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Battling Climate Change One Building at a Time

Natalie Craig • 13/09/2021

The phrase “build back better” was used to describe the efforts by governments around world to rebuild and position the economy for recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe this should also be the approach towards achieving a more sustainable environment and addressing climate change.

A need for decarbonisation of the property sector

According to the International Energy Agency, the buildings and buildings construction sectors are responsible for over one-third of global final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The high level of emissions in the buildings and construction sectors combined with serious warnings from the recent UN climate change report, drive home the urgent need for us to decarbonise the property sector.

In a report published in August 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that currently, human activities had contributed or caused global warming above pre-industrial levels of up to 1.2°C and warned that “unprecedented” changes were needed to slow or stop global warming beyond 1.5°C. As the world warms, the eco-systems to sustain life are adversely impacted, threatening economies, human health and the environment.

Challenging as it may be, limiting global warming to 1.5°C or below is not impossible. Without a doubt, the real estate sector has a fundamental role in mitigating the impact of climate change and helping to support a resilient recovery in the economy post-pandemic. There is a real need to coordinate our efforts to make a sustainable push towards a carbon-neutral world in the future.

Change is happening, but needs greater momentum

The IPCC noted that global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. Net zero refers to a state where no incremental greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere. To achieve this, emissions from the development and operation of buildings must be cut to a maximum while remaining emissions are offset via various measures.

We believe real estate will be a key player in driving change and it will require a greater commitment and an increased level of ambition from all stakeholders, including policy makers, occupiers, users, owners, and investors.

In Singapore, the government has announced a 10-year initiative called the Singapore Green Plan 2030, that charts a whole-of-nation sustainable development agenda. Among them, the aim of having 80% of new buildings in Singapore to be Super Low Energy buildings from 2030, and an 80% improvement in energy efficiency over 2005 baseline for best-in-class green buildings by 2030.

What can we do?

Transitioning to a carbon-neutral future means factoring in a full lifecycle carbon analysis into the development and refurbishment of building projects. As a provider of integrated facilities management services, we consider it critical that owners and occupiers undertake a comprehensive assessment of building operations, including a detailed assessment of how the building impacts its users. Our C&W Services Sustainability Framework (see Figure 1) spells out six key measures on the path toward a more sustainable built environment. These include: Performance; Safety and Health; Waste Management; Materials and Waste; Energy and Climate; and Community.  

Sustainability Framework ©C&W Services

Figure 1: Sustainability Framework ©C&W Services

Some actionable items include:

  • Implement efficiency measures and using clean energy to cut emissions from building operations
  • Reduce emissions from construction activities, accounting for carbon impact and embodied energy in building projects
  • Ramp up green financing and ESG-related financial investment schemes to support development projects and accelerate the decarbonisation of real estate. Based on the National Environment Agency’s statistics, about 5.88 million tonnes of solid waste were generated in Singapore in 2020 - of which 3.04 million tonnes were recycled
  • Asset managers to support investment that is aligned with the goal of achieving net zero by 2050
  • Facilities managers to play an important role by providing feedback on operational carbon emissions and how these can be reduced, such as: choosing suppliers that offer zero/low carbon products and services; adopt new technologies; and maintenance of components to cut emissions
  • Generate greater awareness, transparency of metrics and deliverables required to maximise the true potential of a green asset

Beyond meeting global targets, embarking on the sustainability roadmap can help real estate players mitigate risk, build portfolio resilience and garner a competitive edge in the market – potentially leading to higher property value, better ability to attract and retain tenants, as well as improved user experience.

The built environment is a critical sector and only with collective agreement and coordinated efforts across our supply chain, can we make net zero by 2050 a reality. The ball is firmly in our court.

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