LOOK: The Green Building Principles aiming to get real estate to net-zero

A lot of attention is being focused on new, state-of-the-art buildings that achieve the highest sustainability certification. Picture: Mark Potterton/Unsplash

A lot of attention is being focused on new, state-of-the-art buildings that achieve the highest sustainability certification. Picture: Mark Potterton/Unsplash

Published Aug 10, 2022


Durban - Global commitments to achieving net-zero emissions have surged recently as cities, investors, businesses and educational institutions signal their intent to help create a more sustainable future.

Boosted by the United Nations Race to Zero campaign, these ambitions indicate that the world is indeed on the right path. But, more is needed as the timeline to achieve objectives is closing fast.

Real estate and the built environment are responsible for almost two-fifths of global carbon emissions and have a significant role to play in achieving net-zero targets. Yet JLL (the UK-based real estate, service provider) Decarbonising the Built Environment report found that only 18% of global organisations have a plan for decarbonising their real estate portfolio.

Although a lot of attention is being focused on new, state-of-the-art buildings that achieve the highest sustainability certifications, The World Economic Forum found that 70% of buildings that exist today will still be here in 2050. This highlights the need to repurpose spaces, retrofit older buildings and refurbish them in line with circular economy principles.

JLL has partnered with the World Economic Forum to establish a set of Green Building Principles, along with an action plan that lays out the steps for implementation. The principles complement existing initiatives by explaining what companies need to do to deliver against their commitments such as the WorldGBC Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, or others within the Race to Zero.

The Principles also include reporting guidance to help companies measure progress and ensure they are making meaningful annual carbon reductions that will allow them to meet their established climate targets.

These Green Building Principles cover five key areas:

1. Adopting a data-driven approach

With all problems, the first step is realising exactly what needs to be addressed and to do this, businesses need to calculate a detailed and extensive carbon footprint of their portfolios in the most recent representative year to inform targets.

2. Setting goals along the journey

Although the sheer scale of the challenge which lies ahead in the coming decades is daunting, it is of utmost importance that companies set a target year for achieving net-zero carbon as part of their longer-term strategy.

According to JLL, this needs to be no later than 2050, “though we’re seeing many companies and governments aim for sooner. Our new Principles recommend interim targets for reducing at least 50% of these emissions by 2030,” the company said.

3. Tackling embodied carbon

The report says that businesses need to maximise emissions reductions for all new developments and major refurbishments in the pipeline to ensure the delivery of net-zero carbon by their final target year.

Measuring and recording the embodied carbon emissions associated with the materials and construction processes for new developments and major refurbishments is essential as the World Green Building Council estimates that it will account for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050.

Thus, reducing emissions through measures such as low-carbon materials, modular construction and implementing a circular economy approach will be a critical factor in the real estate industry’s ability to reach net-zero.

4. Focusing on clean energy

Reducing the energy buildings consume is central to a net-zero future. This means businesses need to drive energy optimisation across both existing assets and new developments. They also need to maximise the supply of on-site renewable energy, and make sure all off-site energy is procured from renewable-backed sources where available.

JLL said that any residual emissions need to be compensated for by purchasing high-quality carbon offsets. A lot of guidance has come out in the past year, but there’s more to come, especially through the SBTi’s Net-Zero Standard.

5. Collaborating widely

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is going to require teamwork at nearly every stage. The Green Building Principles call for engaging with stakeholders in the value chain to reduce scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions in the wider value chain). Businesses also need to develop more partnerships to better identify opportunities and equitably share the costs and benefits of interventions.

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