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Built environment and renewable energy: best practices for procurement

© Shutterstock / ZGPhotographyLandscape view of London's built up business district.
London's built environment.

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has released its guidance on the procurement of renewable energy, encouraging businesses to transition their assets.

  • The UKGBC has published a suite of guidance documents on how companies can reduce their carbon footprint through the procurement of renewable energy. 
  • Operating buildings accounts for almost 20% of the UK’s emissions, creating an enormous opportunity for decarbonisation.
  • Engaging in renewable procurement could be advantageous to business while also supporting the country’s transition.

Renewable energy is an obvious choice when it comes to decarbonisation. By replacing the combustion of fossil fuels with alternative sources of power, we can dramatically reduce our carbon emissions. 

Given that buildings account for almost 40% of the UK’s total energy consumption, we can assume that powering brick-and-mortar locations with renewable resources could make a significant difference. Of course, this transition is dependent on the procurement decisions of relevant stakeholders. 

With this in mind, the UKGBC has released a series of reports that will help UK businesses to improve their procurement of renewable energy. Comprising a variety of guidance materials, the reports are intended to inform procurement decisions while encouraging greater collaboration between energy consumers and their suppliers. 

“Our guidance provides industry with the much-needed tools to better understand their procurement options, benchmark the performance of their building’s electricity strategy, and effectively engage with energy suppliers,” said Yetunde Abdul, head of Climate Action at the UKGBC. 

“The collective voice of built environment stakeholders demanding more from their energy suppliers will be a powerful mechanism for driving change in the energy procurement sector and improving the product offering for the entire industry.” 

What does the guidance include? 

“Distinguishing the high-quality products that are supporting the energy system’s transition from the other ‘green’ offerings in the market is currently challenging,” Abdul explained. The new guidance comprises a range of resources that can help in addressing this challenge. 

It advises that electricity procurement can be improved by increasing the proportion of energy from renewable sources, contributing to the expansion of additional renewable capacity and development of supporting technologies or relevant infrastructure, and by matching consumption with generation on at least an hourly basis. By following these principles, stakeholders can navigate the market while ensuring that their procurement supports the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy market. 

To help them in doing so, the UKGBC has created a toolkit for engaging with energy providers and sourcing the information needed to draw comparisons between different routes of procurement. It provides a comprehensive summary of each available route, including detailed information on Power Purchase Agreements and the factors that may influence which option is chosen. 

Furthermore, the guidance includes a new rating system that allows users to assess the performance of their electricity strategy, either for an individual building or for their whole organisation. It covers offsite procurement as well as onsite generation, storage capacity and the management of energy demand. 

Throughout the reports, the need for collaboration is consistently emphasised. According to the UKGBC, energy suppliers ought to be more transparent in their provision of useful information that would enable their customers to make better choices on the sourcing of their electricity. 

Ultimately, the guidance is intended to drive the evolution of the electricity market, accelerating decarbonisation and supporting the expansion of renewable energy. Although it is primarily designed for the support of corporate procurement, it could also be useful to those involved in building design or operation as well as energy sector professionals. 

Driving the energy transition 

The built environment is responsible for almost 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with around 27% of its footprint being generated through the operation of existing buildings. In the UK, the operation of buildings accounts for almost 20% of total emissions, a sizeable contribution to the country’s impact on the climate. 

Operational emissions are those associated with the systems that make our buildings both habitable and functional. Among the prime examples are heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting. As these systems are powered by electricity, they tend to rely on the continued combustion of fossil fuel resources. 

If the UK is to meet its net zero goals, then the country’s electricity usage must be fully decarbonised by 2035 at the latest. The more buildings that transition to renewable power, the closer we can get to this target. 

As major consumers of electricity, buildings have a crucial role to play in ensuring the delivery of a low-carbon future. Continued reliance on oil, gas and coal would significantly hinder our progress, while the widespread adoption of renewable alternatives could serve as the low-hanging fruit. In addition to the enormous impact of decarbonised buildings, the sheer scale of this shift in demand could stimulate the market for other industrial sectors. 

The business case for renewable energy 

Of course, the transition to renewable energy must make sense economically. Business owners and building operators cannot be expected to engage in renewable procurement if doing so would expose them to financial losses. 

Thankfully, this is becoming less of an issue. The costs of renewable energy have rapidly fallen in recent years, with technological advances continuously enabling new savings. New business models are beginning to emerge, requiring smaller upfront investments and providing some reassurance of stabilised prices. 

For companies that switch to renewable energy, there may be additional benefits. Decarbonising their building operations may allow them to meet their climate targets, appeal to conscious consumers, align with the expectations of stakeholders and attract the attention of talented employees who are increasingly led by their values. 


The guidance created by the UKGBC could be immeasurably valuable in accelerating the UK’s progress towards its net zero goals.

By showcasing the impact that could be achieved and making it easier for companies to refine their approach, it provides a gentle nudge in the right direction. Encouraging greater collaboration and empowering stakeholders to secure the information they need could transcend beyond the transactions of each firm individually to drive the transformation of the market at large. 

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