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The Future of Sustainability in Commercial Buildings: Innovations & Trends 2023

Insights
December 2023

Commercial buildings have long been recognised as energy hogs, consuming vast amounts of resources and contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. This unsustainable pattern has driven a global shift towards greener, more energy-efficient structures.

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While certifications like Building Energy Ratings (BER), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) have played essential roles in driving sustainability in the commercial real estate sector, they have also revealed the need for more specific and comprehensive metrics to assess sustainability.

In a world increasingly concerned about sustainability, commercial buildings stand at the forefront of the green movement. They represent a significant portion of global energy consumption and carbon emissions, making them a critical focus for sustainability efforts. While various certifications like BER, LEED, and BREEAM have played a pivotal role in promoting sustainability in commercial real estate, a new generation of sustainability metrics is emerging, redefining the way we evaluate and achieve real progress towards net zero targets. Among these metrics, EUI, CRREM, and NABERS are gaining prominence as the most important indicators of sustainability.

The Shift Towards a Greener Future

Commercial buildings have long been recognised as energy hogs, consuming vast amounts of resources and contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. This unsustainable pattern has driven a global shift towards greener, more energy-efficient structures. The commercial real estate industry has responded by embracing sustainable building practices and certifications to demonstrate their commitment to reducing environmental impact.

While certifications like Building Energy Ratings (BER), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) have played essential roles in driving sustainability in the commercial real estate sector, they have also revealed the need for more specific and comprehensive metrics to assess sustainability. This is where metrics like Energy Use Intensity (EUI), Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM), and National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) come into play.

Energy Use Intensity: Measuring Efficiency

EUI has emerged as the critical metric for assessing the efficient energy performance of commercial buildings. EUI represents the total energy consumption of a building per square foot/metre annually. It provides a clear and standardised measure of a building's energy efficiency, allowing for easy comparisons across different types of structures.

The lower the EUI, the more energy-efficient the building. EUI is an essential metric because it directly quantifies a building's energy consumption relative to its size. It helps identify energy hogs and provides actionable insights for optimising energy use. As a result, EUI has become a key indicator for sustainable commercial buildings, guiding property owners and managers towards energy-efficient retrofits and operational improvements.

Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM): Assessing Carbon Risk

Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) is a cutting-edge tool designed to assess the carbon risk of real estate portfolios. It recognises that commercial real estate is not just about energy efficiency but also about mitigating the long-term risks associated with carbon emissions.

CRREM evaluates the alignment of a real estate portfolio with various climate scenarios, including a 2°C or 1.5°C scenario, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. It assesses both transition risks (associated with changing regulations and market shifts) and physical risks (related to climate change impacts). By quantifying carbon risk, CRREM empowers investors and property managers to make informed decisions about their portfolio's sustainability and resilience.

National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS): Driving Performance

The National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) is an internationally recognised rating system that focuses on measuring and improving the environmental performance of buildings. Originating in Australia, NABERS has gained traction globally as a leading sustainability metric.

NABERS assesses the environmental impact of buildings, primarily in terms of energy, water, waste, and indoor environmental quality. What sets NABERS apart is its emphasis on real performance data. Rather than relying solely on design intentions, NABERS assesses actual operational data to provide an accurate picture of a building's environmental performance.

Innovations & Trends Shaping Sustainable Commercial Buildings

As the commercial real estate industry evolves, so do the metrics used to measure sustainability. Certifications like BER, LEED, and BREEAM have laid the foundation for sustainable building practices, but the industry now demands more precise and outcome-oriented metrics. EUI, CRREM, and NABERS are rising to meet this demand, offering a holistic approach to sustainability assessment.

The future of sustainability in commercial buildings lies in innovation and continuous improvement. Building owners and managers are increasingly adopting technologies and practices that go beyond traditional certifications. Smart building systems, IoT sensors, and advanced energy management platforms are becoming integral components of sustainable building strategies.

1. Smart Building Systems: The integration of smart building systems allows for real-time monitoring, control and automation of energy consumption. These systems can optimise HVAC and other building functions to significantly reduce energy waste and enhance occupant comfort.

2. IoT Sensors: Internet of Things (IoT) sensors provide valuable data on building performance. From occupancy sensors that optimise lighting and HVAC in unoccupied areas to environmental sensors that monitor indoor air quality, IoT technology is revolutionising sustainability in the workplace.

3. Renewable Energy Integration: Commercial buildings are increasingly harnessing renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines. Combined with improved energy storage solutions, these technologies reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower carbon emissions.

4. Occupant Engagement: Engaging building occupants in sustainability practices is crucial. Initiatives like energy-saving competitions and sustainability education programmes empower occupants to participate in reducing energy consumption.

5. Circular Economy Practices: Embracing circular economy principles involves reducing waste, reusing materials, and recycling resources within a building's lifecycle. This approach minimises environmental impact and enhances sustainability.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while certifications like BER, LEED, and BREEAM remain valuable, EUI, CRREM, and NABERS are emerging as the most important sustainability metrics in the commercial real estate industry. These metrics provide more precise, outcome-driven measures of sustainability, helping property owners and managers make data-informed decisions to achieve a greener future.

The future of sustainable commercial buildings is characterised by innovation. As technology evolves, so do the strategies for creating more sustainable, efficient, and environmentally responsible properties. By embracing these innovations, the commercial real estate sector can play a pivotal role in mitigating climate change and advancing the global sustainability agenda.

Written By:

JP Johnson