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If there is a race to net zero, no one's a winner

James Gray from Cluttons discusses why the race to net zero is the wrong wording - and it should be all about collaboration, not competition, when it comes to achieving a more climate-friendly world. 

I'm not in favour of the phrase 'race to net zero'. This implies there will be winners and losers and that it's primarily a competition. While some may see it that way, I'm much more in favour of collaboration because 'losing' impacts everyone negatively.

In order to reach net zero by 2050, or 3/4 of the way there by 2035 according to the government's latest targets, all stakeholders in property must consider their role. That means no tick box exercises, no skipping steps (embodied carbon anyone?) and no races. Healthy competitiveness perhaps, to strive for greatness or to exceed net zero, but not a situation where big business relishes in competitors missing the grade or, worse, strives ahead leaving SMEs behind.


Industry talks a lot about the knowledge economy whereby the practice of sharing information is key. Most of this is linked to the science and technology sector. I'd like to see a similar practice across property, particularly when it comes to sustainability.

(James Gray, managing partner at Cluttons)

If a developer knows a way to promote operational efficiency, share it, don't patent it and make money from it excluding the smaller players. Most of London is owned by smaller landlords and occupied by SMEs, why would we lock these guys out of the secrets to a better future?

If a landlord has the chance to invest in smart tech that helps tenants behave operationally more efficiently, share it and make it more accessible - take the cost on upfront and charge it back within the rent if need be but make it within reach for all sized tenants across all sectors.

If architects or consultants have case studies of how to retrofit old - or even heritage - buildings with sustainable features while preserving the fabric, show each other and pioneer greatness.

If an agent has a rulebook that works for them and their clients, let's collaborate. I'm up for it - let's share our knowledge and together make a difference.

Cluttons is definitely putting its money where its mouth is on this. We have been working to partner with experts and collaborate sharing best practice and offering CPD sessions to clients, the market and even students on this subject. Most recently we have joined up with carbon measuring experts to on how best to manage carbon efficiency - using our property expertise and their measuring tools and these have been well received.

Other examples include our flooding expert Ian Paton, who is a member of the CIRIA - the Construction Industry Research and Information Association, a neutral, independent and not-for-profit body which helped write the Code of Practice for Flood Resilience. In fact, Cluttons is in a unique position where not only can we put together sustainability strategies, but we are one of the only property consultancies that can actually fit EV charging points, solar panels, flooding prevention infrastructure and so on.

This means we can collaborate with a wide number of clients, NFPs and local authorities to not only defend against climate change or meet imposed targets, but also to futureproof and exceed them.

There are plenty of others doing great things in this arena – one great example is that of investment management company Lateral which is soon to be launching a flexible office brand. Lateral will take on the cost of fit-out upfront as a landlord which is rare as mostly the fit-out and subsequent rip-out is the tenant's responsibility.

This means they can control the quality of materials used to ensure they are sustainable and long lasting, thereby cutting a significant amount of waste and carbon, while also making such offices more accessible to occupiers of all sizes. The offices themselves are also set up for better operational efficiency which continues to support the environment and the tenant.

My message is clear - achieving net zero should not be a secret nor a race. We need to share our knowledge for a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future. That's what will move the dial for the UK, for the property industry and for our grandchildren.

*James Gray is managing partner at Cluttons


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