The built environment and its associated emissions contribute to nearly 40% of all global carbon emissions. This means that the Real Estate industry is a significant part of the problem – but also means that it has an opportunity to play a meaningful part in finding a solution to this global issue.
Up to 90% of our time is spent indoors, therefore improving in-use building performance is critical. A lot can be achieved with the materials and processes in developments, but to truly minimize the whole-life carbon impact of real estate, landlords need to optimize operations (which account for 75% of the carbon emissions emitted by buildings).
Reducing a building’s carbon footprint can involve steps as basic as swapping to low energy lightbulbs, or having a proper recycling system set up throughout a building. “In real estate and climate tech, there is a lot of stuff that is boring but moves the needle for the world in a very significant way” – Greg Smithies, Fifth Wall partner and co-leader of the climate technology investment team.
Analogue changes (like understanding ventilation models, heating, lighting and the existing operations) and analyzing the data you’re getting from the systems you currently have to optimize building performance, will vastly improve the sustainability of a building. What’s more, this kind of data is great to share with tenants, and can be used as a means to incentivize sustainability initiatives.
But, to achieve a fully sustainable built environment, smart technology is essential. Analogue changes can take us so far, but smart is needed to optimize and automate the building’s performance, making it cost efficient, fully sustainable, future-proof and able to deliver an exceptional user experience.
Replacing antiquated heating and lighting systems with a smart system will provide insight on building use, exposing opportunities for better-optimization via building performance reports. Smart technology will also enable real-time optimization, via multiple linked datasets and machine learning that understands the behaviour of the building occupants and responds immediately without human intervention.
User experience can be incorporated as part of a successful sustainability strategy. 70% of people see climate change as a major threat, therefore tenants will likely be enthusiastic about being a part of positive change, giving the landlord a mandate for driving change, and involving their tenants in their push towards more sustainable space. Initiatives could include:
- Supporting tenants to identify low occupancy days (for example desks are at <50% occupancy on Fridays), and assisting in consolidating teams and closing down unused space real-time to reduce energy usage.
- A recycling initiative that establishes some lighthearted competition between floors/tenants of the building to increase engagement.
- Limit water waste by measuring actual usage tenant by tenant and sharing the data back to the tenant representatives.
- Encourage activities which reduce energy costs and improve wellbeing outcomes, such as using the stairs instead of the lift.
Looking to the buildings of tomorrow, making all new developments as smart and adaptable as possible will future proof assets, ensuring that in the future, buildings can be updated as you go, rather than being built brand new.