This year’s COP26 saw a historic moment for the building and construction sector through a dedicated ‘Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day’ taking place on 11 November 2021.
This is only the second time that the built environment has been acknowledged as a critical climate solutions provider at COP – the first being a dedicated ‘Buildings Day’ at COP21 in Paris 6 years ago.
As a sector which is accountable for almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions, it is alarming that the built environment has remained a blind spot in climate negotiations for so long.
The business ambition of the building and construction industry is primarily based on a nature of inter stakeholder competitiveness, ultimately driven by decisions based on cost rather than innovation or resource efficiency.
Historically, fragmentation and complex supply chains have also been a cause of climate inaction across the sector, and therefore its potential as a climate solution has often not been recognised.
To overcome this fragmentation, a big part of the solution is deep, cross-sector collaboration.
There is growing recognition that driving solutions for decarbonising the built environment is not the sole responsibility of a few key stakeholders, but requires deep and genuine action from across the entire value chain to enable others to also play their part.
Partnerships, collaboration and communication are therefore essential to transitioning towards a healthier, equitable, net zero and resilient built environment.
Through World Green Building Council’s (WorldGBC) global programme Advancing Net Zero (ANZ), we are starting to see much needed change through the work of engaged and committed Green Building Councils (GBCs), partners and signatories to WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment.
ANZ’s six global programme sponsors each represent a different part of the sector value chain, enabling conditions for collective, urgent and progressive collaboration and solutions in order to accelerate sustainable built environments for everyone, everywhere.
CBRE, a global commercial real estate services and investment firm, are recognising the importance of cross-sector collaboration to respond to the changing demand signals of their key stakeholders.
Institutional investors, for example, who have considerable influence across the sector, have been demanding greater transparency and disclosure on the impacts of building operations, which in turn is driving positive performance improvements.
“And we are now also experiencing demand from occupiers for sustainable and resilient spaces, which will further accelerate the value proposition for developers and investors, as prime real estate becomes synonymous with net zero. Together, these levers have, albeit slowly, finally come together in creating action across the sector like never before.” – Helen Newman, Head of Sustainability, CBRE.
The staggering acceleration of sustainability and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting and awareness has led to CBRE partnering with organisations and initiatives such as: WorldGBC, US Green Building Council, UK Green Building Council, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Global Reporting Initiative and Principles for Responsible Investment, to name a few.
This new-found culture of sharing best practices, innovation, guidance and insights has allowed companies like CBRE to accelerate sustainable development and net zero carbon, in order to meet the growing expectations of end users.
From the initial market demand and investment stages of a building’s development, comes the building design — a critical phase in dictating the performance outcomes of buildings for their entire lifecycle.
ANZ partner Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) is a global architectural, urban planning and engineering firm. For SOM the lack of capacity and knowledge on net zero within industry has amplified the hesitation for the built environment to cross-pollinate – not only within itself, but across different sectors and academia.
“Establishment of common ‘standards’ with specific targets and metrics, together with guidelines on how to deliver net zero carbon buildings, has elevated the sector’s knowledge on net zero over recent years. As the awareness increases, there is a greater clarity gained on net zero only being achievable through sector-wide collaboration.” – Mina Hasman, Senior Associate Principal, SOM.
Engineering firms including Mott MacDonald have seen enormous benefit through working closely with designers and creating a space for the design process to be revised in order to optimise the potential for projects to achieve net zero.
“Involving consultants and contractors early in the project to allow for low-cost, rapid design iterations, setting performance-based KPIs and verifying performance are just a few of the many measures that can be adopted by clients. These have the potential to remove the linear, sequential and siloed process that has dominated building design for too long.” – Eszter A Gulacsy, Technical Director, Mott Macdonald.
For building materials manufacturer Kingspan, the most visible symbol of sector collaboration is the health of its industry bodies, such as WorldGBC. A less obvious, but equally important sign of collaboration, is the investment being made by larger organisations in emerging technologies to enable access to low carbon solutions.
A good example is Kingspan’s recent acquisition of Logstor, a leader in insulation for piping systems in district heating, which is amongst the most energy-efficient ways of heating residential and commercial properties.
“By investing in the value chain we are finding ways to bring the sector together, not only to address commercial and regulatory issues, but also to advance the climate critical goal of decarbonising the built environment.” – Jonna Byskata, Head of EU Public Affairs, Kingspan Group.
As one of the world’s largest urban regeneration developers, Lendlease is working closely with its suppliers and partners on the decarbonisation of materials such as steel, cement and aluminium, as well as collaborating and educating end users to set pathways to achieve its goal of absolute zero carbon by 2040.
