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A wave of energy transformation in the commercial property sector

13 October, 2021

Property leasing has long had gestated issues around general negligence from landlords, but now change is afoot: carbon legacies need to be accounted for, and carbon is to be taxed. Put simply, it pays to know what is going with your properties—energy needs to be monitored, understood and improved upon to ensure environmental and financial benefit.

In 2020, the UK became the first country to introduce a legally binding agreement to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050. 

Buildings are currently responsible for 39% of global energy related carbon emissions

  • 28% from operational emissions (from energy needed to heat, cool and power them)
  • The remaining 11% from materials and construction

Now, with heightened public awareness of the climate emergency and the regulatory, investment and commercial impetus, property managers are looking for ways to ensure a future of low emissions led by renewable energy. 

Along with moral obligations, other initiatives and benefits are further enticing investors, developers and managers to consider their capital carbon emissions. The Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) has been signed by leading commercial property owners to demonstrate their commitment to tackling climate change risks by delivering net zero carbon real estate portfolios by 2050. 

But having a carbon offset program in place is not a quick-fix certification that deems your building “environmentally-friendly”. Similarly, using carbon credits should not provide building operators with the comfort to consume more, as this fails to address the real problem. 

Carbon offsets and carbon credits are just one step of many in the process to achieving carbon neutrality. One of the first steps is examining our unsustainable consumption.

What you can measure, you can manage 

Energy accounts for around 75% of a building’s emissions.The majority of the remaining 25% comes from water, waste and refrigerants. This explains why the United Nations’ sustainable development goals include sustainable consumption and production.

The simplest way for property managers to gain greater understanding of their resources and consumption habits and begin the process of managing climate-related risks is to access smart metering data. Automated meter readers (AMRs) are retrofitted onto traditional meters to provide real-time consumption tracking. Along with the obvious benefit of accurate billing and automated meter reading and reporting, the AMR data allows managers to take a good, hard look at energy and water efficiency, begging the questions: Have we done enough to fully optimise the building’s resource consumption efficiency? Have we identified and taken all possible steps to minimise consumption?

Cleaning up legacy carbon 

Stopping and reducing emissions alone is an insufficient response to climate change. Property managers need to understand that carbon legacy needs to be accounted for. Pollution from carbon remains in the atmosphere for centuries, so unless we begin to clean up legacy carbon emissions from past industrial activity, even those living in a zero-emission society will be subjected to the impacts of climate change. It is thus essential to support carbon removal strategies for capturing and storing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. 

Professional industry bodies such as the the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) and the Green Construction Board (GCB) have been emphasising this message for some time, but, so far, there has been very little regulation enforcing carbon legacy reporting and management. That said, the UK’s local planning processes are starting to look at this; for example, through the new draft London Plan,which sets out a requirement for developments to calculate and reduce Whole Lifecycle Carbon (WLC) emissions. 

Accurate carbon reporting 

The future of carbon offsetting depends on the evolution of technology to track, measure and trace the impact of these offsets over time. New technologies continue to evolve and improve the accuracy and quality of carbon offsetting. To portray a realistic picture, these tools should also take carbon legacy into account. A holistic carbon tracker currently being developed by technology company Smarter Technologies Group

It’s time to care about carbon 

Property managers that take the lead in showing investors, regulators and the public that they are putting in the steps to optimise their response to climate-related issues will see a myriad of benefits; from improving environmental performance to retaining and enhancing investment value and bettering the greater community.

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