Low Carbon Buildings Could Be Forced By Tax Rises

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Government targets for sustainable development may need more effort – and IT has a part to play, according to debate in Westminster

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As the financial crisis bites, punitive taxes will drive organisations to scramble on board the emerging low-carbon economy, and there could be very few financial incentives, according to experts at a policy forum in Westminster.

“Organisations will have to make changes without extra resources. They may be forced to change by taxation,” said Lord Redesdale, vice chair of the all-party parliamentary climate change group, who was chairing a session at a Westminster eForum seminar on government sustainability.

These taxes have not yet been proposed, but the government will face a large gap in public finances next year, along with an urgent need to address climate change – so green taxes will be more attractive than incentive schemes. The government has created a scheme of energy performance certificates for buildings, and these could be used as a taxation tool, for instance charging higher business rates on lower-rated buildings, said Lord Redesdale.

Around half the UK’s carbon footprint comes from buildings, and one in three government buildings has the lowest rating – G, said Cal Bailey, sustainability director at building services comapny NG Bailey, predicting that the government would miss its goal of zero carbon for new buildings in 2020, “by miles”.

It is possible to massively reduce the carbon footprint of a building – and the services it contains, right now, according to Bailey. His company’s Strathclyde office has around 13 percent of the normal footprint for such a building – and its server rooms has no air conditioning.

The office stabilises its temperature using a ground source heat pump, along with plasterboard walls doped with a phase change material: “it absorbs heat during the day and re-emits it at night.” The building as a whole, currently worth around £6 million, will save around £3 million during its life, and could appreciate in value greatly if energy costs – and green taxes – go up.

The government’s plans for green IT “only scratch the surface,” according to Andrew Lee, chief executive of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), the government watchdog for environmental development, but in future the pressures on public finance and the need for efficiency will work together, he said.

Only one IT vendor spoke at the event: Microsoft ‘s head of public sector relations, Charles Eales, repeated the promise that IT, which products around two percent of all carbon emissions, can help reduce the other 98 percent, through technology such as unified communications and videoconferencing. He also made another suggestion to reduce IT’s environmental impact: “Why not deliver all software electronically?”

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