This industry collaboration includes becoming a founding member of both SteelZero and the Materials and Embodied Carbon Leadership Alliance (MECLA). Both initiatives bring together multi-stakeholder groups from across the supply chain to understand the barriers to producing net zero carbon materials, and work on mechanisms to address challenges or unlock solutions to accelerate the transition to zero.
“Zero is our smallest target and our biggest challenge, however these examples of sector collaboration demonstrate the powerful opportunity for change when our industry stakeholders unite in service of a common goal.” – Cate Harris, Group Head of Sustainability, Lendlease.
The digital transformation is a useful component to creating net zero and resilient buildings.
Connected technologies company, Schneider Electric, has realised the potential of real-data to benefit many actors in the built environment value chain and drive building efficiency; providing better building design, saving designers and contractors time and money, as well as reducing risk and simplifying facility and energy management.
Access to real-time data on the health of building systems is increasing user awareness, and helping transition from a reactive to a preventative maintenance approach for buildings; saving up to 20% in costs while extending lifespan and improving reliability.
“Digitalisation and building management systems are providing insights that are needed to make smart actions through a unified view of building performance. They are uncovering energy waste, inefficiencies and unleashing continuous savings that can be reinvested to fund more projects that remove carbon from operations.” – Vincent Minier, Vice President Global Energy and Climate Policy.
From the asset management perspective, CBRE sees three key challenges and opportunities to advancing net zero within the sector:
For SOM, a key challenge faced within the design part of the value chain is the misaligned expectations among the design team on the performance outcome of the project.
“For instance, architects may have the ambition to deliver a net zero carbon building, but the engineers’ scope would be limited to only 1-2 Life Cycle Assessments. This limitation in scope would hinder a design’s potential to conclude the optimum path for delivering a net zero carbon performance.” – Mina Hasman, Senior Associate Principal, SOM.
Aligning expectations, and as needed, redefining the scope of work for all design team members in a project would ensure there is a streamlined approach, collective commitment, and consistent delivery of work in line with the desired net zero outcome.
Mott MacDonald are concerned with how the changing climate will affect the needs of buildings to provide comfortable internal conditions. One of the greatest climate challenges in large parts of the world will be retrofitting buildings that need to introduce more air conditioning, which in turn will increase cooling demand and lead to higher energy consumption.
“The existing building stock worldwide must be improved to meet net zero standards. As stated by the WorldGBC, refurbishment rates around the world need to increase by 3% every year to have a chance for all buildings to be net zero by the 2050 deadline.” – Eszter A Gulacsy, Technical Director, Mott MacDonald.
Currently the rate for building refurbishment is less than 1%, yet 80% of the buildings that will exist in 2050 already exist. Therefore it is essential that more emphasis is given to existing buildings and improving their performance.
An important consideration for Kingspan is the growing belief that accelerated expansion of district heating systems will be required to meet climate change targets.
The UK Government, for example, estimates that around 18% of heat will need to come from district heating networks by 2050 in order to meet carbon reduction targets cost effectively — currently just over 2% in the UK. This need must be supplied in an integrated, efficient and timely manner to minimise heat loss, bring down energy bills, and reduce CO2 emissions even further.
As an international property, construction and investment group, Lendlease has identified three key challenges that requires collaborative and innovative action from other actors in the value chain:
Schneider Electric’s experience has shown that by increasing digital and electric buildings, we can deliver the smart tools and higher performance needed to meet sector decarbonisation targets.
However, when it comes to investment, two hurdles prevent asset owners and financiers to accelerate the decarbonisation of buildings:
Therefore from the digital perspective of the built environment value chain, an informed dialogue in the ecosystem needs to happen to unlock investments by understanding the value areas to prioritise and with which technologies.
The building and construction sector’s demand for natural resources fuels the climate crisis, and inefficient, unhealthy buildings affect our livelihoods.
Yet we have continued to design, build and operate buildings for sub optimal performance and beyond our means — with inefficient or short term solutions locked in, that will be expensive or difficult to retrofit in the future.
Rising to the sector decarbonisation challenge requires nothing less than a complete transformation in the way we design, build, operate, deconstruct and value our buildings and infrastructure.
The complexity of the challenge is daunting, and there are many obstacles which different actors in the value chain face, as has been addressed throughout this blog. Obstacles which have a knock-on impact on each other and delay progress: from the need for a common language, a lack of quality data collection and sharing, to the slow pace of material decarbonisation, and motivation from tenants.
Through WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero global programme partners, we are seeing increasing demand across the sector to act as enablers for creating net positive impact.
Together, we are calling on industry to come together and activate deep collaboration, in order to find the solutions to the challenges as identified by these thought leaders.
It is from challenges that we can find new opportunities to collaborate — setting a precedent to other industry leaders that through shared expertise, a united vision and strategic partnerships, we can halve the sectors’ emissions by 2030.