What role is real estate playing in tackling the climate crisis?


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The climate crisis is top of the Davos agenda, as world leaders and businesses come together in Switzerland this week to collaborate at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting. Of the four most pressing global issues that stand out as urgent and important according to the WEF, the first two are the need to address environmental challenges harming ecology and the economy and the second, find solutions that enable industries to adopt more sustainable business models.

Dr Xiangyu Sheng, Director of Climate Change and Air Quality at GL Hearn, reflects on the role real estate must play in tackling the climate crisis.

The UK government has passed a law obliging the country to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. As a real estate consultancy, we are focused on supporting our clients to set and achieve successful green targets. At GL Hearn, our expertise in climate risk and carbon assessment services to clients aim to create a healthier, sustainable, zero-carbon and climate resilient future for the UK.

The real estate industry plays a large role in tackling climate crisis through influencing future development and the impact that development has on the planet. We work with a variety of developers, industry partners and local authorities to help navigate the complexities of planning and development.

In 2019, the UK Green Building Council published a report which identified that buildings within the UK account for approximately 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions. It is important then, that the sector plays an active role in helping the UK to achieve the net zero carbon targets by 2050. The Climate Change Act commits the UK by law to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Reductions in carbon emissions and sustainability can be achieved through reducing embodied carbon in the construction of buildings and operational use carbon such as energy and water usage.

We provide carbon and greenhouse gas appraisals for a range of clients and schemes, including energy usage, urban regeneration and infrastructure projects. Assessments are tailored to provide our clients with the confidence that the scheme is as low carbon as possible and is helping the UK to meet its net zero carbon targets.

We produce zero carbon plans and climate risk assessment for our clients and provide them with confidence and information to reduce their carbon footprint through an overall holistic approach.  We are continually improving our knowledge on carbon targets and sustainability techniques to provide our clients with the most up to date and best available data.

New materials, that are sustainably sourced, are also helping to reduce the impact that new developments are having across the UK. Innovative approaches to building design and the procurement of materials can be seen, with many of the natural building materials being sourced, including timber, also bringing aesthetic benefits, and contributing to the success of the built environment by improving health and well-being for people living, working and visiting.

Ambitious regulations being introduced to reduce carbon emissions, as well as the increased profile in the public domain about the future of the planet and our role as inhabitants of it, is leading to increased focused on the durability, efficiency and environmental resilience of built assets. Retrofitting is therefore an increasingly popular solution in this space.

Technology and the role it can play in the design, build and operationalisation of the built environment is a key component for us when advising our clients, it can provide cost effective solution, from smart tech to help heat and cool buildings to more connected intelligent facilities.

There is increased conscience in how investors are approaching the environmental impact of their decision making. It is no longer all about financial returns, but increasingly about the bigger picture when it comes to the role developments play in the communities they serve. For example, a holistic approach to zero carbon development planning and climate resilience strategy is required.

Solutions will need to be innovative and long-term as much as they will need to be specific and targeted if change is to be effective and environmental impact minimised.

Find out more GL Hearn Climate Change team and how to get in touch here.

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