The guide to decarbonising public and commercial buildings

Accounting for up to 40% of global energy use and emissions, our built environment plays a key role in combatting climate change - here's why.
New York City skyline at dusk. Source: Andre Benz / Unsplash

Look around and chances are you will see buildings - and plenty of them.  We are creatures of the built environment: structures play a significant role in our lives. With so many of them aging, it is not surprising that they account for up to 40% of the world’s total global energy use and carbon emissions. As the impacts of climate change are being felt near and far, it’s clear that decarbonisation will profoundly affect every aspect of our lives. It may feel overwhelming, but with creativity, technology and a bit of know-how, we can transform our world.   

Focus on cities

Urban areas are responsible for around 75% of global emissions and are most at risk of the consequences of climate change. Many cities, for example, are coastal - making them extremely vulnerable to weather events driven by climate change. In response, many urban areas have introduced tighter regulations around building construction, operation and planning practices to reduce the carbon footprint. For example, in the UK, commercial building operators face stricter, proposed guidelines for energy efficiency. Properties must achieve a C rating by 2027 in order to be let or sold and must strive higher by achieving a B rating by 2030.

Win over talent

The global labour market has changed significantly across much of the world in recent years. Record levels of resignations and high numbers of job vacancies make it more challenging for companies to attract and retain top talent, who want to work for employers that are socially and environmentally conscious. The onus is on businesses to demonstrate those credentials - including operational aspects that may profoundly impact their carbon footprints.  

Stay on track

For the next four decades - new builds will result in the equivalent of a city the size of Paris - every week. Concrete manufacturing is responsible for up to 8% of total global emissions, so we need to take radical, new approaches to building design and construction.

New materials, techniques and technologies help to minimise ‘whole-life carbon impact’ of new structures. However, it’s important to keep a close eye on efficiencies.

A building typically exceeds its intended energy use by as much as 380%.

Digital twins help combat this, thanks to powerful capabilities that make it easy to diagnose and rectify any inefficiencies. 

Novacene's sophisticated asset mapping (see image left) is designed to provide managers with 'at-a-glance' insights into opportunities to increase building performance.

Retrofit first

The most environmentally-friendly building is the one that already exists. Practical challenges, such as cost allocation and financial viability, may make this feel like a daunting prospect. There is, however, a growing pool of success stories demonstrating how the commercial opportunities available for those with the right vision, dedication and skills. 

Go green

The banking and financial industries sit at the heart of the real estate sector. Increasing regulations and market forces mean that these institutions’ exposure to climate risk is being more than just considered: it’s being measured, monitored and valued. Funds targeting sustainable, ‘green’ investments are becoming more widely available, while more and more funds are avoiding ‘brown’ ones. Sooner, rather than later, experts suggest this will significantly impact the cost and availability of real estate funding.   

Rising to action

Insurance price increases in US, UK and Europe 2017 to 2021

Every location carries climate change risks. As occupiers and investors are becoming increasingly aware of locational exposure, they are reassessing their costs. While rent and capital values are reflecting this, recent extreme weather events have led to soaring property insurance costs. It’s become increasingly clearer that the real estate landscape reflects climate change and, most importantly, our response to it.   

Recognise the reach

Above all else, we need to act as the effects of climate change are felt near and far, with the greatest impact affecting the world’s most vulnerable people and places - making recovery challenging.  

“Climate change is more than an environmental crisis – it is a social crisis.” World Bank


We all have a role to play in protecting the human ecosystem and the cities and towns we inhabit. While the real estate sector created the buildings around us, it’s clear that innovation, imagination and creative thinking are needed to meet the challenges of decarbonisation.  

That’s why we developed our innovative approach to measuring, monitoring and controlling energy efficiency, carbon efficiency and more.

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