Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Sustainability in Property Development: A Growing Trend
16th December 2023
29 minutes

Sustainability in Property Development: A Growing Trend

Sustainability has become an imperative for property development driven by climate change, regulations and reputation. Constructing future-proofed green buildings brings opportunities despite perceived barriers. This article provides commercial and technical guidance so UK developers can confidently deliver against sustainability goals amidst the zero-carbon transition.

Sustainable building practices in UK property development are accelerating, driven by tightening regulations, corporate branding imperatives and shifting consumer preferences. Figures show that since 2010 the number of residential developments achieving sustainability certifications has risen from 12% to 38% today. Adoption looks set to continue climbing to meet 2050 net zero mandates.

Detailed Practices and Benefits of Sustainable Property Development:

Sustainable Practices



Energy Efficiency and Renewables

Installation of insulation, triple glazed windows, LED lighting, and renewable energy sources like solar panels and heat pumps.

Reduces energy demand, cuts operational costs, and helps achieve net zero carbon emissions.

Sustainable Building Materials

Use of low embodied carbon materials, sustainably sourced timber, recycled metals, and low VOC products.

Minimises environmental impact, supports biodiversity, and improves indoor air quality.

Water Management and Conservation

Implementation of rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, and water-efficient fixtures.

Conserves water resources, reduces mains water consumption, and lowers utility bills.

Assessment and Planning for Existing Buildings

Energy and water usage audits, targeted retrofit plans.

Identifies key areas for improvement, enabling cost-effective sustainability upgrades.

Retrofitting and Technology Integration

Insulation upgrades, window replacements, integration of smart heating controls, and renewable energy systems.

Enhances energy efficiency, reduces carbon footprint, and modernises older buildings.

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Drivers of Sustainability Adoption

Climate Change and Environmental Concerns

Climate change and broader environmental concerns are key drivers behind the adoption of sustainable practices in UK property development. Global warming, caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions, is already having observable effects like melting polar ice caps, sea level rise, and an increase in extreme weather events. If left unchecked, scientists predict dire consequences from uncontrolled climate change including flooding of coastal cities, mass species extinction, and huge economic impacts. Decarbonisation and achieving net zero emissions is therefore a priority to curb the climate crisis.

Beyond climate change, there are wider environmental motivations for the property development industry to adopt greener building practices. Increased construction and resource use is linked to deforestation, habitat loss and reductions in biodiversity. Adopting sustainability measures can help minimise the ecological damage from new developments. For example, installing green roofs or ensuring connectivity of green spaces allows flora and fauna to flourish amidst the built environment.

With the weight of scientific evidence showing human activity is damaging environmental systems, sustainable property development has become an ethical and moral imperative. By assessing and reducing the carbon footprint of projects, developers can contribute to wider climate change mitigation efforts.

Government Policy and Regulations

The UK government has introduced various policies, regulations and building codes designed to mandate more sustainable construction practices. These rules ensure the property development industry contributes to national environmental targets.

In terms of regulatory compliance, Building Regulations Part L Conservation of Fuel and Power stipulates maximum carbon dioxide emission rates for new buildings. To satisfy planning permission requirements, developers must also demonstrate their sustainability credentials across areas like transport connectivity, flood risk mitigation and habitat protection.

Additionally, the upcoming Future Homes Standard will require new builds to produce 75-80% less carbon emissions compared to current levels. This represents a major tightening of the rules which the property development sector must adhere to. Non-compliance can lead to rejected planning applications, revoking of permits and financial penalties.

Staying abreast of evolutions in green regulations, and designing compliance into new projects, is therefore essential for firms like Beech Holdings to maintain operations. It also helps secure their reputation as a trusted, responsible developer.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Reputation

Sustainability has become a key pillar of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and branding in the modern era. Faced with growing public environmental awareness, developers ignore ecological impact at their peril. Consumers and investors now demand firms assess and take responsibility for their environmental footprint.

Constructing highly energy efficient buildings, using renewable energy sources, reducing waste and protecting green spaces are key to demonstrating CSR credentials. With options to work with ethical, sustainable suppliers across the supply chain, developers can now ensure positive environmental and social outcomes across the entire property development lifecycle.

For institutional investors and funds looking to invest in the property development sector, assessing the ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) policies of potential partners is now commonplace. Strong ESG practices indicate a company is managing longer term environment risks responsibly, reducing chances of stranded assets or reputational damage.

Similarly branding campaigns centred around sustainability and net zero carbon can boost public perceptions of developers as ethically-minded, planet-friendly businesses. By contrast, an exposed record of environmentally harmful decisions leaves firms vulnerable to criticism and consumer backlash.

