"Sustainable commitments must go beyond lip service"

If we are to chart a sustainable future, first we need to understand where we are now. ISG’s ‘Sustainable Buildings Monitor’ is a comprehensive international study on the carbon emissions and energy consumption due to the operation of commercial real estate. Through our analysis, we hope to better support the places that have the most work to do in cutting the emissions produced by buildings that occupy them - delivering solutions to champion energy efficiency. Another core aim of this research is for it to act as a broader rallying call for greater collaboration and consensus among construction and real estate companies, to work together to accurately chart and benchmark our efforts to achieve a sustainable future. Iris Wolke-Haupt, Managing Director Germany, explains the background and facts in this interview.

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Iris Wolke-Haupt | ISG

ISG: Iris, ‘Sustainable Buildings Monitor’ is a very ambitious study with a clear statement for immediate action. How did this initiative come about?

Wolke-Haupt: At ISG, we see it as our duty to make an active contribution to the challenges of our time and to be responsible for the legacy we create. When we hear the term "challenge," we still think of the Corona pandemic, but sustainable and resource-conserving business operations must continue to be a top priority. We need to act on this: swiftly, decisively and together. In the same way, we in the international community have also been able to develop vaccines against the Corona virus very quickly, which have saved many lives. I see this as a blueprint for a concerted strategy to achieve the climate targets. After all, 25% of global emissions come from buildings. As the construction and real estate industry, we therefore have an instrumental role to play in the tackling the climate emergency.

ISG: We are faced with a task that will involve and impact generations to come. Where should we start?

Wolke-Haupt: As always, all projects begin with an assessment of the current situation. This is exactly what we are doing with our ‘Sustainable Buildings Monitor’. In terms of both energy consumption and carbon emissions, the German commercial real estate sector is not among the top performers. Why? For one thing, we still have an abundance of unrenovated stock in the office sector. With a modernization cycle of a maximum of 30 years, numerous owners are now called upon to upgrade their stock in terms of energy efficiency and technology. We must take action now and devote ourselves continuously to renovating the existing stock and consistently certify new buildings. If we do not commit at the scale and pace demanded by this challenge, we are only storing up greater problems for the future, both for the climate and our collective ability to have the resource and capacity to mobilise in time.

ISG: Does the current availability of data support rapid action with clearly defined metrics to chart and measure progress?

Wolke-Haupt: Unfortunately, that is precisely not the case. Collating our research was no easy feat, hence why we felt even more compelled to make this contribution. We worked with the Centre for Economics and Business Research to t gather data from various government sources and private-sector studies. Uniform data standards and general transparency would help us take radical steps towards securing a net zero legacy. This is why sensor technology plays such a central role in our expansion and refurbishment projects. We need everybody on board. Transparency on the tenant side would also be desirable, for example with regard to the occupancy of space in terms of time and personnel. Green leases, which are becoming increasingly popular as an incentive for ecologically sustainable tenant behaviour, make an important contribution here.

ISG: What is ISG doing on the way to a sustainable building sector?

Wolke-Haupt: We must become an agent of positive environmental and social change in everything we do, ensuring that every action we take leaves a net gain to society. We are committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and introducing an internal carbon tax by 2024 that can be used to fund sustainable innovation projects across our business. We help our customers to construct buildings with the lowest possible carbon dioxide emissions - for example, by consistently using local building materials. Our projects also undergo sustainability monitoring to identify best practices internally and define our own quality standards.

ISG: What is your assessment for the coming years?

Wolke-Haupt: Thanks to the spirited commitment of incoming generations, we have already accelerated progress and elevated intentions to support climate protection and the preservation of our environment. In my view, and reassuringly, there is a clear social and political intent for consistent sustainable management in all sectors. I am encouraged by initiatives from the construction and real estate industries. It should not always be the legislator who exerts the pressure, but the industry itself must develop ambitious goals. Sustainability cannot and must not be lip service. I am pleased that we as ISG can contribute our experience and expertise to the forefront in this regard.

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