SBS21: Achieving Net Zero for Building Managers with Minimal Intervention

Grid Edge

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham and Coventry and Warwickshire Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2021 Sustainable Business Series: Net Zero campaign.

The Sustainable Business Series: Net Zero is the Chamber’s first campaign on environmental sustainability, which aims to share best practice, guidance and knowledge to increase business progress to net zero. In 2021, this involves 5 free online webinars taking place from the end of September and throughout October along with publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content. The campaign will feature a Sustainability Summit on 3rd November

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Aston University, Arup, Morgan Sindall and the University of Birmingham - all webinars and the Summit are free to attend. Interested parties can find out more and register to attend Sustainable Business Series: Net Zero events here, and the Sustainable Business Summit here.

The World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, calls for business, organisations, cities, states and regions to reach net zero carbon in operation for all assets under their direct control by 2030, and to advocate for all buildings to be net zero carbon in operation by 2050.

By drastically reducing operational carbon from buildings, the Commitment is designed to maximise the chances of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees, and ideally below 1.5 degrees

Since its launch, the businesses and organisations signed up to the Commitment now cover nearly 6,000 assets, over 32 million m2 of total floor area and $100 billion in annual turnover. This will add up to a saving of approximately 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 (tCO2e) in 2030 alone.

Net zero operational carbon by 2030 is an ambitious target, but it’s not unachievable, and while the Commitment isn’t compulsory, building owners do need to bear in mind that government goals – and inevitable legislation – means that operational carbon is not something that can be ignored. Governance aside, there are multiple benefits to be had in reducing building emissions. Lower costs is obviously a major draw, as is greater resilience in the face of resource scarcity concerns – something that’s been highlighted recently by both the pandemic and Brexit.

However, for building managers in charge of existing buildings, where improved energy efficiency depends on retrofitting, the task can seem daunting, not least because of concerns regarding expense at a time when everyone is feeling the economic squeeze. But there are straightforward measures that can be taken that are low cost and require minimal intervention which will see significant carbon savings. Starting with these will get your building firmly on track for net zero.


In terms of quick wins, making a few simple tweaks to your building’s lighting can deliver significant returns.

  • Fit daylight and/or occupancy sensors to lights. Dimming or switching off lighting when there’s no-one in the room can reduce electricity use by 30%.
  • Transition to LED lighting. LED lights consume 70-90% less energy than a standard incandescent or CFL bulb. Depending on your building, this is something that can be done gradually, without the need for major interference.

Draughts and insulation

Proper insulation is a must for any building to be deemed adequately energy efficient, and it’s something that all building managers should have on their agenda. It can be a big undertaking, though, so in the meantime ensure you at least have these low-cost, low-intervention measures in place.

  • Openable windows in decent condition can be draught-stripped to reduce heat loss. If a one pence coin can slide between a window and its frame, draught-proofing will be cost effective and improve comfort.
  • Insulate boilers and pipework properly – an uninsulated valve can leak as much heat as a metre of pipework.
  • Keep doors closed between heated and unheated areas. Automatic closers are a relatively inexpensive measure that can be installed without fuss.

Heating and ventilation

Ensuring heating, ventilation and air-conditioning processes are running as efficiently as possible can be a challenge for building managers, as these systems are often controlled by building occupants and governed by their comfort levels. However, unlike other components in a ventilation system, air filters are designed to be changed, so choose energy efficient ones. Such filters can be called ‘energy efficient’ because they last longer and are designed for lower average lifetime resistance, which means HVAC units don’t have to work so hard to pull air through the system. You could save up to one tonne of CO2 for each upgrade.

Smart technology

The measures described above focus on hardware changes, but much of a building’s operational carbon output is driven by external factors, such as people and how they use the space. This is almost impossible for a building manager to control, which is where smart technology comes in.

Grid Edge’s Edge2X product, for example, brings together a building’s complete metering, sensor and environmental data, and uses intelligent algorithms to detect inefficient energy performance. A wide range of factors, such as weather and building occupancy, are taken into account to help automate savings and efficiencies, and everything is presented in a smart, easy-to-understand digital platform.

There’s minimal intervention involved, as the platform works in harmony with a range of building management systems, and it can be up and running in just 48 hours. Plus, there re zero upfront costs – Edge2X is provided as software-as-a-service (SaaS) for a fixed monthly fee. The carbon savings can be significant – real estate investment company Hammerson, for example, has reduced energy use by 20% using Edge2X.


Building managers looking to reduce their operational carbon – by 2030 or otherwise – have a wide range of options to consider. Some of the quickest wins, as explored above, come from making simple hardware tweaks. Indeed, all building managers should endeavour to ensure their hardware is as efficient as possible. But smart technology adds an extra layer of efficiency by making sure that hardware is operating as efficiently as possible in harmony with the whole building, and by giving managers clear and actionable data on their operational carbon production. After all, you can’t begin to reduce something unless you know what you’re starting with.