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The real estate sector is thinking big about climate action – and it should be, especially considering that roughly 40% of global carbon emissions and upwards of 70% of urban emissions are generated by the built environment. 

Time is of the essence. The implications of climate change are clearly visible across the globe in the form of rising sea levels, wildfires, and other severe natural disasters. To address these challenges, the entire industry must work together toward identifying solutions that not only contribute to decarbonization, but foster a more sustainable and equitable built environment.

As part of this ongoing effort, leaders in the real estate and sustainability spaces will meet this month at the WELL Summit, Greenbuild, and other conferences to discuss innovative ways in which the built environment can adapt to create a more resilient future. Below are four key themes to follow as these important conversations unfold:

Retrofitting as a Core Sustainability Strategy

Key players from across the real estate industry have pledged to reduce building-related carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and achieve net zero carbon (NZC) by 2050. What steps, exactly, is the industry taking to achieve this ambitious goal? 

Considering that 80% of the building stock that will exist in 2050 has already been built, retrofitting older buildings to be more resilient against climate change and reducing operating emissions is a crucial sustainability strategy. Investing in older buildings not only helps to de-risk them from devastating natural disasters, but the process of retrofitting also emits 50 to 75% less carbon emissions than constructing the same building new – thus helping the real estate industry inch closer to its NZC goals. 

Utilizing Proptech to Achieve Environmental and Social Goals

Smart building technology has vast potential to help decarbonize buildings, optimize operational efficiency and energy consumption, and even find new innovative uses for excess waste materials. In an effort to meet growing demand from investors and consumers for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, the real estate industry is increasingly investing in technologies that monitor building performance and create actionable data and insights that can help improve a building’s overall sustainability.

Proptech is also being used to boost societal outcomes and target social inequities. The gap in affordable, accessible housing continues to widen, and solutions that can help shrink operating and maintenance expenses for owners, make it easier for residents to secure housing, or even help them build a financial resume have come to the forefront as the industry grapples with this growing challenge.

The Importance of Legislation on the Road to Net Zero 

A growing set of building performance standards (BPS) – which set energy and emissions targets for existing buildings – have been popping up across the country. Washington D.C.’s Building Energy Performance Standards, New York’s Local Law 97, and more have demonstrated the effectiveness of this legislation in helping to reach climate goals.

These standards are a crucial tool for achieving energy savings and reducing emissions, and can also be leveraged to address other pressing climate concerns by enhancing indoor air quality, conserving and protecting water, reducing waste and air pollution, and creating jobs. However, to date, only five U.S. cities and two states have enacted BPS – with 33 more states committed to passing policies by Earth Day 2024. In order to unlock the full effectiveness of these policies, legislatures across the globe must work to swiftly implement BPS and set targets that align with overall NZC goals. 

Revitalizing Cities Through Building Design

As cities seek to revitalize downtowns, attract new residents, and ease a chronic affordable housing shortage in the wake of the pandemic, forward-thinking building design has become key to how developers understand what makes urban centers attractive. With office vacancies at record highs, office-to-residential conversions have arisen as an opportunity to transform cities’ commercial cores while supporting equity, climate, housing, and economic goals. 

Efforts to bolster the property values of obsolete office properties and address the issue of affordable housing through conversion projects often require partnership with state and city officials on aspects like zoning, land use regulations, and tax incentives. Many cities like New York, Seattle, and Chicago have implemented incentives for conversion projects that include affordable or mixed-income housing units. These adaptive reuse projects also promote sustainability, as repurposing existing structures reduces the carbon footprint associated with new construction.

Through a blend of design, functionality, and purpose, these projects represent a cornerstone of urban renewal. As cities continue to evolve, the relationship between revitalization and building design will continue to play a pivotal role in downtowns of the future.

Ready to meet our team at Greenbuild to discuss your climate communications strategy? Set up a time to meet!

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