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Reevaluating Buildings and Construction During #ClimateWeek

Image of Natalie Patton
Natalie Patton

It's #ClimateWeek spearheaded by the United Nation's Global Compact and supported by such hashtags as #ClimateWeekNYC, #ClimateChange and #EnergyEfficiency.

All internet jokes aside, a lot of smart people are getting together this week to discuss big solutions to truly pressing problems.

We're glad to see some of the buildings industry's heavy hitters heavily involved too. So far, Schneider Electric cut five years from its carbon-neutrality goal and Trane signed onto a pact to use 100% renewable electricity.  They join other huge companies like Target and Accenture in working to reduce their own carbon footprints. #ClimateWeek is also led by banking firms highlighting the growth in sustainability investment sectors and the relative affordability of renewable energies.

For our part, this week got us curious about a more specific slice of the energy emissions pie - what about the actual buildings that use, say, Schneider lighting panels or Trane RTUs to power their operations? How big an impact could small changes inside buildings have on the overall problem of climate change? Would operations or balance sheets suffer in the process?

As part of their #CoveringClimateNow reporting effort, Curbed has a helpful breakdown of the specific ways that buildings produce carbon emissions: through construction, usage and their physical locations. Globally, "operational carbon emissions," those directly related to power, lighting, heating and cooling, account for 28% of emissions annually. The emissions directly related to construction (which spans as wide as the carbon generated in manufacturing and transporting building materials) rounds out another 11% of global carbon emissions. 

Researchers are finding that, again globally, the building sector is improving emissions by about 1.5% annually, although scientists believe improvements would need to speed up to 2.3% to really make an impact.

Weeks like this are characterized by their polarity - one minute it's all gloom-and-doom and the next, optimism is the soup du jour. Despite the press releases, it's hard to recognize any real progress, although the effort is certainly valiant. Through our work, we know that energy efficiency is not the top reason for undertaking a costly retrofit or trying out relatively untested technologies in a new construction. But where we find hope is in multi-purpose solutions that allow for energy savings and operational efficiency, increased equipment lifespan and greater net operating income. We're glad to help the conversation evolve from "either, or" to "yes, and."

As building equipment manufacturers work to green their operations, we can imagine their products will naturally improve on the efficiency scale, too. As investors prioritize sustainability across their portfolios, it seems reasonable that building owners will be encouraged to make sustainability a larger part of their value proposition. While we comb through the climate content generated this week, we'll continue finding solutions that help our customers adapt on many levels.

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