In the latest of our industry Q&A series, Michelle Eastty, from the elemental team speaks to Chris Yates, CEO of the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations (FETA) about championing sustainable practices in the building services sector and transitioning to Net Zero Carbon.

1/ Can you give me an overview of FETA and its ethos?

The original organisation was formed in late 1972/early 1973 as HEVAC Limited which then became FETA in 1984. Based near Reading, we are the voice of the heating, ventilating, building controls, refrigeration and air conditioning industry, at commercial, industrial and domestic level.

We represent the diverse interests of manufacturers, suppliers, installers and contractors within the building services sector, championing sustainable practices. We do so by working closely with the UK government and devolved administrations, other associations and organisations nationally and internationally.

2/ What type of organisations form the membership of FETA and what does being part of the FETA involve/benefits?

We’re a federation of associations, with six principal trade bodies collectively forming our membership. They are the Association of Ductwork Contractors and Allied Services (ADCAS), Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), British Flue & Chimney Manufacturers Association (BFCMA), British Refrigeration Association (BRA), Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning Manufacturers Association (HEVAC) and the Heat Pump Association (HPA).You can find out more about these associations via our website.

One of our key strengths is our collective voice. We influence policies and legislation that might affect the sector, including building regulations and safety, net zero strategy, eco-design, and F-Gas regulations relating to the fluorinated greenhouse gases in refrigerated equipment. We have particularly strong relations with the Department for Business, Energy and Environmental Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC).

3/ What are some of your key focuses?

One of the things that I’ve been actively doing since becoming CEO in September is meeting up with the government departments we already deal with and looking at who else we can be working with to influence change.

My belief is that industry has to help government develop many of these policies. Quite often you see initiatives introduced where it’s clear industry hasn’t supported it. For instance with the Green Home Grants Scheme, it excited the market – but the timescales were too short.
We need to work with government and keep feeding in. Ultimately a better policy gets put in place. Even if we’re not reacting specifically to a policy, it’s about building the picture up.

We also need to think about the changes we need to make. As an umbrella association, we have to be the ‘critical friend’ to our group of associations as well.

4/ What have been some of the recent highlights for FETA?

Many of our associations achieve a high profile. For instance, the HPA helping to influence, and responding to, the government’s Heating and Building Strategy.

One of the key highlights for FETA that began during the summer this year, was working alongside Actuate UK, the engineering service alliance. Together, we requested a government extension on the transition time from European CE marking to the UKCA mark for construction products. We asked for this to be moved until at least the end of 2022 and we continue to act on behalf of our members to seek clarity on the technical regulatory matters around this change.

5/ FETA has kindly agreed to support the InstallerSHOW and the debut expo for elemental in June 2022. What are the primary reasons for doing so, and the benefits for FETA and its membership?

I know the InstallerSHOW well, and I’ve been attending for a number of years and I’m also part of the elemental online community. The InstallerSHOW is the primary route for us to reach installers, particularly gas installers, in the UK. Each year the event seems to get bigger and better. From our point of view, it’s an ideal shop window to raise our profile, and that of our associations as well.

We’re building even closer relationships with installers, as are many of our associations. For instance, the HPA recently launched its new heat pump training course for installers. This is offered in combination with the Chartered Institute of Plumbing Engineer’s Low temperature and Hot Water course.

We’re going to see a transition in the way that we heat our homes as part of the road to Net Zero Carbon. At the moment, this looks to be either heat pumps or hydrogen. I think that it’s really important that we are prepared for both.

6/ How can installers help the consumer with this transition to Net Zero Carbon?

If you look at what’s happening at the moment, many of the gas installers that we speak to are incredibly busy with a lot of work and it’s perhaps hard to see how this transition is going to take place. However, there are things that we can do now that will start getting properties ready. These actions will benefit heat pumps and hydrogen as well. Things like improving the fabric of the building, reducing the energy that is needed and moving to low temperature heating circuits, which can benefit both heat pumps and gas boilers. These are all areas where installers are in a prime position to support and educate people. The installer is with the consumer for far more time than anybody else is and this could be a key catalyst for helping drive change. We need to be in a position where we can help installers do that, through education and working together.

