Children’s secretary Ed Balls has announced the framework for ensuring all new schools built in England attain zero-carbon status by 2016.
In the driving seat is the newly formed Zero Carbon Task Force - a multi-disciplinary body set up to help the Government overcome the technical, design and construction challenges ahead.
The Secretary of State is in bullish form, claiming to have “no time for critics who carp that this is impossible”.
The announcement sends a strong signal to industry that zero-carbon criteria will be an integral part of the Government’s secondary school renewal programme, Building Schools for the Future.
This programme is the largest education capital investment programme for over 50 years, promising to rebuild or renew every secondary school in the country within a 10-15 year timeframe.
On the surface, 2016 might appear an unrealistic goal - particularly in today’s worsening economic climate.
However, despite the enormity of the task ahead, many local authorities are well on their way, with plans on the drawing board not a million miles from the zero-carbon standard.
In addition, the construction industry’s approach towards reducing carbon is fast approaching maturity - the know-how is out there and so is the technology and materials. The test will be whether there is enough money in the kitty.
For cash-strapped local authorities feeling the squeeze this might prove a tough call. The construction industry will be expected to deliver ever-increasing environmental standards Đ on time and on budget.
In the end, the success or failure of this drive towards a low-carbon future will boil down to simple economics. But can it be delivered? It certainly can.
Zero carbon incentives
So a tempting prize is on offer - the chance for local authorities and the construction industry to win a share of the £21.9 billion pot earmarked for BSF.
An additional £110 million is on the table for investment in carbon reduction and renewable energy technologies.
There is also a broader good news story here for the construction sector. Knowledge acquired in setting new environmental standards for the BSF programme will be transferable to other public sector areas such as hospitals as well as in the commercial and residential sectors.
One final thought for Ed Balls and Robin Nicholson, the chair of the task force - it would be good to see greater representation from construction professionals on the group.
We’re the people delivering on the ground and with the expertise to ensure we hit the 2016 target - so construction’s contribution will be invaluable.
Marcel Hendricks is schools operations manager for Apollo Group subsidiary Apollo Education
Interested in zero-carbon and what it means for the construction industry? Visit The Great Carbon Crunch, a one-day conference on 16 October in London that aims to encourage collaboration between all sectors to meet the challenges of climate change.