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Climate Change Mitigation in Real Estate: Part 1

CBC often discusses and focuses on the importance of sustainability in real estate. Climate change is a growing issue, with the real estate industry working to find solutions to slow the impact. It is worth noting, for context, buildings are the largest contributor to global warming. Across commercial and non-commercial buildings, the real estate sector accounts for 38% of all greenhouse gas emissions. According to J.P. Morgan’s report, “Buildings reimagined: Why carbon neutral property is the future of real estate,” a large proportion of today’s commercial buildings date back to the 1970s, when environmental issues were less of a concern. And because most of these properties will still be standing in 2050 – the year many governments have pledged to reach zero- carbon targets – they will need to be decarbonized by reducing the amount of carbon compounds they omit into the atmosphere. In part one of the Climate Change Mitigation in Real Estate series, we will take a closer look into how owners and managers can work to improve a building’s carbon footprint.

How to Improve a Building’s Carbon Footprint

There are three ways to improve a building’s carbon footprint: increase its energy efficiency; increase its renewable energy supply; and reduce its embodied carbon, which refers to the emissions generated throughout the building’s lifecycle.

As explained by J.P. Morgan’s Buildings Reimagined report, when it comes to energy efficiency, today’s technology can help us analyze energy usage and control a building’s heating, cooling, water usage and ventilation. Additionally, we can invest in heat pumps that can efficiently transfer warmth from the outside air to heat a building, rather than heating air within the building by burning fossil fuels. Essentially, incorporating electrification, which switches power sources from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy.

Some solutions are as simple as installing better insulation, ensuring windows open to take the pressure off cooling systems, providing more green spaces in and around buildings, and encouraging greater biodiversity via insect hotels and rooftop beehives.

Thankfully, there are exceptional plans in place to reduce emissions with the help of advanced technology, as well as incentives owners and managers can tap into, through tightening regulations and government programs. However, major investment is also needed from landlords. For example, something as simple as the adoption of LED lighting in commercial building stands at just 50% — the industry needs to move beyond the 90% LED lighting adoption rate to meet current targets.

According to the Urban Land Institute’s “Greening Buildings for Healthier People” report, some important steps to both improve health while taking climate change into account, includes:

  • Use less carbon-intensive materials for building, and using materials that are mold-resistant and that can withstand natural disasters
  • Develop property on transit-oriented development sites, and incorporate natural light and green stormwater infrastructure
  • Incorporate “green” leases that include health considerations and socially responsible practices

In part one of the Climate Change Mitigation in Real Estate series, we examined how to improve a building’s carbon footprint — using data and analytics from JP Morgan and Urban Land Institute. In part two, we will explore positive changes being made in residential real estate and how more homeowners are renovating existing homes to make them “net zero,” which greatly contributes to climate change mitigation efforts.

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