Crane and building construction site against blue sky

Urban development and the transition to Net Zero

With 2030 right around the corner and the current policies under the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy anticipated to meet only 92% of the emissions cuts required, there is a frank conversation to be had about how to cut emissions, restore air quality and the role of urban development.

The UN claims cities account for over 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK, the built environment contributes approximately 25% of the country’s total carbon footprint, according to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

Rethinking how we ‘greenify’ urban environments and consider net zero goals through planning can and is already having a significant impact, but communication and raising awareness is key to getting buy in from policy makers, funders, local authorities and city dwellers.

Collaboration to overcome rising costs

One report from Cluttons and AESG found that 7 in 10 UK councils struggle to finance their net zero transition. There is however still huge urgency to continue retrofitting buildings, and for new builds to factor in sustainability from the outset. It’s encouraging that local councils are taking sustainability seriously – one only needs to look at examples such as Milton Keynes’ net zero efforts or Ealing Council’s community transformation initiatives to be inspired.

So, solutions that can drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action already exist, however these need to be connected with the right industry, investment or government partners to deploy at scale, and within budget. As the race to net zero deadlines quickens, budgeting for more sustainable partnerships, materials and expertise is becoming increasingly essential.

The disconnect between the right partners is often the result of a lack of visibility or access. Does your firm’s urban planning division specialise in sustainable, cost-effective builds? Did you innovate materials or technology to reduce or manage emissions? Communicating effectively with stakeholders from across your ecosystem is key to streamlining collaboration and ultimately driving sustainability investment forward.

Changing attitudes

Another factor worth considering is attitudes toward sustainability within the urban development sector. Thankfully, change is afoot – as evidenced by a recent call from over 100 companies in the UK property industry, including heavyweights such as Landsec, Grosvenor Property and Rockwol, to urge the government to better align planning system reforms with the UK’s climate change targets and carbon budget. In the same way that health and safety has become a cornerstone for construction, so too must sustainability become a key pillar for the entire built environment.

For businesses looking to help industry and government meet their sustainability targets, unpacking the benefits of your solution requires tailored messaging and marcomms channel targeting to demonstrate capabilities to replicate at scale and secure buy in.

For those struggling with internal apathy, there is a role for strategic PR and internal comms to support with defining ESG values, updating on progress and embedding a culture of active eco-consciousness into the fabric of an organisation – this can range from board level media training through to internal employee newsletters. Hearing people speak publicly about this journey can also be a big driver of change, so equipping your executives to discuss the topic could be a powerful tool.

Addressing uneven digitisation

Like many other ecosystems, stakeholders across the urban development ecosystem experienced teething issues on the path towards digital transformation, which is an essential driver of a more sustainable built environment. One example is how the built environment and manufacturing sectors were working separately, in parallel to define a best practice approach to using digital twin technology during construction projects, rather than collaborating closely with government and across sectors early on to define a common protocol.

Often progress is stymied by fear of making the wrong move, safety concerns or reticence to change – the ‘tech for tech’s sake’ misconception. Communicating, sharing and raising awareness about the value to be gained from digitisation can reduce unforced errors and encourage informed decision-making. This could involve communicating with industry peers about which commercial asset monitoring systems deliver the best analysis for temperature, air flow and air quality control; liaising with specialists on implementing systems to grow biodiverse green spaces; or understanding consumers’ e-mobility patterns to inform complementary infrastructure or amenities. The potential is endless when it comes to using data to understand how we use – and can ultimately transform – the urban environment.

Effective communication leads to trust, transparency, and knowledge-sharing – unlocking opportunities to drive real action and fulfil sustainability commitments faster. In an environment where misinformation, greenwashing and increasing ESG scrutiny abound, it’s past time that all the different players of the built environment speak a common language.

Strategic communications support will help your business, product or service to resonate with the stakeholders and collaborators that you need to engage. We’d love to have a chat about how we can help you – please come visit our stand L200 at Reset Connect or get in touch today.

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