A significant amount of the carbon emissions of the building sector is emitted during the construction of a building rather than during its lifetime — and the impact of construction emissions are immediate, versus post-construction energy savings which take place decades down the line, points out an article in Fast Company.
While the commercial real estate industry is increasingly focused on energy efficiency and sustainability — a recent report shows that smart building automation software and systems will reach $20.5 billion in North America by 2027 — the focus is nearly all on the operational phase of a building’s lifecycle. And though building operations by sector emit 28% of global CO2, building construction and materials contribute a not-insignificant 11% of CO2 emissions, according to Architecture2030.org.
New construction technology, however, is helping reduce the environmental impact of new buildings. For example, Nexii Building Solutions, a green construction technology company, creates high-performance green building products that are precision-manufactured in plants to project specifications using 3D software. This allows Nexii panels to be able to fit together like jigsaw pieces onsite, accelerating standard build times by 50% to 75%, according to the company. This process – where Nexii products are manufactured offsite and assembled onsite – also enables Nexii to eliminate significant construction waste.
Similarly, a company behind a new high-rise apartment building in Seattle hopes to prove that constructing a net-zero energy building can be far more sustainable than traditional building. Sustainable Living Innovations creates proprietary, tech-enabled building panels which are built in a factory with pre-installed electrical wiring, plumbing and mechanical equipment. At the site, crews erect the building by fitting the panels together in a precise sequence. Because there is less on-site construction work required, buildings go up more quickly and more sustainably than conventional buildings.
But reducing construction emissions is not necessarily the best way to deal with the problem. Rather, commercial real estate investors, lenders, and architects should “think judiciously about new construction […] and adopt a mindset that looks first to the adaptive reuse of what has already been constructed,” the authors of the Fast Company article write.
With an office occupancy rate in cities of 11.5% at the end of 2019, and the effects of Covid-19 likely to increase that percentage, “priority should be given to repurposing this vacancy and new construction should be used only when no viable retrofit is possible,” the article suggests.