The latest on GRESB, LEED, WorldGBC, and the US plan for a new green deal, and daytime cleaners

In the same week we’ve seen the Global Emissions Gap report ring alarm bells about the hastening of climate change impacts, we’ve also seen Sydney hit by another extreme storm event while to the north fire conditions the like of which have not been seen in Queensland are sending hundreds of people fleeing communities in Capricornia.

But the federal government continues to remain unconcerned about climate change, writing off the Victorian election loss as yet another case of fallout from the savaging of the former PM rather than acknowledging that it could actually be about climate policies too.

Kids planning to take part in a global student strike for climate action received no reassuring noises that the grown-ups would get on with the job of taking swift and decisive action, instead the PM told them glibly they should simply stay in school instead.

With the Australian ship of state heading rudderless towards the melting icebergs, it’s good to know there are some positive notes to be found in the built environment space both in Australia and further afield.

The World Green Building Council recently shared news about research by the Architects Council of Europe and partners including the ABACADBRA project (See Facebook page) on an increasing momentum around green upgrades to existing buildings that go far beyond changing the lightbulbs.

The research has put together a business case for climate-proofing property in a way that is funded by the value uplift that comes from adding more levels above the existing structure.

It is a way to “make the economics of a deep green refurbishment work” while also redesigning existing buildings to better meet occupant needs, the WBGBC says. It also adds value to the property, news that will be “welcomed by banks looking to launch green mortgages, as one of the keys to unlocking a better green mortgage deal is to show how your improvements can improve the loan to value ratio on your property.”

In the commercial property sector, it notes there is a growing appetite for low-carbon ways of adding more lettable area or saleable dwellings through the use of cross-laminated timber for new upper storeys.

The funds gained from the new floor areas then finance the sustainability upgrade of the pre-existing building.

Melbourne to get more tall timber

Melbourne looks set to potentially get an exemplar tall timber commercial building through a low-carbon uplift development, with GPT recently contracting Multiplex to cost a 12-level timber extension on top of the Melbourne Central retail centre.

The AFR reports GPT could be looking to start construction on the $250 million project by the end of next year. CLT has been mooted as the material of choice.

It may not actually be the first, however, as Hume Partners property is already building a 10-level timber extension to its commercial building at 55 Southbank Boulevard.

Doing better with what we have

The performance of existing buildings continues to be a major area of opportunity for sustainability gains. The US Green Building Council is strengthening the focus on the operations and maintenance phase with the new LEED v4.1.  It brings together both the design and build elements and the building performance, using the Arc platform to assess the living building’s metric

The beta testing is focusing on existing buildings, using LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance.

Canada gets its GRESB on

Leading Canadian analysts recently flagged real estate and infrastructure as two of the sectors that are obvious prospects for delivering a return on investment for reducing carbon emissions and improving resilience.

A report from Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, however, suggests there is a lack of coordinated action at this point, even though the market is trying to get a grip on growing demands for climate-related financial disclosures and the integration of ESG measures.

In an article on the state of play in Canadian Property Management, Barbara Carss notes that the GRESB reporting and benchmarking process could go some way to addressing the information gaps the report identified as a factor hindering momentum.

“The panel witnessed remarkable institutional commitment to progress; important pockets of growth in sustainable finance; and widespread confidence in Canada’s opportunity to prosper in the global movement toward clean, climate resilient economic growth. Yet, overall, Canada’s sustainable finance market is not growing in a manner that reflects the dialogue,” the report states.

The panel also believes that lenders are failing to “adequately focus on the long-term impact of climate change.”

GRESB has been piloting two new categories that are seen to have value for the Canadian real estate sector and financial stakeholders, a resilience component that delivers insight into a portfolio’s vulnerability to environmental upheaval, and a health and wellbeing module.

One small change for a significant impact

“Why are all the lights still on in office buildings when no-one is working?” is one of those FAQs about city CBDs. 

The answer in many cases is that there are people working – the cleaners.

However, there are some commercial cleaning companies in the US that have recognised this is one big avoidable carbon footprint. As part of a suite of green cleaning or sustainability-focused building management services, companies like Ableserve are promoting daytime cleaning as an energy-saving option for carbon-conscious clients.

It seems so simple – no more having lights on when no-one else is working because the cleaning got done when it was daylight or the lights were on for normal operations in any case.

Ableserve highlight a few other potential benefits, including tenants having the opportunity to speak with cleaners about any issues or concerns.

We think it is also worth considering whether it might not help deal with the “coffee-cups-contaminated-the-recycling” bugbear if the cleaner is on site regularly to either fish them out before they are buried in actual recyclable paper, or even give a polite reminder about where they should go.

It raises an interesting question about human nature too – are we less inclined to make a big mess when the person who will be cleaning it up is a face we actually see regularly? Does it encourage poor practices if cleaning staff somehow exist in an invisible zone a bit like the elves and pixies of folktales?

It is well-known that in hotels and other venues people tend to use more energy, use more water and make more mess than they would at home. It’s the invisibility factor at work.

Whether daytime cleaning would take off though is debatable. For one, some might not want to put up with the sound of a vacuum cleaner in their vicinity for 10 minutes a day even if that is saving carbon emissions and energy.

Although, in an ABW-type workspace, it should be possible to simply move to a vacuuming-free zone for that time. 

But there’s also a darker obstacle to the concept. One industry source pointed out that some commercial office cleaning companies are not following ethical practices in terms of staff wages or conditions, and also many cleaners are so pushed to achieve extreme productivity in terms of floorspace cleaned within allotted time, any human interaction with the workers could actually add stress by slowing them down.

Behind the meter tech draft code consultation 

Solar, batteries, smart energy management systems, EV charging systems and energy management software are among the behind the meter products soon to be covered by an industry code of practice.

The Behind the Meter Working Group comprising the Australian Energy Council, Clean Energy Council, Consumer Action Law Centre, Energy Consumers Australia, Energy Networks Australia, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Renew and Smart Energy Council have drafted a code that covers consumer protection and guidance aspects including marketing, sales practices, financing practice, post-sales including warranties and complaints handling, and general business practices.

The BTM Working Group are holding forums throughout early December to gain industry feedback and discuss the implementation, governance and administration of the code. See details of dates and venues here.

New blood in US Congress proposes a Green New Deal

If we ignore the Oval Office, there’s some very positive things happening in the US Congress since the Mid-Terms delivered such a diverse group of activist-minded new Senators and Members of Congress.

In a thoughtful piece published by The Intercept, The Game-Changing Promise of Green New Deal, Naomi Klein explains why she is feels “more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years.”

The new faces are bringing with them strong opinions about the potential of renewable energy and clean energy jobs to deliver both environmental and economic dividends, in the form of a Green New Deal proposal being led by some of the firebrand new Democrats, particularly Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer,” Klein writes.

“We are not on that pathway yet — very far from it. But unlike even one month ago, the pathway is clear.”

The pathway also has a goal – a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilisation plan” capable of making the US economy carbon neutral while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” 

The GND proponents are aiming to have the plan released by January 2020, and legislation to make it a reality drafted shortly thereafter.

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