Is the auto sector ready to restore and protect nature?


Dealerships in England face new biodiversity regulations. Matthew Baldwin explores their options

Climate change has been, quite rightly, at the forefront of business action as the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels becomes more urgent.  The shift to EV manufacturing and carbon-efficient production is evidence of the automotive sector’s commitment. But there is a growing sense that the focus has been too narrow, and that while concentrating on CO2 reduction, players have ignored the decline in nature and biodiversity. In fact, they are both two sides of the same coin: climate change is a main driver of biodiversity loss, and the destruction of ecosystems undermines nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating extreme weather.

Last year, the climate summit COP28 took place in Dubai, but this year the biennial COP16 biodiversity summit will take place, and we can expect greater focus to be placed on efforts to tackle nature loss.

Climate change is a main driver of biodiversity loss

Indeed, this is already happening in some countries.  In England, from February 2024, new planning applications for car dealership developments or extensions, or manufacturing facilities, will be required to deliver a 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG)—meaning by law they must deliver a net positive for the local environment, for example by creating new habitats and green spaces.  Every developer must set out the environmental impact of the development, using a statutory biodiversity metric and quantifying that lost habitat in biodiversity units.

Developers must show what natural biodiversity will be lost and then evidence not only how they’re going to replace it, but create at least 10% more in biodiverse habitat. With developments usually covering a substantial area in terms of square metres, car dealerships or manufacturing facilities need to ensure they know what is required of them and are aware of the impact this legislation will have on strategic decisions for site acquisition or refurbishment.

So, what sort of measures could the automotive sector put in place to meet BNG?  The below may apply to England currently, but with the mood music on protecting nature gathering momentum, they are measures that the sector in other countries could also consider to get ahead of the game.

Plenty of routes forward

Living walls or green roofs is one option. These enhance biodiversity by providing habitat for flora and fauna and are a good option given the scale of car dealership developments, particularly given the demand for site area and visibility of car display areas. Some car dealers are already doing this: in Buckinghamshire, for example, Porsche and Bentley dealerships are incorporating living walls at new outlets at the site of a former leisure centre.  Live roofs can help insulate and cool buildings too. One AutoMart dealer in the US, for example, reported that they expected to see a 20% energy savings after installation of a green roof.   Remember they do require maintenance – an important factor as BNG requires all habitats to be secured for at least 30 years.

Bentley dealership living wall
In 2021, Bentley installed a living green wall at its Crewe dealership

Dealers could also plan the landscaping using native plant species. Native plants are adapted to the local ecosystem, promoting a more sustainable environment. Parking areas could be designed with permeable surfaces, incorporating green spaces within the parking lot. This could include tree islands, rain gardens or bioswales, for example. Dealers may also consider including features like bird boxes, insect hotels, or bat roosts in the design to support local wildlife. If feasible, they may also consider incorporating mixed-use elements into the development, combining the dealership with commercial or residential spaces. This can create a more sustainable and diverse urban environment.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Matthew Baldwin is a project director specialising in the car dealerships sector at McBains, a property and construction consultancy

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