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Sustainable Design and Construction Practices

Energy Efficiency and Renewables

Constructing highly energy efficient buildings is fundamental for sustainable property development projects. Installing high levels of insulation, triple glazed windows and LED lighting halves energy demands compared to standard buildings. Intelligent heating systems with zoned temperature controls and smart metres also minimise power waste.

Onsite renewable energy sources help developments achieve net zero carbon emissions annually. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels generate cheap, clean electricity to power facilities and feed excess back to the grid. Heat pump systems provide heating and cooling more efficiently than conventional boilers by extracting warmth from the ground or air.

For developers like Beech Holdings focused on sustainable operations, options also exist to purchase renewably sourced gas and 100% renewable electricity tariffs. So while densities of urban building projects limit onsite generation capacity, net zero carbon annually remains possible via procurement of off site renewable energy.

Delivering low embodied carbon, energy efficient buildings is particularly impactful for the sustainability credentials of residential property developers. Home energy use accounts for 15% of UK emissions, so improving efficiencies in this sector is essential to meet national decarbonisation goals.

Sustainable Building Materials

Specifying eco-friendly materials with low embodied carbon substantially reduces the environmental impact of construction projects. Using sustainably sourced timber with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification avoids deforestation impacts. Seeking out recycled metals, plastics and aggregates keeps materials in use and out of landfills.

Lifecycle assessments help quantify emissions from material production through to end-of-life. This allows developers to select low carbon options with the lowest environmental footprints. For example using timber framing systems rather than emissions-intensive steel and concrete structures.

Developers can also stipulate low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints, sealants and adhesives to improve indoor air quality for residents. With people spending 90% of their time indoors, ensuring healthy internal environments is vital.

Water Management and Conservation

With regions across the UK facing pressing water scarcity issues, sustainable developments must emphasise rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling. Installing systems to capture roof run off for toilet flushing halves potable water waste. Similarly, recycling shower and sink water for landscape irrigation reduces mains water consumption by 30-50%.

Specifying low flow taps, dual flush toilets and other water efficient fixtures also important for reducing wastage. Leak detection systems help promptly identify and resolve underground pipework losses. Meanwhile smart metering gives residents visibility and control over personal water use.

For developers like Beech Holdings building residential apartment blocks, communal rainwater collection tanks make practical sense. Harvested water keeps common areas verdant rather than drainage-reliant. Opting for drought tolerant, low maintenance planting also ensures landscapes flourish with minimal watering requirements.

Sustainable solar panel

Benefits of Sustainable Developments

Lower Operating Costs

Constructing sustainable buildings offers compelling financial benefits from reduced operating costs over decades-long lifecycles. High levels of insulation, triple glazing and LEDs lights cut space heating, cooling and lighting electricity bills by 50-70%. Solar PV systems generate free electricity. Efficient heat pump systems also use a quarter of the power of conventional heating.

Water recycling initiatives like rainwater harvesting and greywater systems substantially cut mains water and sewerage bills too. Beech Holdings property managers estimate 30-40% utility bill reductions across their sustainable portfolio. With hundreds of occupants, these collective savings are substantive, improving profit margins.

Increased Property Values

Beyond cost savings, developing sustainable properties often increases asset values and achievable rents. With rising eco-awareness many tenants now actively seek out energy and water efficient homes with small carbon footprints. This heightened demand enables landlords to charge 5-10% rental premiums for demonstrably sustainable buildings.

Industry data also shows green construction certification schemes like BREEAM result in valuation uplifts of 5-35% for commercial assets, outperforming conventional buildings. Residential studies reveal similar price premiums for the most energy efficient homes in a development. Constructing to high sustainability standards therefore boosts potential sale prices and investor returns.

Reputational Benefits

Committing to sustainable property development also yields advantages like positive PR, award wins and an ethical brand profile. Developers with robust sustainability policies and proven net zero carbon projects receive favourable media coverage and green building accolades.

Beech Holdings for example won ‘Best Sustainable Residential Property’ at the 2020 UK Property Awards, recognising its zero carbon apartments incorporating rainwater harvesting and car share facilities. Such publicity reinforces corporate responsibility credentials with stakeholders. It also helps attract talented employees motivated by working for an ethical, progressive firm.

Mitigated Risks

Crucially, developing future-proofed sustainable buildings also helps mitigate risks like fluctuating energy prices, tightening regulations and environmental taxation. Constructing homes to operate emissions-free protects landlords against rising carbon taxes. And with the UK legally committed to net zero by 2050, designing developments aligned with this transition reduces chances of costly retrofits.

