How Real Estate Can Lead to a More Just, Sustainable Future by 2030 - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Energy Efficiency, GHG Emissions  -  November 15, 2021 - By Lotte Schlegel, IMT

How Real Estate Can Lead to a More Just, Sustainable Future by 2030

What if I told you that by the end of this decade, we could improve life for nearly everyone in America by changing the way we design, build, operate, and value buildings?

It’s true.

Consider this:

  • The business of real estate—how we collectively construct, operate, own, and value the places where we live, work, and play—has long served as an active pillar of financial and social support in communities across the U.S.
  • How buildings procure and use energy—and what type of energy—plays a clear role in addressing climate change.
  • Where we live influences our personal wealth and commercial buildings continue to be a substantial driver of community wealth via job creation and tax base contributions.
  • Increasing bouts of extreme weather such as heatwaves, high-intensity hurricanes, catastrophic flooding, and prolonged drought and wildfires put our bodies, buildings, and communities at risk.
  • At the same time, the ongoing pandemic continues to spark conversation around how buildings keep us healthy.

Layered across all of this is clear evidence that systemic inequalities restrict who has access to high-performing, resilient, healthy, and affordable buildings—leaving communities of color with high energy costs, low-performing buildings, and negative impacts on health, productivity, and physical and financial resilience.

At IMT, we see a clear call to action for business leaders to lead the way to a healthier, more just, and more sustainable future. What might this look like?

Real estate can lead the way
Today we released the BuildUp 2030 Framework for the Transformation of Real Estate, which explores the path forward. In the framework, we lay out a vision of what the world might look like by 2030 if buildings were to positively transform people’s physical, social, and economic well-being.

  • Buildings provide economic opportunity. Buildings play a key role in the U.S. economy and yet only a minuscule percentage of U.S. buildings undergo an energy upgrade each year. A dramatic acceleration in building improvements could mean immediate and long-term cost savings for owners, as well as robust local job creation and new forms of more equitable real estate ownership and management. At the same time, these investments and improvements will greatly reduce climate emissions, which is exactly what we need to respond to the urgency of this moment.
  • Buildings are climate solutions. We believe that real estate can lead the transition to a low-carbon economy by using materials with less embodied energy and using every building-related decision to boost efficiency and reduce emissions where possible. By 2030, this would mean all new construction is capable of operating with zero carbon emissions and the market for building materials will have shifted toward low- and no-carbon components. Plus, interventions to eliminate emissions also will routinely trigger larger discussions around health and resilience. For example: Owners and managers thinking of upgrading the HVAC system today to increase the flow of fresh, outdoor air and reduce the spread of COVID-19 can also vet system upgrades that simultaneously improve energy use and reduce operational costs.
  • Buildings can improve social justice. The business of real estate has a significant impact on daily life and transforming business practices can generate economic opportunity and wealth for disinvested communities and businesses by diversifying internal teams as well as contracting and procurement practices. We envision that by 2030, every community will have safe and healthy housing, schools, workplaces, and community structures.
  • Buildings can improve health. We envision a world where buildings actively improve health. This includes actively managing indoor environmental quality and designing structures to promote wellness activities. By 2030, we foresee that health impact factors of a building will be transparently disclosed during rental and sale transactions, and will be integrated into valuation structures.
  • Buildings boost community resilience. By 2030, we envision communities across the U.S. will have built stronger interconnections of support, especially in times of disruption and disaster. We will have effective planning for communities facing increased threat and potential relocation. As it relates to buildings, this means a robust network of structures that are equipped to sustain communities during utility outages and as part of a decentralized energy system. Buildings will be reliable centers for shelter, electricity, water, warmth and cooling, and healthcare for those in need.

What now?
We know the vision is ambitious; it must be, by necessity. The world around us is rapidly changing, driven by climate change; new expectations from investors, shareholders, and customers; and greater awareness of how the status quo perpetuates inequities. The real estate companies that thrive in 2030 will be the ones that adapt to these new realities and lead.

Our new Framework for the Transformation of Real Estate provides 10 principles for how building owners, operators, tenants, and investors can lead in making this vision a reality. Alongside the principles, we include potential actions informed by months of discussion with real estate leaders from across the U.S. And much of this work is already underway. In the framework, you’ll also see profiles of some of the early leaders.

We welcome you to join us on this ambitious, critical journey. You can start by requesting a copy of the full vision and framework at imt.org/transformingrealestate. If you’re already pursuing elements of the framework, we’d love to hear your story. If you have questions or challenges to share, let us know. Ultimately, we’re all in this together, and there is no better time to act than right now.

 

This column originally appeared as a blog at IMT.

Lotte Schlegel is the Executive Director of the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), a national nonprofit organization that is laser-focused on increasing energy efficiency in buildings to save money, drive economic growth, reduce harmful pollution, and tackle climate change. Under her guidance, IMT is a trailblazer in the energy efficiency field, recognized across the globe for accelerating investment in energy-efficient buildings through hands-on guidance, technical and market research, policy and program development, and promotion of best practices.

 

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