melbourne office builings

It’s great to see property companies setting themselves ambitious emissions reduction targets, says Buildings Alive chief executive officer Craig Roussac, but are they making the most of the easiest, cheapest tactic to cut emissions: using less energy?

As investors become more sensitive to sustainability demands, both from their stakeholders and the public, they’re working harder to understand their assets and undertaking more probing analysis to unlock the best environmental, social and economic outcomes in the places they’re putting their money.

At a time when more people are waking up to climate change turning into a climate emergency, there’s now an increased focus on building carbon emissions, Roussac says. “We know that cutting emissions from buildings is the fastest, cheapest way to score serious wins in emissions reductions. So energy efficiency is fast taking on a whole new meaning.”

It’s also taking on new potential to build brand for commercial property investors and their tenants alike. A lean, smart building signals that the property owner, manager and tenants care about their habitat and its impact on the world – and that they’re not wasting money.

Roussac points out that many property owners have seized the opportunity and have set 2030 as their critical deadline for net zero targets. With escalating concerns on climate and growing shareholder agitation for more sustainable assets, there will be growing attention on the building sector.

He says with the economic impact of COVID-19, there’s little wonder that owners are casting a refreshed eye over their assets and wondering if they can extract another level of savings, and potentially start outperforming and overachieving as they did at the start of the green building revolution.

Roussac should know. He was one of the early adopters of outperforming sustainability targets in his former executive role in a leading real estate investment trust (REIT).

It was this experience from driving deep savings without CAPEX during the cash-constrained depths of the GFC that spurred Roussac and co-founder and CTO Baden Hughes, to start Buildings Alive.

Over the past eight years, Roussac has assembled a team of technical experts with a passion for using data and science to drive huge energy savings from buildings. Their focus is on giving building operators the knowledge, tools and support they need to implement the zero and very low-cost tuning opportunities that often go undetected in buildings.

Roussac says it doesn’t make sense on any level, environmentally or financially, to waste resources. Especially with a warming climate exacerbating the situation.

But without a clear understanding of a building’s improvement potential, any targets set to improve energy efficiency, might be simply arbitrary.

“Goals may be set too low, and opportunities are therefore wasted, or set too high and not taken seriously. That’s where advanced data science can make a huge difference.”

Science based targets are useful but not the end of the story

Programs such as the Science Based Targets (SBT) initiative – a collaboration between various bodies and the UN to mobilise companies to work out their emissions profiles and to improve them – are useful, no doubt, but does setting a SBT mean companies can then ease the focus on energy efficiency?

For Roussac, it’s always worth knowing that you’ve pushed the envelope as far as possible before contemplating offsets or capital investments.

An important point, he says, is that companies need to be careful not to think about their emission reduction opportunity in a linear or arbitrary way. Genuinely ambitious goal-setting is based on fine-grained data analysis, something that Buildings Alive’s technology does automatically using machine learning.

“Like a search engine, our technology analyses the raw data from each individual building and asks the question ‘what is the maximum achievable saving under current operating conditions?’ and then we help guide the operators to the savings,” he says.

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