Water stressed regions means designing less wasteful buildings insulated from draconian usage restrictions or punitive water taxes. Seeking out sites with low flooding risks is also prudent adaptation given climate change anticipated to increase extreme weather events.

Essentially sustainable design choices hedge against sustainability-related policy and market trends which could negatively impact conventionally built assets. So while inhabiting a carbon neutral building today isn’t obligatory, it seems this will inevitably be demanded by regulation before too long. Getting ahead of the curve is therefore wise.

Green living

Case Study: A Successful Sustainable Development Project

The Greenwich Millennium Village in South East London exemplifies how large-scale sustainable developments can set new benchmarks in residential property construction. Launched in 1998 on a former industrial wasteland, the £200 million project delivered 30 acres of rehabilitated waterfront land including over 1000 homes alongside shops, offices and parks.

A key imperative was ensuring the regeneration minimised its own environmental impact in property development while creating pleasant, healthy living spaces for the community. Hundreds of derelict fuel storage tanks were excavated enabling ground decontamination. A state-of-the-art combined heat and power (CHP) plant then met 68% of household heating/hot water demands along with powering street lighting.

In terms of buildings, designs emphasised natural light and cross-ventilation. Properties enjoy copious insulation, triple glazed windows and sun pipes which halved heating bills compared to standard constructions. Rainwater harvesting provides non-potable supplies while permeable paving protects local aquatic ecosystems by avoiding polluting run-off.

Now two decades old, Greenwich Millennium Village has cemented its reputation as one of Europe’s largest sustainable communities. Repeated sustainability awards, eco-tourism interest and prestigious academic case studies evidence its flagship status.

For master developer Taylor Wimpey these credentials supported premium sales values across successive residential phases. Early research revealed prospective residents were willing to pay more for energy efficient, lower carbon footprint living. This led Taylor Wimpey to launch ‘Environmental Lifestyle’ show homes showcasing green features which commanded £5k-£10k higher prices.

Over time emerging community spirit also proved a major selling point. Resident satisfaction surveys revealed strong attachment to the unique sustainability dynamics and resultant cost savings. 80% reported planning to stay 5+ years compared to 50% in conventional developments. Such positive sentiment supports higher property demand.

For Beech Holdings focused on rental properties, lessons from Greenwich Millennium Village are also pertinent. Aside from capitalising on eco-conscious sentiment by marketing sustainability credentials, running costs savings matter for maintaining positive cash flows. Solar panels and rainwater harvesting for example help cushion Beech Holdings’ outgoings against rising utility bills, protecting profitability.

And branding benefits shouldn’t be underplayed. As institutions and corporations commit to carbon neutrality, partnering with demonstrably sustainable developers becomes increasingly important. Greenwich Peninsula’s track record delivers this assurance.

So while major sustainable construction initiatives require greater upfront planning and expenditure, rewards in asset value, reputation and risk proofing are well evidenced at Greenwich Millennium Village. As climate change concerns intensify the business case will likely only grow stronger. Beech Holdings among other progressive developers are therefore wise to pursue similar schemes blending commercial and environmental returns.

Green apartments

Implementing Sustainability in Existing Buildings

Assessment and Planning

When seeking to improve the sustainability of existing assets, undertaking rigorous audits and assessments is the essential first step. Energy modelling helps quantify current energy loads and carbon emissions. It also identifies the largest areas of waste from poor insulation, inefficient heating systems etc. Water usage audits similarly reveal savings potential from installing low flow taps/toilets or recycling systems.

Armed with granular consumption data and areas of improvement, developers can then devise targeted, cost-effective sustainability retrofit plans. Upgrades can be sequenced over months or years depending on budgets. Modelling also indicates potential utility bills and carbon savings to build the business case. Securing green finance schemes and tax reliefs can further bolster the finances.

For developers like Beech Holdings owning residential apartment blocks, communal spaces offer great scope for retrofit upgrades. Enhancing building fabrics with insulation and replacing ageing heating systems carries substantial potential for enhancements.

Energy Efficiency Retrofits and Upgrades

Many older buildings waste huge amounts of energy through poor insulation leading to heat loss. Simple enhancements like cavity wall and loft insulation alongside draught proofing can dramatically change this picture. Such measures have short payback periods from energy savings, often under 5 years.

Upgrading ageing windows with modern double or triple glazing also pays dividends. Introducing intelligent heating controls like room thermostats, thermostatic radiator valves and smart metering optimises heating usage around actual occupancy patterns, avoiding 24/7 wastage.

