Sustainable development in real estate

August 3, 2020 / By  

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the real estate sector worldwide is stepping up its response to climate change and sustainable development. At the same time, there is an increasing awareness of the environmental impact of real estate: the World Green Building Council suggests that buildings are responsible for upwards of 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Investors, occupiers and real estate companies all have an equal responsibility to support and drive sustainable development.

With an aim to create a consistent agenda and definition, the World Green Building council in 2016 set up the Advancing Net Zero campaign. Since then, it has gained enough momentum and has come to influence actions of all stakeholders including governments, city councils, property owners, investors and occupiers alike. New buildings are readily adopting low or zero carbon-heating solutions; however, the challenge will be retrofitting older buildings as this may require updating traditional energy systems, as well as changing internal layouts and facades. Achieving net zero, both in operations and construction, will mean re-thinking the way we approach design and construction and introduce circularity in the planning phase because much of the future performance of a building is dictated by early decisions. Designs that use fewer material and recycle steel and concrete where possible, positively impacts embodied carbon of a building. Finally, the industry will need to recognize net zero not as a label but as process that demonstrates performance of a building maintained at net zero. Thus, moving from a compliance focused to a performance-focused approach will become the key step in advancing the net zero agenda.

At JLL, we understand that a systemic response to sustainable development requires that change be introduced not only at building performance level but also across all levels of an organization, which is why our sustainability program touches not only on climate or on economic impact, but also on social impact of our assets. Apart from measuring embodied carbon, incorporating circular economy principles and identifying investment impacts, we also recognize the link between buildings and employee well-being as a core principle of sustainable development and employ all four when we work with our clients on their sustainability and net zero journeys. Uncovering and truthfully communicating how the buildings really functioning is the starting point of this journey. It goes unsaid that future technologies, research and innovation will all play their role but we already have some tools and solutions like integrated building analytics that help us to uncover as to how optimally our buildings are operating now. We exploit the potential of big data and new analytical approaches to enable more agile, efficient and evidence based decision-making to help our clients prioritise investment, implement practical solution and ultimately reduce climate impacts.

How well all stakeholders across the real estate value chain respond will eventually determine how well our sector succeeds in making the build environment a healthier ecosystem for humans – an ecosystem where we spend 90% of our lives.

Recognizing the effects of real estate on people’s health and wellbeing, Singapore’s BCA launched the BCA-HPB Green Mark for Healthier Workplaces scheme to strengthen the business case of designing and building workplaces for better health outcomes. Also rolled out in the same year was the Green Mark for Super Low Energy intended to provide recognition for best-in-class energy efficient buildings.

These government initiatives were a timely response to the global trend of energy and resource efficiency being developed hand in hand with consideration for the health and wellbeing of building occupants. Some companies have taken up the responsibilities and challenges more proactively by enrolling in voluntary schemes like Science Based Targets, committing to 100% renewable electricity, and others. We expect more companies to follow suit as a result of enhanced awareness of the need to protect the planet and pressure from peers in the industry.

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