Just as important as adopting renewable energy is ensuring that the buildings they power are also sustainable. Electrek spoke with Breana Wheeler, US director of operations at BREEAM, the world’s first green building certification program, about what the ideal decarbonized building looks like and how US real estate investors should view climate change as an opportunity.
Electrek: What does BREEAM do and what does the ideal decarbonized building look like?
Breana Wheeler: BREEAM was the world’s first green building certification program when it was launched in 1990, and has been recognized and adopted in more than 89 countries. It is owned by BRE, a for-profit organization with more than 100 years of experience in construction science and research.
An ideal decarbonized building is one that has a highly efficient building envelope, is fully electrified, and can operate entirely on renewable energy, such as solar or wind, generated on site. It would also have a low embodied carbon footprint, measured and managed through the construction materials and processes throughout its life cycle. BREEAM helps clients measure and manage carbon emissions at all stages of decarbonization.
Electrek: To what extent do you think the EPA’s ruling against the West Virginia Supreme Court, which drastically curtailed the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions that cause climate change, will have a negative impact on the road to decarbonization of buildings?
Breana Wheeler: The EPA’s ruling against the West Virginia Supreme Court has provoked a strong response from industry leaders in every market, as the federal government is a major enabler in addressing climate change. However, I am confident that cities and states will continue to take the lead and fill in the gaps left by the federal government in this area, whether through Building Performance Standards, building codes, or utility commissions. public.
Furthermore, public knowledge and understanding of climate risk continues to grow every day. Investors, the business community, and municipalities have shown a keen understanding of the potential ramifications if climate change goes unchecked. These individuals and organizations continue to drive climate-related performance improvements and are well-aligned on the trajectory regardless of this decision.
Electrek: How can state and local governments fill in the gaps left by the Supreme Court ruling?
Breana Wheeler: There are many local governments developing and executing climate action plans. With buildings making up a large part of most city footprints, we are seeing many local jurisdictions consider how they can use their political levers to fight climate change.
Energy benchmarking ordinances, which require buildings to measure and report their energy use, are an important first step. Transparency often pushes buildings to start managing the performance they report when they see how they compare to their peers’ buildings.
Construction Performance Standards, which require measurement and reporting, as well as certain performance levels with the threat of penalty if not met, go a step further. In cities like New York, Boston and St. Louis, we have seen Construction Performance Standards ensure that the cost of poor performance is clear.
Cities have divested pension funds from fossil fuels and states like California have enacted programs like the Climate Change Scoping Planwhich encourages local governments to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15% below 1990 levels by 2020, 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% below from 1990 levels by 2050.
thirty statesWashington, DC, and two US territories have active renewable or clean energy requirements, and three other states and one territory have established voluntary renewable energy goals. New York, California, and Illinois have policies that require a large portion of their power to come from renewables for decades to come.
I hope that these efforts will intensify and strengthen after the ruling with greater urgency as the effects of climate change continue to be felt.
Electrek: If state or local governments decide not to go down the decarbonization path, can the private sector make a difference?
Breana Wheeler: Arguably, it is the private sector that has been leading climate change in the US Private sector investors are increasingly aware that climate change poses a significant financial risk to their assets. An unresilient built environment results in a disrupted economy, threatens public health, and can damage the long-term value of real estate. If the change is not implemented now, investors risk reduced returns and potentially stranded assets.
The most progressive investors see climate change not only as a threat, but also as an opportunity. Consequently, they have invested $31 billion in climate mutual funds and exchange-traded funds by the end of 2021, a 45% increase compared to about $22 billion a year earlier, according to a Morning Star report.
There is a huge financial opportunity to facilitate a more equitable and sustainable decarbonized future, and investors are seeking strategies to finance climate change solutions while remaining competitive in global markets.
Electrek: To what extent do you think the general public is accepting and acting on the need to decarbonise buildings in the context of the climate crisis?
Breana Wheeler: Climate change is a crisis that will affect, and has already affected, people on a global scale, adding social problems such as food shortages, poverty and inequality. In the US, the scale of the damage is growing: As of July, there have been nine disasters costing more than $1 billion this year alone, and the impacts of extreme heat waves have yet to be fully measured.
In recent years, we have seen the vast majority of Americans calling on federal and local governments to step up and enact policies to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The science is clear: we must act to avoid the worst impacts in the next decade. The real estate sector has a responsibility to address the impacts. We are excited to work with many organizations that have recognized the risks of climate change and want to manage them and turn them into opportunities.
Photo by Scott Webb in pexels.com
Breana Wheeler became US COO in 2016 for the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a 100-year-old construction science research organization focused on delivering better, healthier buildings for people and the environment ambient. BRE developed BREEAM, the world’s first and leading science-based sustainability suite for the validation and certification of built world assets, which has successfully managed more than 550,000 certifications since 1990.
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