Survey finds 4 in 5 businesses in rented property struggle to switch to clean energy

A survey of some of Britain’s biggest building occupiers has revealed that 80% find it difficult to engage landlords in switching to renewable energy. The finding is part of a report released today by edie and Big Clean Switch, in association with The Climate Group’s RE100 initiative.

The report, titled ‘Going 100%: How landlords hold the key to corporate renewable energy targets’, surveyed 74 sustainability, energy and environmental managers in May of this year, including major businesses like PwC, Nando’s and ITV. 59% of respondents employ over 1,000 people, over 30% operate more than 100 sites in the UK and 43% consume over 1GWh of electricity every year. Many of the survey respondents have corporate commitments to moving to 100% renewable energy sources for their electricity. Three quarters rent some of their properties. 

At a time when the UK Parliament has declared a national climate emergency, 83% of those that rent some of their sites find it challenging to switch to a renewable energy provider. Over 80% also find the installation of on-site renewable energy systems, sub-metering and gaining access to energy data challenging. 

Around a third of the commercial occupiers that responded to the survey said they had not actively approached landlords about switching to renewable energy. This may reflect a lack of awareness about who to ask – 69% said they find it challenging to know who to speak to about energy issues – and demonstrates that action is needed on both sides of the equation.

The report makes three recommendations. First, that tenants must be much more proactive in communicating their needs to landlords. Second, landlords and managing agents need to put in place systems and processes to make it easy for occupiers to take action on energy. And finally, education is needed to overcome common misconceptions about cost and demand for clean energy. 

Jon Fletcher, MD at Big Clean Switch, said: “Only a quarter of the businesses we spoke to currently source 100% of their electricity from renewables. Whether businesses are trying to switch to a renewable tariff, or install on-site generation, sub-metering or EV charging facilities, poor engagement with landlords is acting as a brake on progress. And, with over half of the UK’s commercial real estate made up of leased property, this lack of engagement has real potential to impact on the UK’s ability to meet its carbon targets.”

There is a strong desire from both landlords and occupiers to do something about the situation. 60% of survey respondents said they’d commit to being part of a movement to encourage and inspire more landlords and managing agents to switch to renewable energy.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has pledged its support to the movement. RICS UK Managing Director, Matt Howell, said: “Collaboration between the landlord and tenant is key to overcoming barriers and unlocking opportunities to reduce the climate impact of commercial property in the UK. Some landlords are leading the way, managing agents are a key facilitator and the surveying profession brings together the skills needed to help viability and deliver renewable energy solutions. We’re committed to providing the support needed to make it happen.”

Jon Barnes, head of buildings and technical services at PwC, said: “We have some fantastic, forward-thinking landlords who totally get the business case for clean energy, and I think they can act as a catalyst for others. I’m confident we’ll get to 100% renewable – the question is just how quickly.

“We have to get past the idea that renewable tariffs come at a huge premium, or that commercial tenants don’t care about these issues. As always, we’ve found that constructive dialogue is key to this.”

Caroline Hill, Head of Sustainability, Public Affairs, Health, Safety and Security at Landsec, said: “Switching to clean energy should undoubtedly be a priority for landlords and occupiers alike. The benefits of getting this right are clear, and there’s a ripple effect of sustainable practices, too. At Landsec, our corporate energy contract – which covers nearly all of our portfolio – is 100% renewable electricity. This has enabled us to speak to customers further about their sustainable ambitions and has meant that we’ve been able to work with them on issues from single-use plastics to energy saving projects. Conversations, and collaboration, must sit at the heart of our work as we join together as a sector to empower each other to make a difference.”