We all need real estate in our lives. Some of us rent apartments, while others become homeowners. We need real estate for our businesses and office spaces, factories and entertainment venues, and we either own or lease these spaces. Buildings are used in many different ways in our modern social lifestyles and approximately 90% of our lives are spent in these buildings. Still, we never consider the full potential of a space in regard to how we used it and how it impacts our lives.
While the COVID-19 pandemic came with a long list of negatives, it also brought to light our weaknesses in terms of pollution and drawbacks in the building environment. Did you catch your colleague’s cold? It must be winter. Do you work in an office space where you’re always cold? Use a sweater. Are you thinking of moving closer to the office in an overpriced apartment? Pros outweigh the cons.
Despite highlighting these issues, crises bring a lot of introspection and offer opportunities to rethink practices. These changes can be long-lasting, good or bad, and can also affect the real estate industry. The result of the 2008 financial crisis was stricter lending practices. The Spanish Flu made entry-way sinks necessary which have since been transformed into half bathrooms. We have increasingly more fire and storm resistant windows as the climate is changing bringing stronger winds and storms. The COVID-19 pandemic raised a lot of questions about how we use the space and whether we could do it better. Here we don’t only refer to the function of the space, but also its carbon footprint.
Sustainable Future in Real Estate
There are a few factors that we need to focus on in order to be able to achieve a sustainable future in real estate. What is clear is that space and our use of that space needs to get better. We need to make the buildings that we use more livable as our need for comfort indoors became more important over the past two years. We also want to live healthier and more sustainable lives by lowering our carbon footprint and reducing real estate emissions throughout its entire life cycles. Resilience is also important as buildings should be able to withstand rougher weather conditions in a changing climate. At the same time, they need to be able to change and transition easier to the needs of those using them. Affordability is of the utmost importance as homelessness should be solved. Housing is considered a human right by the United Nations and should be available to all.
The best part about these plans for a sustainable future in real estate is that it isn’t only possible, but also imminently probable. While, currently, building practices are stalled and don’t manage to keep up with demand, if it wants to reach the growth trajectory of the last ten years, it needs to change its practices. Change focused on sustainability, affordability and resilience is being pushed and motivated by both investors and legislators. Furthermore, popular interest in green real estate is the biggest motivator as they are the ones that pay for the end products.
Political Steps Taken Towards Sustainable Real Estate
With influences from the corporate world as a growing number of companies are aiming to reduce their carbon emissions and negative impact on the environment, politicians are using the momentum to implement energy-saving measures and regulatory laws to make sustainable application in the building sector mandatory. These measures can be seen both on the west coast in California through CALGreen and the east coast through the Florida Green Building Coalition certification.
While industry representatives do not believe political influence will manage to motivate people and companies enough to implement change, at the very least, they will offer guidelines to follow. Without focus on the education side of the issue, people can feel forced to implement these changes. That, in turn, can lead to push-back from the population. Providing a set of guidelines that can be followed while the industry gives people a multitude of alternatives for sustainable real estate may be the way to go. If the public doesn’t know what products to look for, what materials to use and what architectural designs minimize energy use, the work isn’t finished. Furthermore, if people don’t understand why this is necessary, they are less likely to adhere to guidelines, rules or requirements. So let’s see what the industry together with the government can do to maximize the application of these changes.
Construction and design of buildings can be significantly improved through the digital twin technology. Aside from the fact that this technology can help save millions of dollars for the cost of construction and decrease the time spent on each project, it gives more insight. If you have the digital replica of the real life building, you can make sure it withstands extreme conditions and that it can be modified without affecting the structural integrity in record time.
Digital twin technology makes it possible for the digital twin building to match the way the real building will behave and perform in different scenarios. The buildings can be analyzed and optimized to improve their performance before they are completed or even before the construction starts. It gives the building industry the possibility to rehears and resolve any design or architectural problems that can severely affect the real building.
The strict line society used to draw between the work and home environments has changed during the pandemic. As many people are less comfortable working from the office, now that it’s obviously not necessary for many jobs, alternative work practices will increase. Architectural designs will change to accommodate the needs and uses of the space as we have already seen an increase in home-office spaces. These spaces need to provide the atmosphere needed to ensure utmost productivity and decrease unnecessary distractions.
The office packed central business districts need to become more diverse and lean towards mixed-use destinations. Homes will be used for both work and leisure. Integrating other types of businesses in the business centers will result in a more active community. Increased diversity can be seen in London’s proposal for its 2025 Vision where they plan to include outdoor gyms, pop-up galleries and much more.
Furthermore, there is a growing trend for multi-generational homes with separate entrances, and the so-called Next Gen home layout of Florida’s Lennar Corporation answered that plea. Businesses will need to maintain a collaborative work environment even if not all it’s employees work from the office. Ensuring spaces where colleagues can gather will be a necessity not only at the office but also outside of it.
This factor works to include the community in the decision making process and make sure that the needs of the community are met. In order for this to work, one thing must be achieved and that is the public’s awareness on the importance of sustainable real estate and environmental planning. But the industry and the government mustn’t work alone. They need to involve the pillars of the industry and understand the needs of the community in order to provide the inclusive, accessible and livable space the community needs.
We can look at Hong Kong’s Taikoo Place and see how the development also worked with biologists from the Hong Kong University to ensure that the development’s biodiversity is increased. At the same time, in the US, there has been a rise in “not in my backyard” ideas that are likely to grow further if the public isn’t informed and educated about the issue at stake.
Through skyscrapers and boxy buildings we all grew to accept our built environment without second guessing its viability or applicability. While buildings need to serve certain purposes, they are all used by humans and humans have needs that go beyond the walls, floors and ceilings. We need nature indoors, access to natural light sources and respect for the planet. Through innovative practices, these needs can be met and our carbon footprint can be decreased. The fact that the building sector accounts for 40% of all carbon emissions needs to change now. Thankfully, politicians, the private sector and the public are all on board with the goal. Now we need to implement that many alternatives we have at our disposal for a greener and more sustainable future.