“Walking the Talk” – The Need for Accountability in Achieving a Net-Zero Vision

By Megan E. White and Richard Palmer, Integral Group

The built environment and its construction are directly responsible for 38% of global energy-related total direct and indirect CO₂ emissions. Operating emissions form 28% of these emissions year on year. Given this substantial impact, what role do the businesses that shape our built environment play in meeting the World Green Building Council’s “Whole Life Carbon Vision?”  As an industry, how do we work toward all new buildings, infrastructure, and renovations achieving net zero operational and embodied carbon by 2050? 


To make progress, we can’t just acknowledge the problems and solutions. Accountability is key.


Whether your company’s assets are at a global portfolio scale, impact the supply chain, are development-driven, or through tenancies – everyone plays a unique role, and our collective actions will shift our industry. Therefore, we each must understand our impact across our portfolios, make required changes to our practices, monitor the progress, and report publicly. Only this level of accountability will help limit global warming to less than 2°C, ideally 1.5°C, as directed by the Paris Agreements.


Accountability at scale looks like signing onto commitments like the WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment (NZCBC) and providing annual reporting as demonstrated by Integral GroupJLLSalesforce, and Lendlease. Making public commitments inspires and influences others around us to do the same. Integral Group became a founding signatory of NZCBC in June of 2018. Today, we are excited to share our recommitment to NZCBC’s broader vision now with a much anticipated Whole Life Carbon update.  


Collectively, selling sustainability to clients becomes more impactful when “walking the talk” of decarbonisation within our organisations. The demand for Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) reporting is undeniable. Architects, engineers, contractors, consultants, and product manufacturers are vendors and suppliers to the publicly traded companies that are mandated to execute ESG reporting by their investors. The business case for commitments, reporting transparently, and making real reductions is here. However, many organisations are at different places on their ESG journey, as results revealed from JLL’s 2020 ESG survey report


Accountability also means acknowledging and advocating for the conversation to expand beyond buildings to include surrounding infrastructure systems. Streamlining efforts between buildings and infrastructure like roads, bridges, resource distribution, and transportation hubs is critical to unlocking the circular economy. This integrated thinking is a key attribute of the #BuildingResilience to Climate, People and Economies program.  


When we begin to look at urban metabolism and the re-use of the durable materials in the built environment at scale, we can access procurement and supply chain processes with a demand to prioritise materials low in embodied carbon. This also means procuring materials that are healthy for people and the planet and sourced ethically and equitably. To ensure that no one is left behind, it is up to us to demand that the entire supply chain is considered, especially concerning social equity, social value, and creating a balanced economy. 


Finally, we must also demand accountability by engaging fully with mobility and utility sectors to accelerate the transition away from internal combustion engines. The future of aviation will require a pivot away from fossil fuel reliance towards hydrogen sources. To close this loop, we must strategically build social value by leveraging science-based carbon markets. This approach will link our net zero goals with urban-regional projects that drive real-time carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, and catchment management improvements. 


There is much work to be done to reach our vision. It is not only commitment—but accountability—that will get us there.


Megan E. White is Chief Sustainability Officer at Integral Group. Richard Palmer is Principal, and Director of Global Sustainability at Integral Group.