March 2020

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Australian Bushfires

and what lies ahead for sustainability in real estate

Deb Noller

Deb Noller,
Switch Automation

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Australia has been burning for more than five months while the world has watched, horrified and scrambling to help. Fortunately, a recent bout of rain aided exhausted firefighters, with the downpour dousing no less than thirty fires in the last week, some of which have burned continuously for six months.

Climate change is a global challenge, however, with an urgency not witnessed since the world wars. It will take a global effort to address and reverse the impact of this climate emergency. Because nearly 40% of total carbon emissions are produced by buildings, I’ve long held the belief that the greatest opportunity to fight climate change lies in real estate. Not coincidentally, real estate is also one of the last industries to go digital, meaning that the potential for building performance optimization using emerging smart building tech is huge.

We’re seeing that at least 6% of worldwide carbon emissions can be eliminated through building performance optimization with no impact on tenant comfort whatsoever.

The new generation of smart building tech offers new and exciting approaches to continuous commissioning, meaning that building performance can be more carefully scrutinized and maintained, preventing the performance drift that all buildings experience sooner or later. Fault Detection & Diagnostics (FDD) has also been revolutionized by IoT, creating opportunities for predictive maintenance that prevents the breakdown of expensive systems and the truck rolls required to fix them.

One of the least helpful beliefs of our time is the perception that profits and progress are mutually exclusive. I know that money talks – why invest in cutting-edge smart building tech just for a PR win and some industry kudos? Given that building performance optimization creates 10 - 20% in average annual savings for our customers and vastly reduces carbon footprint, the reality is that creating a greener portfolio only adds value through reduced operating costs, increased asset value and brand recognition. With sustainability tech in CRE tending to pay for itself and then some, it’s time we start seeing sustainability and value growth as two sides to the same essential coin.

I personally foresee the emergence of a new global economy – a clean, green financial system where sustainability is regarded alongside, and a means to, economic growth. JP Morgan and Blackrock exemplify this trend, both of which now offer sustainability-focused investment options—free from fossil fuel investment. I was also delighted to hear that Microsoft pledged to achieve a state of carbon negativity by 2030 – an example I expect will be replicated by other pioneering organizations in the near future.

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace captures it best: “it is imperative that the entire real estate sector accepts responsibility for being the single biggest contributor to the climate change crisis. This is one of the most important fights of our generation. Australia is on fire, Brazil was on fire, and people are dying. If this is not your number one priority as a real estate owner, you have got your priorities wrong.” 

Let’s do this, real estate. Now.

About the Author

Deb Noller brings more than 20 years’ experience in technology, sustainability and commercial real estate to her role as CEO of Switch Automation. She helps large enterprises apply technology for more efficient business operations, resulting in millions of dollars in cost savings for Fortune 100 companies. Deb loves cycling, strong coffee and mentoring young women in the tech industry.

Switch Automation is a global real estate software company that helps property owners and facility managers reduce operating costs, improve energy efficiency and deliver exceptional occupant satisfaction. Our comprehensive smart building platform integrates with traditional building systems as well as IoT technologies to analyze, automate and control assets in real-time.


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