The Duke of Westminster’s £5bn British and Irish estate has promised to end net carbon emissions from its buildings in little more than a decade, in a pioneering move for a big UK property company.
Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, which owns hundreds of historic properties in Mayfair and Belgravia, plans to replace gas heating with other energy sources as part of the plan to reach “net zero” operating emissions in buildings it runs by 2030.
Buildings and construction account for about 40 per cent of global emissions and moving UK buildings on to hydrogen or electric heating is likely to be one of the biggest challenges to the goal of cutting the country’s overall carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. That target, set out this month by the committee on Climate Change, is expected to be largely adopted by Theresa May’s government.
Craig McWilliam, chief executive of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, said: “Companies need to have a wholesale rethink on how they use their influence to halt the worsening impacts of climate change,” adding that the group recognised “the far-reaching impact a change in our behaviour can have”.
Properties covered by the commitment include about 500 listed buildings on the vast London estate established in the 1600s by the ancestors of Hugh Grosvenor, the 28-year-old who became the seventh Duke of Westminster in 2016.
Grosvenor joins just 18 other companies to have signed up to a net zero carbon buildings commitment set out by the World Green Building Council. These groups, including the UK housebuilder Berkeley Group and several Australian companies, have pledged to reach net zero operating emissions in their property portfolios by 2030.
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, an industry advocacy group, said Grosvenor’s plans were “really ambitious . . . on the pioneering end of the industry”. She added: “Businesses as a whole need to accelerate recognition that the buildings they occupy are a really big part of their carbon footprint.”
Mr McWilliam admitted Grosvenor would need “yet to be developed and tested” technologies to meet its target, although he said the group was on track to halve emissions on its London estate by 2023.
Emily Hamilton, senior sustainability manager at Grosvenor, said the group would switch to on-site sources such as solar panels and ground source heat pumps. Where that is not possible, Grosvenor will use renewably sourced electricity through the grid. Ms Hamilton added that, where it could, the group would avoid using carbon offsets to achieve its goal.
Grosvenor’s pledge applies to thousands of buildings that it directly controls, including offices, stores and 15,000 new homes in the pipeline outside London. It has begun negotiating “green leases” imposing environmental conditions on business tenants and offering waste audits to restaurants and bars on its estate.
The group has less power to impose green changes on buildings where it only owns the freeholds, but will start adding green clauses into new long-term leaseholds, Ms Hamilton said.
Other UK property companies have also made green pledges: Landsec, the largest listed property company by assets, has committed to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 2014 levels.
Berkeley, the housebuilder, is trialling a home battery system charged from a solar canopy that can be used to power a house and car.