7/ What were the key highlights of the COP26 UN Climate Conference for you/the HVACR sector?

It wasn’t going to be an easy one, but I think it was a successful conference, not just on its own but for the significant agreement to revisit emissions cutting plans in 2022 and have a yearly political roundtable. The commitment to reduce coal, a major fossil fuel, was really important and it’s the first time it’s been done.

If you put a major nation on the spot with coal reduction targets, for example, they can’t make that decision. They’ve got to back and debate it first. We’ve seen that with the heat and buildings strategy here in the UK, which was due in the early part of the year but wasn’t announced until October. Now is the opportunity to set firm plans in place for next year at COP27, due to be held from 7-18 November 2022 in Egypt. We need to be meeting every year – this is a critical decade.

8/ Where do you think more action needs to be taken/challenges to be overcome to combat the climate crisis?

We will continue to seek to influence UK government and encourage other governments to make firm decisions as well. It’s really important that momentum is kept up. What I think we’re particularly good at in the UK is getting that mix of meeting of minds between government and industry to solve these problems. You can see that with our commitment to Net Zero. We can help others to get on a similar path.

For me, the pandemic has showed that there can be lots of collaboration across the world, including at industry level. We proved that we can short-circuit lead times and product development and act quickly. I’m optimistic that we’re capable of making behaviour changes and the big technological leaps needed.

9/ What are the next steps on the path to Net Zero and how do we get there?

We’ve got to look at what can we do right now to make an impact, and this applies to everybody. The main thing is reducing our use. What can we do to stop our buildings leaking energy? How can we reduce our overall energy consumption? For me, it’s a fabric-first approach so we haven’t got so many leaky buildings. This can be done relatively cost-effectively for consumers. Perhaps people have to also consider a ten-year plan for their property, rather than having to do everything at once. As I’ve said earlier, there are advantages from introducing things like low temperature systems that can assist gas boilers as much as they can heat pumps. If you’re looking at getting your property heat pump ready, you are most likely going to need good insulation, a low-heating circuit. If, ultimately, you ended up with a hydrogen system rather than a boiler, there would be sustainable improvements either way, because you’re burning less energy.

10/ What are the potential market opportunities and practical solutions?

There are technical solutions available in terms of better understanding our existing buildings and being able to map out buildings better. One property might be quite different from another next door, but you can map it electronically to show where the heat losses are and produce a plan for that particular building. There are more and more software and solutions coming out and will aid more accurate Energy Performance Certificates.

As I’ve said, the key to this right now is that the installers are going into those properties, and we should consider what can they do to help each customer and raise awareness. They’ve got many contact points with people, for example when they’re replacing a boiler or servicing it. It might be that they are not doing the work themselves, for instance if they see the house has a ventilation issue or the householder wants to improve insulation, or they are thinking about a heat pump. Many installers network with other trades in their area and they can support the customer by helping them with future planning. Also, we need to help the installer to manage that transition, to not only implement and maintain gas boilers, but also heat pumps as well.

11/ How can government support this further?

The funding the government has put in has been a good start to build momentum. I hope this encourages gas installers to get trained up on things like CIPHE’s Low temperature and Hot Water course and the HPA’s new heat pump training course. If we can encourage this, then I think we’ll see costs coming down in terms of installation. We can’t expect the government to keep throwing money in to keep costs down, but I hope this this will kick start things and help industry scale up, alongside some of the other changes going on.

12/ Anything else you’d like to mention?

Yes, for young people considering their career options, construction offers them many opportunities within organisations large and small. There’s a role for everyone and there are some really good apprenticeships available and opportunities for people to eventually run their own business and be entrepreneurial. For people starting out in the sector now, the bulk of their career will be seeing these sustainable and Net Zero Carbon targets through, across every size of organisation. Now’s an exciting time for people to make their mark on that.

For more information about the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations visit www.feta.co.uk