despite the public’s perception, UK buildings account for around 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions. With such a significant contribution, it is undeniable that the property sector will play a key role in adapting to and contributing towards the target of net zero emissions in the UK.

The property sector has already begun exploring methods to contribute towards net zero during the construction phase, including the use of sustainable materials, alternate methods of construction and the incorporation of low carbon transport and construction vehicles.

There are also opportunities for the sector to reduce emissions in the operational lifecycle of properties. The use of renewable energy on both a macro and micro level can be utilised to lower emissions throughout the lifetime of a building. Alongside the use of renewable energy to power houses, property developers continue to strive to improve the efficiency of their buildings.

Whilst the property sector possesses a range of opportunities to reduce emissions, it faces a set of unique challenges. Property developers operate within tight margins, with significant pressure on time and money. The methods to improve sustainability are likely to increase the costs for developers in the short term, or at least until they become the mainstream options. Where developers could look to pass the costs on to the customer, our research highlighted that the public was unwilling to bear the costs of lowering emissions.

Without government subsidies, property developers are faced with a paradox in which they must invest in reducing emissions but cannot pass the cost on to the customer. Despite the public’s objection to bearing the burden of the financial costs of net zero, our research found that they strongly support tackling climate change.

As a result of this, there is a clear role for communications to play in correctly conveying the benefits of building in sustainability throughout the property sector. A recent study released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy highlighted that over 60% of the public were unaware of what net zero is. It is crucial that projects communicate in a clear and engaging manner, to ensure that the public understand both what net zero is and how each development and property project contributes towards net zero.

Once the public understand both net zero and how each property development contributes towards the target, the property sector can align the benefits of their projects with the interests of the public in order to build advocacy for various projects.

Whilst it’s unlikely that the public will ever be fully supportive of paying more, the cost can be justified through the public’s priorities. Therefore, despite the specific challenges the sector faces, careful positioning and strategic engagement with the public can help drive the UK to meet the 2050 goal of net zero carbon emissions.

Despite the lack of public awareness, the property sector has a key role to play in the UK’s pursuit of net zero emissions. The sector possesses a range of opportunities to contribute towards net zero, however the question of “who pays?” in a sector with inherently tight margins remains a unique challenge for property developers.