3 ways surveyors can mitigate the climate catastrophe

The built environment sector must pull together if we are to achieve net zero targets and avoid an environmental catastrophe, says RICS President Kath Fontana


  • Kath Fontana

02 September 2021

Lorenzo Quinn sculpture of two big hands rising out of sea

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a landmark report last month with a stark warning, documenting how human activity is changing the world’s climate in “unprecedented” ways.

With wildfires burning across Europe, North Africa, Russia and North America, 2021 is shaping up to be another record year – following on from 2020, where the world was hit by a record 50 separate billion-dollar weather-related disasters.

But this is not new information to many of us: we know that we must act now to avoid even greater disasters in the future. The race is on to find solutions, particularly in the built environment, given the sector is collectively responsible for around 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve our net zero target by 2050 and guarantee we meet the 1.5oC warming target, all governments and organisations are going to have to think and act differently – and at a faster pace than before.

COP26 represents a landmark moment for the profession, and all of us have a role to play as enablers and agents of change. Collectively, we deliver practical solutions and insights that equip people to make informed decisions, mitigating negative environmental impact and building more positive spaces for future generations.

We also offer robust data to underpin decision-making, as society cannot tackle the impacts of climate change without accurately measuring progress against targets. RICS will be focusing on three objectives at COP26 to harness the collective expertise of the profession and make the strongest impact.

First, we will showcase how RICS and the profession are pioneering sustainable practices across the built and natural environment to drive positive social and environmental impact. We will shine a spotlight on members who are leading the charge, sharing examples of best practice and helping others benefit from the most innovative ones.



Kath Fontana headshot

"To achieve our net zero target by 2050 governments and organisations are going to have to think and act differently."



Second, we will deliver trusted data and insights that equip people, governments and businesses to make informed decisions. For instance, this year’s RICS World Built Environment Forum Sustainability Report surveyed over 4,000 contributors and gathered detailed insight about how sustainability is impacting the worlds of construction and real estate.

The results suggest that the industry is heading in the right direction, but that we need to move at a faster pace to achieve our targets. More than half of respondents reported an increase in occupier and investor appetite for sustainable buildings. And over 40% of respondents pointed to client, stakeholder and customer demand as one of the main driving forces behind this increase. This seems to be most pronounced in Europe, where 75% of contributors noted rising investor demand, with almost one-third reporting a significant demand in growth. Although this sounds promising, global demand increase remains modest at a time when we would hope to see significant pick-up.

This is mirrored by the most recent RICS Facilities Management Survey, where 85% of respondents felt that sustainability was one of the most important issues and almost 40% reported that end users are now regularly considering energy efficient measures to reduce carbon emissions. RICS sentiment surveys are powerful barometers of the industry, and indeed recent research by economists from the European Central Bank found that RICS data predates pricing data by one to two quarters. Our annual Sustainability Report will be a similarly trusted insight series to help guide decision-making.

Third, we will offer practical solutions, empowering professionals to embed sustainability across the lifecycle of projects and assets. Our Sustainability Report found that over 70% of contributors globally are currently making no measurement of operational carbon emissions across the life cycle of projects. More than half are making no measurement of embodied carbon – and even where this is being measured, we currently have little evidence it is meaningfully impacting material selection. Without accurate measurement and monitoring, we are effectively tying our own hands in the battle to meet our carbon targets.

We are already working to change this. Working with 49 global organisations, the third edition of our International Cost Management Standard, which is currently out for consultation, represents the first global standard for carbon life cycle reporting across construction projects. In addition to this, we are working in partnership with other construction sector bodies to develop an emissions database for logging the climate impact of all construction projects in the UK.

Even though the IPCC issued a ‘red alert’, they were also clear that we still have time to act – but we will only achieve our targets if the whole sector pulls together. 

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