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Carbon friendly construction

10 Nov 2021

Written by Jack Cracknell

Greener homes for all

In 2014 – when we had about 50,000 customers – we set a target of getting ‘Octopus into every home’ within a decade. This target was partly a numerical one (there are 27 million homes in the UK) but also a reflection of how we wanted our customers to think about us. We wanted Octopus to be so profoundly trusted and loved that our customers would welcome us into their homes.

It was a big target that we hoped would result in an even bigger impact.

Today I think it’s safe to say that Octopus is becoming a household name. Our energy business has more than three million customers and our fund management business is investing billions of pounds in the people, ideas and industries that we hope will change the world.

A significant portion of our efforts are focused on tacking climate change. Central to this is Octopus Energy, which is using technology to make the world’s transition to renewable energy faster and cheaper for tens of millions of people. However, Octopus Real Estate has a similarly large opportunity to make a difference and that’s what I wanted to write about today.

Buildings currently account for 38% of global carbon emissions. And while that’s clearly scary, it’s even more worrying when you consider the global exodus to cities that’s currently underway. To put some numbers around this, the global square footage of buildings is expected to double by 2060. That’s the equivalent of adding another New York City to the world, every month, for 40 years.

What Benjamin had to say:

I raised some of these facts with Benjamin Davis, CEO of Octopus Real Estate, last week and here’s what I took away from our conversation:

It’s all too easy to focus on the negatives.

The real estate sector isn’t decarbonising itself fast enough. And yes, it’s lagging behind other sectors. But there are other countries around the world which should give us reason to be optimistic. In Sweden, for example, 45% of the buildings have some form of modular or offsite construction (versus around 10% in the UK).

Construction is going sci-fi:

Most buildings are constructed using the same methods today as they did in 1970. Building construction is going to become more akin to a factory where components, or entire rooms, are constructed offsite, then assembled fully onsite. We’re also going to see more machines and robots in the construction process, arranging and drilling beams, allowing us to lift heavier parts quicker. We are already seeing this in the UK with modular construction in large factories, but we are just at the beginning of this journey.

Buildings are getting smarter:

At the moment most buildings pull down energy and water from a grid but in the future buildings are going to be generating their own energy and resources. Technologies like roof-mounted solar, air and ground source heat pumps and rainwater harvesting are going to be the norm. And rather than running buildings on timers and thermostats, they’ll be ‘smart’ buildings, capable of reacting to real time usage.

In some cases, it’s better to retrofit rather than demolish:

Imagine all the materials required to make a building – the cement, bricks, wood and steel. There’s a lot of carbon locked up in that building. Now consider that steel and concrete alone account for over 8% of global carbon emissions. To knock a building down and start again from scratch is an extremely carbon intensive activity. In some cases, it will make more sense to strip a building, keep its core structure, and add modern technologies such as triple glazing, highly efficient insulation and energy generation such as roof-mounted solar.

Whether you’re an institution or a consumer, sustainable buildings make sense. Not only because these buildings are going to help address the climate crisis, but because more energy efficient buildings will be more valuable (and cheaper to run).

The Octopus Real Estate business is poised to help make all this a reality in the not-too-distant future for developers and homeowners in the UK. As part of their lending business which finances property development in the UK, Octopus has joined forces with Homes England to start the Greener Homes Alliance.

The UK has set targets to build 300,000 homes each year and the Greener Homes Alliance will help make a larger proportion of these building sustainable. As well as offering free sustainability consultancy and advice to housebuilders, the scheme offers a material interest rate discount to housebuilders which are delivering the most energy efficient buildings.

What are Octopus Group doing to tackle climate change?

We are finding ways to support companies building a more sustainable planet, we’re signing up to the B Corp Climate Collective and are proud to commit to net zero by 2030.

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