Net Zero Buildings: A Sustainable Transformation in Commercial Real Estate

July 6, 2023

The increasing attention towards climate change and sustainability initiatives, coupled with advancing technology and evolving consumer preferences, has made net zero buildings a subject of crucial importance to the commercial property industry.

Understanding Net Zero buildings

A net zero building, also referred to as a zero-energy building, is one that produces at least as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.  Achieving 'net zero' status isn't about completely abstaining from energy consumption, but creating a balance where the total energy used equals the energy created on the site.

This is typically achieved by reducing energy demand through efficient design and energy management strategies, and then meeting the remaining energy needs with renewable energy sources.

Importantly, this concept is not restricted to new builds – existing commercial properties can also be retrofitted to meet net zero standards.

The growing interest towards Net Zero

In 2021, buildings' operation accounted for approximately 30% of global energy consumption and 27% of energy sector emissions. 

Amid growing concerns over climate change, real estate industry leaders have pledged their commitment to net zero. Notably, amongst America's largest Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), Equinix Inc. has committed to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. CBRE, a leading international property consultancy, has also pledged to achieve net zero across the properties it manages, as well as in its own operations and supply chain. Additionally, 43% of Australia's largest listed property companies have made net zero commitments, signalling a significant shift in industry norms

The interest in net zero buildings stems not only from the urgent need to combat climate change, but also from the economic and operational benefits these buildings offer.

The benefits of Net Zero buildings in commercial portfolios

Incorporating net zero buildings into commercial portfolios is a win-win, yielding both environmental and economic dividends.

  1. Cost savings: Net zero buildings substantially reduce energy costs, providing considerable long-term savings. As utility costs continue to rise, these savings become increasingly impactful.
  2. Market competitiveness: With the increasing consumer and investor demand for sustainable spaces, net zero buildings can enhance a property's market appeal and competitiveness.
  3. Risk mitigation: Regulatory risks are minimized in net zero buildings. As energy efficiency regulations tighten and carbon pricing initiatives spread globally, buildings that have already achieved net zero are insulated from these changes.
  4. Corporate social responsibility: By reducing carbon emissions, commercial property owners and managers can showcase their commitment to sustainability, enhancing their brand's reputation and contributing positively to their corporate social responsibility goals.

Net Zero champions: The Bullitt Center in Seattle, a commercial building, is one of the most energy-efficient commercial buildings globally and has set a precedent in the commercial sector. It boasts a 242 kW solar array, a rainwater-to-potable water system, composting toilets, and a high level of material transparency, demonstrating that commercial buildings can be both profitable and sustainable.

Achieving Net Zero in commercial buildings

Achieving net zero in existing commercial buildings is a complex but feasible task, and technology plays a pivotal role in this journey. The pathway to net zero in the commercial property sector involves five main steps:

Monitoring: The first step is to set up a comprehensive energy monitoring system using advanced data analytics software. This provides an understanding of the building's energy consumption patterns, offering a solid foundation for future net zero initiatives.

Optimization: Once you have a good grasp of your building's energy use, you can identify inefficiencies and optimize systems and processes for better energy performance. For instance, you might adjust HVAC scheduling to match building occupancy or improve insulation to reduce heating and cooling needs.

Upgrading: Next, a data-driven evaluation of your building's equipment can reveal what should be upgraded to achieve better energy efficiency. Whether it's replacing outdated HVAC systems with high-efficiency units or switching to LED lighting, these upgrades can significantly reduce energy consumption.

Investing in renewables: After optimization and upgrades, the focus should shift to investing in renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power. Google's headquarters, for instance, utilizes a massive 1.6 MW solar power system that generates a significant portion of the building's electricity.

Purchasing offsets: The final step involves purchasing carbon offsets to neutralize any remaining emissions. Although this should be the last resort due to scepticism about its long-term viability, it's a useful tool in the short term as you work towards greater energy efficiency and renewable energy usage.

If you're a commercial property owner or manager seeking to future-proof your portfolio, increase tenant satisfaction, and make a significant contribution to global sustainability goals, we encourage you to download our detailed guide to achieving net zero: 

The role of building analytics technology

The technology used to gather, analyze, and leverage building data plays a crucial role in the transition to net zero. With accurate historical and real-time data, property managers can make informed decisions regarding energy use, system optimization, necessary equipment upgrades, and renewable energy investments.

Moreover, innovative building analytics technology, such as CIM’s PEAK Platform,  can help detect inefficiencies, predict maintenance needs, and automate energy-saving measures, making the journey towards net zero a more manageable process.

The path to a net zero future may seem challenging, but it is an urgent and necessary one. By understanding the benefits and steps towards achieving net zero, commercial property owners and managers can contribute significantly to reducing global emissions and ushering in a sustainable future for the real estate industry.

Ready to move towards Net Zero?

Our dedicated team at CIM is ready to assist you on your journey to sustainability, providing expert advice and effective solutions tailored to your commercial property's unique needs. Request a callback from our team today.

Paul Walsh
July 6, 2023