NEWS / Blog / Net Zero: We Can All Make a Difference


10 MAY 2021


Dr Sarah Prichard on what’s coming up for the Net Zero workstream at ACE


he fact of the matter is we cannot rely on a magic bullet, innovative technology, or futuristic materials to meet ambitions on Net Zero – action is needed now.

We can all make a difference. On a personal level in our homes and local communities, but also as engineers in how we design and construct the buildings in our built environment. We have to teach clients about carbon free alternatives, explore the reuse of existing structures and work across the industry with the professional bodies, trade associations and other groups focused on climate change to, collectively, move the dial for the good of our people and planet.

The positive news is that I sense this agenda is now starting to shift. There is an urgency to the issue which simply wasn’t there a few years ago. Barely a day goes by without a major company making a very public commitment, an industry publishing a roadmap, or a financial institution switching to green investments to help us meet our Net Zero ambitions.

In our report published at towards the end of last year, we recognised this need for us as businesses and engineers to set the pace. While the report did include recommendations for government, it also focused on what we, as consultancies, could do to step up to the mark and make sure that the unique skills and energies we possess are deployed with Net Zero goals in mind. 

As part of this we are focusing on three core areas where we can make a difference: place-based masterplanning, engineering greater integrity at a project level, and the role of procurement in incentivising Net Zero solutions.

Barely a day goes by without a major company making a very public commitment, an industry publishing a roadmap, or a financial institution switching to green investments to help us meet our Net Zero ambitions. Dr Sarah Prichard

Place-based masterplanning 

As the focus on Net Zero moves beyond major national policy announcements to specific actions required within the planning and systems context at local and sub-regional levels, local authorities and other relevant bodies such as development companies, are seeking to develop new place-based strategies.

These will need to combine national sector-based roadmaps (for example for utilities, housing, energy supply), planning and regulatory reforms, meaningful place-based decarbonisation targets (in terms of scope, stretch and timescale) and issues familiar to those following our future of consultancy workstream – an increased focus on wider social value as well as incorporating digital transformation.

With many of the medium and large ACE members already involved in developing these plans, we will run webinars later this year to showcase great examples of masterplanning and discuss what we can learn from how they addressed these challenges.


Engineering greater integrity

Consultancies can play a unique role in built environment projects by encouraging a high level of Net Zero ambition from the outset, ensuring that optioneering includes alternatives to building a new asset, and where unavoidable the minimisation of its carbon impact, maintaining the Net Zero integrity throughout project phases and ensuring that the asset exceeds its carbon design levels.

It is clear to me that while many consultancies are already delivering through this prism, we will need to support members in order to move the dial from best to standard practice.

In July, we launch our Net Zero guide for SMEs which will help all of our members upscale their ambitions in this area. Meanwhile, through the revision of our Code of Conduct, we hope to make clear this commitment as standard for all ACE members. Finally, we will continue to encourage all our members to sign-up to the Pledge to Net Zero.


Procurement to incentivise Net Zero solutions

In recent times, ACE has a developed a strong track record of challenging the traditional cost-based procurement approaches. As well as encouraging consultancies explore new business models and service offering through the Future of Consultancy, it has helped to develop and champion new thinking through the Construction Playbook and the CIH Value Toolkit.

We now need to adopt this approach to innovate around Net Zero. We will review the procurement approaches of major public sector clients to assess the extent to which they genuinely facilitate innovation this area and will publish our thinking on how to incentivise carbon reduction through procurement.


Working towards COP26

As many other organisations across different areas of industry, we will be showcasing ideas and learnings at COP26. However, we need to remember that the event is meant to be a staging post and not the final destination the emergence of a fully functioning Net Zero economy which generates value, wealth and jobs without contributing to climate change.

The activity ACE and EIC have lined up this year will form part of my own companies’ journey towards this common goal. However, we know that we cannot do this by ourselves – this is why Buro Happold is delighted to be one of the first ConstructZero business champions.

The scheme, spearheaded by Hannah Vickers of ACE at the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), brings the industry together to a cross-industry change programme to drive carbon out of all parts of the construction sector, from manufacturing and design to construction and the operation of assets.

If we are to make true progress on Net Zero, we will need to work ever more collaboratively in bigger and bigger bubbles. Initiatives like ConstructZero help to give Buro Happold a platform to speak to more people and organisations, and champion the issues to as wide an audience as possible.

It is my hope that our work through the ACE and EIC Net Zero group will help all members do the same.

Find out more about the work of the ACE and EIC Net Zero group.

Dr Sarah Prichard

Dr Sarah Prichard

UK Managing Director

Dr Sarah Prichard is vice chair (Voice of Consultancy) and chair of the joint ACE/EIC Net Zero group.


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