Construction, real estate and sustainability.

September 4, 2019 | Nicole Anderson

Our planet is under huge distress. Climate change, pollution, urbanisation and industry has left us with environmental debt we and our future generations have to pay. The UN’s body for assessing the science related to climate change, released its Sixth Assessment Report3 in which it highlights the likelihood of climate genocide.

At current trends, global temperatures will increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius as soon as 2040, putting hundreds of millions of lives at stake. Even in the best-case scenario of 1.5 degrees increase, wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes will become far more frequent, putting people, agriculture, nature and financial assets at grave risk. A green race is going on. We are at the beginning of a technical revolution of the magnitude of the railway, [or] the motor car.

And the main culprit? Industry.
Very few understand the huge impact of construction on the environment. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global buildings and buildings construction sector combined is responsible for 30% of final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions.

The global buildings sector consumes more than 55% of global electricity demand. Energy demand from occupied buildings and construction sites is rising, driven by greater ownership and use of energy-consuming devices as well as rapid growth in global buildings floor area at nearly 3% pa. The building sector will grow by nearly 230 billion m2 over the next 40 years! That’s equivalent to adding the surface area of Japan to the planet every year until 2060!

When superimposed with the exponential rate of technology consumption, connected buildings are very much a reality. With the growth of EDGE computing, which is bringing the provision of data compute closer to the users, the overall emissions from building is on the rise.

Data centers are the factories of the digital age. These mostly windowless, featureless boxes are scattered across the globe — from Las Vegas to Bangalore, and Des Moines to Reykjavik. They run the planet’s digital services. Their construction alone costs around $20 billion a year worldwide. They eat up more than 2 percent of the world’s electricity and emit roughly as much CO2 as the airline industry. And with global data traffic more than doubling every four years, they are growing fast.

At the moment, smart cities are designed to be smart but not necessarily sustainable. Technology that forms the connective tissue of every building road, transport link and structure will come at an environmental cost. The building and construction industry has to look at green solutions from every angle including:

Sources of materials
Supply of green energy
Emissions monitoring
Waste management
Construction process and supplier efficiency
Investment flows / capital that is aligned with green and sustainable goals

The world needs not just a quantitative new approach to the construction and property sector, but a qualitative one: a complete re-imagining from the foundations up. It is clear that today’s approach to real estate will play a key role in deciding whether we meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals; tinkering around the edges will not be successful.

Sustainable building design is the future of the construction industry. Take SVART, for example: the first energy-positive hotel. Buildings like this must become commonplace, if not the norm. And with these new technologies and a new vision for how we can live in harmony with our environment, comes new opportunities for sustainable investment. We can create buildings, facilities and settlements that not only prove carbon neutral, but that put back energy into the system and help reduce our overall global carbon footprint. In doing so, they pay for themselves and offer a return, both environmentally and financially.

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