Environment matters for real estate

Green buildings are a key part of the solution to battle climate change. A building is classified as green if it meets certain defined criteria such as energy sustainability, water efficiency and environmental protection.

September 12, 2017

But for many of the world’s major cities, it is buildings—the silent monoliths that line the city’s skyline—that are among the biggest culprits of climate change.

In an average urban city, real estate accounts for about 30 per cent of a country’s total emissions.  In Hong Kong, the number rises to 90 per cent. In tiny Singapore, buildings consume about 30 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Those are the real—and staggering—numbers showing how much buildings contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions in their countries.

Additionally, on a global scale, real estate accounts for 35 per cent of carbon, 25 per cent of water and 40 per cent of raw materials use globally.

“It is very clear that any solution to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change must have buildings at its core,” says Matthew Clifford, JLL’s Head of Energy and Sustainability Services in Asia Pacific.

Ambitious international goals are already in place. The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) has set long-term targets in support of collective efforts to restrict the rise in global warming to 2 degrees C by 2100. A goal for buildings to be net zero—referring to a building which produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year—fits right into this vision.

Living and livable buildings of the future

Green buildings are a key part of the solution to battle climate change. A building is classified as green if it meets certain defined criteria such as energy sustainability, water efficiency and environmental protection. And it’s not just the physical design of the building; how it is operated counts too.

“One of JLL’s key strengths is that we manage a huge number of buildings across Asia-Pacific approximately 1.5 billion square feet—so we’ve got great insight into what works and doesn’t work in terms of building operations. This includes the design features, as well as the operating practices,” says Clifford.

“Recently, we helped JP Morgan Chase achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold (Commercial Interiors) for its new office in Hong Kong. By working with the designers and architects, and alongside our project management team, we were able to make design improvements which lowered construction costs, and will deliver energy savings from lighting of approximately 24 per cent over the life of the project.”

LEED is a prominent regional certification scheme devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design. JLL, with its 1,700 sustainability accredited professionals, is also consulting and working on similar projects for Wells Fargo, Prudential and others.

But the push to create green buildings remains a work in progress, says Clifford.

The push to create green buildings remains a work in progress.

“One of the biggest challenges in promoting green buildings is encouraging developers to take a long-term view, and not just rushing through a quick fix or tick-box solution to their buildings,” Clifford shares. “Some developers view sustainability as just another marketing angle to help promote sales.”

On paper, there is nothing wrong with leveraging the green features to help promote sales or leasing, he says. “But on the other hand, if the building hasn’t got a cohesive design, and these features are simply thrown together as a sort of green-washing exercise, the end-user tends to lose out, while the developer makes money and moves on,” Clifford argues.

The solution, in part, he says, is in the role governments play.

“I think governments can play a really useful role in raising the bar for minimum standards, but then letting the market determine the top end, rather than the government being overly prescriptive. Governments can also play a very positive role in setting standards around the types of buildings they own or occupy,” he explains.

Thinking offices are wins for sustainability

Alongside green buildings, smart workplaces also make a building environmentally sustainable. But more than that, organizations with clever offices reap productivity benefits and enjoy a happier and healthier workforce.

According to the WorldGBC, studies show that improved ventilation will boost productivity of workers by 11 per cent while better lighting will spark a whopping 23 per cent jump in efficiencies.

Not only do the workers of today want to feel safe and healthy at the workplace, they also want to feel that they belong to an organization that makes conscious ethical choices. In this case, it is a choice that not only reduces its impact on environmental sustainability but also actively finds solutions for global warming.

Technology plays a big part in smart buildings and it makes customization easy—a definite win for the employee and company.

“Next-generation workplace technologies provide people with a direct feedback loop to connect directly with their environment, using personalized controls and eliminating the friction many people experience when operating within old-fashioned building systems,” says Clifford.

To this end, JLL’s clients have had the best of both worlds—saving the environment while boosting productivity of its workforce.

“For example, across Asia and in particular China, our clients are using devices to monitor the air quality within their buildings to filter and purify the air. These smart devices are connected to the cloud to allow real time analysis and action,” Clifford shares.

Today’s organizations are faced with a new reality and it’s one where they need to relook and incorporate sustainable building design, technology and strategy. “Or risk potential obsolescence and forfeit your competitive advantage,” Clifford warns.

For companies concerned about creating a sustainable workplace, the key is to find the right partner which can help design these smart workplaces and green buildings to both boost efficiency and reduce the impact on the environment.