In some cases whole new energy systems warrant consideration to radically improve efficiencies. Renewable heat pumps for example cut communal heating bills by 25-40% compared to gas boilers by extracting latent warmth from water or the air. Combined Heat & Power (CHP) plants also improve overall energy system efficiencies from onsite power generation.

Renewables and New Technologies Integration

Once demand is curtailed through building fabric and system upgrades, integrating renewable power sources presents a major opportunity to slash carbon footprints. Roof or ground mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) panels generate zero carbon electricity. And with setup costs falling 50% in a decade, paybacks of under 10 years are achievable.

Battery storage complements solar PV capabilities by capturing excess daytime output. This can then be dispatched in the evening peak when grid power is carbon intensive and costly. Even without onsite generation, batteries charged overnight on cheap wind power tariffs can achieve good returns.

Emerging smart building technologies also help improve sustainability especially for larger sites. Centralised control systems modulate shared heating and cooling demands responding to usage and weather forecasts to minimise waste. Smart metres provide residents enhanced visibility on personal consumption helping to drive behaviour change.

As electric vehicles continue growing exponentially, developers must accommodate rising demand for communal or public charging infrastructure in retrofit planning.

For institutional developers like Beech Holdings owning 100s of units, identifying the most impactful technologies at scale is crucial. Modelling Package 1 and 2 listed upgrades across 20 Birmingham apartment blocks forecast achieving net zero carbon emissions. The £5 million expenditures would deliver £750k annual savings giving a 7 year payback.

90 Princess Street Manchester External

Overcoming Barriers to Adoption

Knowledge Gaps and Misconceptions

While momentum behind sustainability grows steadily, lingering knowledge gaps still hinder adoption across the property development industry. Misconceptions around higher costs and construction challenges persist, dissuading firms unsure of the business case. Developers may also lack awareness around the wide range of available solutions and their respective benefits.

Industry bodies like the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) provide extensive reference materials proving sustainable buildings don’t cost substantially more than conventional ones - especially as materials and technologies mature. Well-planned projects also avoid construction delays.

But beyond debunking myths, sustainability advocates must better communicate financial upsides from efficiency savings, sales and rental premiums plus risk mitigation. This makes green developments an attractive commercial proposition rather than just an ethical endeavour.

Access to Data, Tools and Expertise

Developers willing to deliver sustainable buildings often struggle from limited inhouse expertise and lack of decision-useful resources. Modelling whole building energy, emissions and operating costs require advanced simulation tools and qualified professionals. As sustainability spans complex interdisciplinary factors, mastering salient technologies, compliance issues and best practices represents a steep learning curve.

Seeking external consultancy can effectively plug gaps but adds costs. Long term, firms should consider formal sustainability training programs to cultivate in-house capabilities. Emergence of user-friendly digital design tools like BIM also makes undertaking detailed green assessments more accessible to non-specialists.

Policy moves like mandatory embodied carbon reporting will spur more complete environmental analysis. Open-source data around building material impacts will assist developers selecting less emissions-intensive options as the norm.

Industry Collaboration and Best Practices

Beyond individual firm actions, collaboration initiatives help accelerate sustainability adoption across the wider sector. The UKGBC’s pioneering tracing tool launched in 2018 for example enables developers to measure and reduce embodied carbon across supply chains.

Such schemes allow collective target-setting and accountability needed to shift markets. They also provide forums for sharing best practices around construction techniques, technologies and compliance issues that individual firms would struggle to unlock themselves.

Groups like the UKGBC also lobby policymakers around sensible sustainability regulations and transition support measures. Such collective platforms should thus form a cornerstone of any progressive developer’s external engagement on strategic green building matters.

Beech Holdings since 2021 has contributed towards the UKGBC’s Advancing Net Zero program. By shaping consultation responses and participating in working groups it aims to support rapid market transformation. It also intends to disseminate major takeaways through guest articles and conference channels.

Overall constructively critiquing existing voluntary standards and benchmarks raises the bar for sustainable construction. Cooperation also gives innovative developers like Beech Holdings greater credibility in lobbying the government around long term regulatory changes. Aligning interests across the sector is therefore mutually beneficial.

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Sustainability Certifications and Standards

BREEAM Certification

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for buildings. Operated by the BRE (Building Research Establishment) in the UK, it sets best practices for green design, construction and operation.

The voluntary certification methodology assesses buildings against a wide range of environmental performance indicators from energy to ecology. Credits across 10 categories determine an overall score, which in turn dictates the rating level - Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent or Outstanding. The rigorous evaluation process involves independent BRE-accredited assessors undertaking onsite appraisals and audits of plans, calculations and specifications.

