NEWS28 September 2022

The Journey to Net Zero

The United Kingdom Science Park Association (UKSPA) held its Autumn conference in the beautiful Charnwood Life Science Campus in Loughborough.  Sustainability was a key topic, with over 150 attendees for the panel discussion on the “journey to net zero,” chaired by Surrey Research Park’s CEO, Grant Bourhill.

The panel discussed that the transition towards net zero in commercial real estate was being driven by the market – tenants and investors being the advocates, rather than Government. Industry-led energy-efficiency schemes akin to NABERS were gathering momentum.  While new Science Parks are being developed that naturally have sustainability designed in, it is in the more mature science parks where action is required, especially with the increasing risk of “brown discounting” to asset values and therefore balance sheets.

The panel discussed data sharing schemes to reduce energy, between park operator and tenants, as well as across national assets such as in the NHS.  While green leases are becoming more prevalent, these were felt to encourage behaviours and collaboration, rather than being hard-edged, legally-enforceable tools to drive energy and carbon reduction.

The panel debated whether the commercial case for capital investment for sustainability measures is now easier, given energy prices, or harder, given the uncertain economic outlook.  There was a view that Park owners will inevitably face the upfront investment cost, but recoup that through time with rental uplifts. There was concern expressed about exacerbating economic inequality, where existing vibrant innovation parks will invest and enjoy even greater market demand, whereas Parks in more economically-deprived areas may not invest and risk becoming carbon-stranded assets.

Positively, there was huge interest in the UKSPA forming a dedicated national sub-group focussed on sustainability.  Far less positively, there were very few Science Parks in the audience that already had a funded Park-wide plan to deliver a specific carbon target.  In this decade of action, we are simply not acting fast enough.  UKSPA can help spread learning between Parks to help drive the action required.

Chair: Grant Bourhill

Panellists: Sally Basker, CEO, Exeter Science Park

Stephen Hill, Associate Director, Arup

Laura Ludlow, Principal Associate, Mills & Reeve

Carl Potter, MD, Avison Young UK

Anuradha Sabherwel, Senior Associate, NBBJ Design