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Decarbonising the built environment

The built environment is by far the largest contributor of carbon emissions, accounting for 37% of global emissions, according to the UN Environment Programme. Operational emissions, like heating, cooling, and lighting, comprise the majority of building emissions, while materials and construction are also held responsible. With real estate developers and owners, as well as corporates, setting ambitious net zero targets, the spotlight is on the commercial real estate (CRE) sector.

The UK is home to over 1.8 million non-residential properties, half of which were constructed before 1985. These include a variety of building types, with the three highest-emitting sub-sectors being offices, retail, and industrial sites. Put simply, we must increase energy efficiency and turn to renewable energy sources for new buildings and retrofitting. However, commercial assets are complex, with several stakeholders involved including owners, tenants, and facility managers.

We have observed a growth in environmental & sustainability (E&S) consultancies driven by increased ESG regulations. C-suite executives are now driving firms’ sustainability strategies, and decarbonisation is at the top of CRE leaders’ agendas. E&S consultancies assist in navigating this transition with pure consulting offerings to engineering and project management services. A typical customer journey may include a portfolio review, feasibility studies, planning & permitting, grid connection work, design & technical specifications, installation, and asset management.

Other opportunities exist through digitisation as an increasing number of ‘proptech’ companies enter the space. Building and asset management software can extract data on energy usage to provide performance reports and recommend actions. The use of digital twins has also advanced building construction and maintenance.

While everyone must do their part to reduce their individual carbon footprint, it is organisations (commercial / industrial, governments, and non-profits) that contribute the most to global emissions. With CRE strategies under focus, E&S firms and built environment technologies will drive the shift to net zero. 

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