Over 2 million buildings worldwide have achieved BREEAM certification since its launch in 1990. It provides developers, owners and occupants assurance of meaningfully reduced environmental footprints. Adherence also underscores corporate sustainability commitments for stakeholders. Many developers like Beech Holdings now mandate minimum BREEAM ‘Excellent’ ratings across portfolios realising triple bottom line wins.

Passivhaus Standard

The Passivhaus standard represents the leading certification for ultra-low energy buildings. Originating in Germany, it prescribes strict criteria for minimising heat losses such that buildings require minimal active heating or cooling to maintain indoor comfort. This is achieved through high performance insulation, airtightness, thermal bridge-free design and heat recovery ventilation systems.

Certification via the Passivhaus Institute requires buildings to demonstrate peak heating and cooling demand below 10W/m2. Residents benefit from excellent indoor air quality and thermal comfort with temperatures fluctuating only slightly daily and seasonally. But drastically lower utility bills are also major incentives for adoption.

The UK’s Passivhaus Trust is working to promote the standard across domestic and commercial buildings. Adoption remains niche but growing recognition of zero carbon compliance possibilities is driving more widespread implementations.

LEED Rating System

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) constitutes the leading international green building certification system. Administered by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), ratings benchmark whole building sustainability across nine areas like energy, water, materials, ecology and indoor environmental quality.

Buildings accrue points tied to specific credits and prerequisites to determine a final rating – Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Assessments involve rigorous third party verification of plans, calculations and onsite performance tests.

Over 100,000 projects globally have achieved LEED certification including commercial offices, warehouses, hotels, homes and factories. It provides independent validation to owners that their facilities minimise environmental damage across lifecycles. For prominent multinational firms, committing to minimum LEED Silver office fit outs also demonstrates sustainability leadership. As regulations and client expectations tighten, LEED certification will likely grow as a future industry norm.

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Sustainable Urban Planning and Design

Transit-Oriented Development

Transit-oriented development (TOD) represents a sustainable planning model centred around walkable neighbourhoods with excellent public transport access. It entails building higher density mixed-use precincts within a short stroll of rail stations, metro stops and major bus routes. This cuts car dependency by enabling rapid mobility around cities without needing private vehicles.

For citizens, TOD walkable neighbourhoods facilitate embedded amenities like shops, parks and services reachable by foot or bike. Dedicated cycle paths and footpaths also promote active transport and associated health benefits. And with public transit readily available, families can potentially live car-free saving substantially on transport costs.

For developers like Beech Holdings, constructing centralised apartments with ready access to trains and trams caters to shifting lifestyle preferences. With car usage declining amongst younger urbanites, choosing the right locations enabling sustainable mobility are increasingly desirable and thus more valuable. Delivering amenity-dense transit hubs also aligns with modern mixed-use community expectations explored shortly.

Mixed-Use and Compact Communities

Beyond transit-accessibility, planning neighbourhoods with density and a rich mix of uses allows creating vibrant mini-communities. Embedding essential amenities like grocery stores, cafes, healthcare and other services within walkable distances enhances convenience and quality of life. It also nurtures local economic activity and social bonds from residents readily frequenting nearby businesses.

Compact construction further minimises urban sprawl which car-centric cities suffer from. Building homes closer together uses land more efficiently while protecting undeveloped greenfield sites that enable crucial food production and ecosystem services.

For Beech Holdings focused on central city apartments, catering to demand for mixed-use neighbourhoods is intrinsic. Selecting development sites near abundant amenities and entertainment options attracts urban dwellers valuing walkability, sustainability and community over space.

Green Spaces and Public Realm

Quality green spaces and public realm are also central for socially and environmentally sustainable areas. Urban parks, gardens, trees and landscaping enrich spaces for social gatherings while benefiting physical and mental health. Green patches also enable crucial urban biodiversity and rainfall permeability.

Developments should emphasise biophilic design blending nature into built environments. Green roofs/walls, ample greenspace connections and rainfall gardens increase wildlife habitats and resilience. Public plazas and pedestrianised zones similarly nurture community interactions and local culture when designed appropriately.

For developers seeking to create enduring communities it is vital considering how new projects contribute to the collective public realm. Efforts like Beech Holdings’ Manchester Public Park overhaul and Lowry Arts Plaza renewal demonstrate long term stewardship commitments beyond individual buildings. Applying sustainability lens to precinct regeneration must be holistic encompassing shared infrastructure enabling sustainable, fulfilling lifestyles.

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