Green Leases: Legal Considerations for Sustainable Commercial Properties in Scotland

Green Leases: Legal Considerations for Sustainable Commercial Properties in Scotland

Green Leases: Legal Considerations for Sustainable Commercial Properties in Scotland

In the pursuit of sustainability, the commercial real estate sector in Scotland has increasingly adopted green leases as a mechanism to promote environmentally friendly practices.

This is partially in response to the Scottish Government’s commitment to reach net zero by 2045, but also the increasing demand from landlords and tenants who are keen to demonstrate their own “green” credentials, which can be commercially beneficial.

A green lease, or sustainable lease, incorporates clauses that encourage or require both landlords and tenants to manage and improve the environmental performance of a property and reduce its environmental impact. These leases are an important tool to reduce energy consumption, minimising waste, and lowering carbon footprints. As Scotland aims to meet its ambitious climate targets, understanding the legal considerations surrounding green leases is essential for both property owners and tenants.

Understanding Green Leases

A green lease typically includes provisions that require tenants and landlords to collaborate on sustainability initiatives. These might involve energy efficiency improvements, waste reduction measures, water conservation, and the use of sustainable materials. The legal framework of green leases often encompasses obligations related to compliance with environmental laws, sharing data on energy usage, and implementing sustainable practices throughout the property’s lifecycle. There are tools to help guide owners, occupiers and solicitors in this area, including the Better Buildings Partnership’s “Green Lease Toolkit” which was updated earlier this year, and now also includes a Scottish version, as well as a range of standardised green clauses in the leases produced by the Property Standardisation Group. A Scottish version of the Green Lease Toolkit is now available

Legal Framework and Compliance

In Scotland, the legal framework for green leases is influenced by both national and EU regulations. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 sets the foundation, (updated in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019) for the country’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mandating public bodies to consider climate change in their operations. For commercial properties, this translates into a necessity for buildings to be more energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable.

The Energy Performance of Buildings (Scotland) Regulations 2008 requires commercial buildings to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) when sold, rented, or constructed. Green leases often include provisions for maintaining or improving the EPC rating throughout the lease term. This involves regular energy audits and the implementation of energy-saving measures, ensuring that properties adhere to legal standards and contribute to broader sustainability goals.

Key Provisions in Green Leases

Several key provisions characterise green leases, each with specific legal implications:

  1. Energy Efficiency Clauses: These clauses oblige tenants and landlords to improve the building’s energy performance. This might include installing energy-efficient lighting, heating systems, and insulation. Legal considerations involve ensuring compliance with existing energy efficiency standards and potentially sharing the costs and benefits of such improvements.
  2. Water Conservation Measures: Provisions for water conservation might require the installation of water-efficient fixtures and regular monitoring of water usage. Legal obligations include adherence to water conservation regulations and potential adjustments to service charges based on water usage.
  3. Waste Management: Green leases often include clauses on waste reduction and recycling. Tenants may be required to separate waste and use recycling facilities provided by the landlord. Legal considerations involve compliance with local waste management laws and potential liabilities for improper waste disposal.
  4. Sustainable Fit-Outs: When tenants make alterations to the property, green leases may require the use of sustainable materials and practices. Legal implications include ensuring that alterations meet sustainability criteria and comply with building regulations.
  5. Data Sharing and Reporting: Green leases frequently require the sharing of data on energy and water usage between landlords and tenants. This transparency helps track progress towards sustainability goals but also raises legal considerations regarding data protection and confidentiality.

Benefits and Challenges

Green leases offer numerous benefits, including reduced operating costs, improved tenant retention, and enhanced property values. For landlords, sustainable buildings are more attractive to environmentally conscious tenants and could command higher rents. Tenants benefit from lower utility bills and a healthier working environment, which can boost employee productivity and satisfaction.

These encourage parties to positively engage to develop strategies for driving improvements to energy usage and waste which best fit their individual properties, and which if not addressed can negatively impact a landlord’s ESG credentials, as well as those of an occupier.

However, the implementation of green leases also presents challenges. Negotiating the terms of a green lease requires careful consideration of the costs and responsibilities associated with sustainability measures. There can be a reluctance from tenants or landlords to invest in improvements that primarily benefit the other party. Legal disputes may arise over the interpretation and enforcement of green lease provisions, necessitating clear and precise language in the lease agreements.

Case Study: Green Leases in Practice

To illustrate the practical application of green leases, consider a commercial property in Glasgow. The landlord, keen to attract high-quality tenants, offers a green lease that includes several sustainability provisions. The lease requires the tenant to maintain the building’s B-rated EPC, conduct regular energy audits, and implement recommended improvements. Both parties agree to share the costs of major energy efficiency upgrades, such as installing solar panels and upgrading the HVAC system.

The lease also includes a clause on waste management, mandating the tenant to participate in the building’s recycling program. Data-sharing provisions ensure that both the landlord and tenant can monitor and manage energy and water usage effectively.

Over the lease term, the building’s energy consumption drops significantly, resulting in lower utility bills for the tenant and enhanced property value for the landlord. The collaborative approach fostered by the green lease creates a positive landlord-tenant relationship and contributes to the broader sustainability goals of both parties.

Future Directions and Recommendations

To date, the levels and rate of improvement have not been at the scale required, however as Scotland continues to prioritize sustainability, the role of green leases in commercial real estate is likely to expand, and the levels of obligation and prescription in leases are likely to increase. Future developments may include more stringent regulatory requirements for energy efficiency and sustainability, making green leases an even more critical tool for compliance.

To maximise the benefits of green leases, it is recommended that landlords and tenants:

  1. Engage in Open Dialogue: Early and ongoing communication between landlords and tenants is essential to negotiate and implement effective green lease provisions. Both parties should clearly understand their responsibilities and the benefits of sustainability measures.
  2. Seek Legal Expertise: Given the complexity of green leases, legal expertise is invaluable in drafting and negotiating terms that are clear, enforceable, and compliant with relevant regulations.
  3. Leverage Incentives: Both landlords and tenants should take advantage of available incentives for energy efficiency improvements, such as grants and tax credits. These can help offset the costs of sustainability measures.
  4. Monitor and Adjust: Regular monitoring of energy and water usage, as well as periodic reviews of the lease terms, can ensure that sustainability goals are being met and that the lease remains effective over time.


Green leases represent a significant step forward in aligning commercial property practices with Scotland’s sustainability objectives. By incorporating clear legal provisions for energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management, and data sharing, green leases foster a collaborative approach to environmental stewardship, while recognising that consideration is needed on liability for meeting the costs of implementing green strategies. While challenges remain, the benefits of green leases in terms of cost savings, property value, and environmental impact are substantial. As Scotland continues to lead in sustainability, green leases will play an increasingly important role in the commercial real estate sector, driving the transition to a greener, more sustainable future.

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Donna Kelly-Gilmour
Partner, Real Estate



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