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The EU Taxonomy Regulations: A European Energy Revolution we Ignore at our Peril

We’ve been carrying out a decarbonisation study for Science Park Office Campus in Budapest, one of Goldman Sachs’ European business parks. The company wants to understand the energy consumption of buildings which were completed 20 years ago and identify how this can be further reduced without changing the envelope, a so-called shallow retrofit.

Thanks to emerging EU laws banishing greenwash, this kind of work is going on all over Europe. As of a few years ago, the average European commercial building needed to reduce emissions 92% by 2050 to meet the Union’s 2050 net-zero economy target. A huge influx of investment will be needed to retrofit property to far better standards.

“Goldman Sachs has implemented a significant ESG strategy since ownership, with solar panels, heat recovery and modernised mechanical systems, all in line with their global carbon targets,” says James Kinnell, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Prime Holdings Group which Goldman Sachs has appointed to the job. “The mstep study will allow us to make continuous improvements in line with policy directives.”

Additionally, a European bank which manages a financing portfolio of more than EUR19bn told us that their whole estate is being refurbished to meet an energy demand of 70-90 kWh/ m2.

An office building with connecting tunnel.
Offices across Europe are undergoing energy retrofits to stay on the net zero 2050 pathway. Image credit: La Citta Vita

The Taxonomy Regulations encourage this work by defining a “sustainable investment” so that financiers who want to put their money into green property (and other assets) know exactly what they are getting.

Right now, these Taxonomy-compliant properties either need an A EPC rating or sit in the top 15% of buildings for energy use. Either that, or they could make a substantial contribution to climate change adaptation. And properties might have to meet certain minimum standards in five other criteria such as water use and minimising the negative impact on biodiversity.

The regulations support market moves already underway. Property agent, Savills, found 24% of investors were looking to buy only sustainable assets. Meanwhile, 40% of pension funds surveyed by ESG data intelligence platform, Deepki, said they had seen 21-30% depreciation of property values due to brown discounting.

If they’re not retrofitted, and as regulations and the market develops, these depreciated properties threaten to become “stranded assets”: properties only attractive as energy fixer-uppers to meet legal and market demand.

How assets get stranded. Image credit: CRREM

The Regulations also compel companies to release information. Large firms, including landlords and financial institutions, need to report the percentage of their income derived from sustainable and unsustainable sources. They will seek to reduce their exposure.  

For example, a large company with properties in Europe is auditing its entire portfolio and deciding whether to invest or divest. Those it keeps will be retrofitted to a maximum energy demand of 70Kwh/m2 achieved through a combination of shallow retrofit and zero-carbon energy sources. With grid decarbonisation, it is also confident it can stay on the 2050 pathway.

Here in the UK, there’s barely a whisper about this or any of the other sections of the EU’s comprehensive Sustainable Finance Disclosures Regulation (SFDR) which also covers benchmarking and reporting for both financial and non-financial companies and most other high-carbon sectors.

But investment capital is global and properties in the UK are equally at risk of becoming increasingly unattractive to both owners and tenants. In 2021, there were just 19,000 A EPC-rated non-residential buildings against about 300,000 each rated C or D. Last year, the average commercial UK building had energy intensity of around 225kWh/m2.

70kWh/m2 and A EPC rating or B for refurbishments is indeed the UK Government Property Agency’s Design Guide ambition. But it only manages 25% of the government estate.

The only legal requirement for building energy performance is outlined in Part L of Building Regulations, which is not currently aligned to the net zero pathway.

While the UK Government has said it is planning to consult on its own Green Taxonomy this quarter, it’s not a legislation the current government is likely to fast-track.

Nevertheless, money talks and forward-thinking landlords and developers will want to get on the pathway. If you do, start with the EU’s Carbon Risk Real Estate (CCREM) tool. It could be more user-friendly, but it’s the best way to help building owners assess required carbon emission reductions for their portfolios and individual assets to stay on track. The tool brings the commercial and regulatory timeline into sharp focus and shows how they can affect their bottom line.

For more information, click here to read EU Taxonomy’s Compass and supporting annex which details the definition of sustainability in new buildings.

And mstep is ready to carry out a more precise and detailed study of your buildings’ operational energy and calculate the investment and benefits of energy retrofits both shallow and deep.

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