Retrofitting legacy buildings: A path to decarbonising Asia’s real estate sector
Urban Land Institute executive said navigating challenges and fostering collaboration are key to achieving decarbonisation goals.
As the real estate sector seeks ways to decarbonisation, retrofitting legacy buildings has emerged as a potential solution, considering that around 80% of the sector’s carbon footprint is attributable to existing buildings.
Interviewed recently by Real Estate Asia, Ron Pressman, global CEO of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), revealed the challenges as well as the progress of decarbonisation in the Asia Pacific region.
Citing the real estate sector’s significant contribution to global emissions, Pressman said that buildings alone account for approximately 40% of the world’s carbon footprint, with existing buildings responsible for two-thirds of this figure.
In Asia Pacific, the fragmented nature of the industry is viewed as the primary hurdle since ownership and construction is undertaken by numerous organisations and individuals. This makes aligning the sector towards a singular decarbonisation goal, quite the challenge, Pressman said.
Moreover, the existence of varied rules, regulations, and perspectives on decarbonisation further adds to the complexity of the task so Pressman sees fostering collaboration and sharing best practices among stakeholders as the right approach.
When discussing the intersection of the real estate, energy, and financial sectors in facilitating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) progress, he emphasised the interconnectedness of these industries.
In this sense, the real estate sector in the region must leverage technological advancements in energy efficiency and connect buildings to sustainable energy grids — the same efforts perceived as an imperative on a global scale.
Citing one strong drive towards retrofitting legacy buildings as a key strategy for decarbonisation, Pressman mentioned New York City’s regulatory requirements for achieving net-zero progress by 2030 or 2050, where non-compliant buildings face penalties.
He also set as an example ULI’s Greenprint program, a collaborative effort that has seen a growing community of 120 companies committing to a 50% reduction in carbon footprint by 2030 and achieving a 5% reduction collectively in the past year.
For small business owners, reaching net-zero targets can be particularly challenging so Pressman advised baselining the carbon footprint of their portfolios and tapping into public and private resources available for sustainable operations.
There are already examples of this such as Australia’s Olderfleet Building, which by retrofitting solutions has significantly enhanced the sustainability of smaller properties.
Pressman recommended engaging with organisations like ULI, which offer a wealth of best practices and access to capital for decarbonisation efforts.
The ULI global CEO acknowledged how reducing carbon footprints is a tall order, but there are solutions and they require collective action, something his organization can help achieve for businesses of all sizes.
In ending the interview, Pressman said he envisions a more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive world and encouraged every effort to contribute to the overall goal of reducing the real estate sector’s carbon footprint for a greener future.