How sustainable is it the property sector?

“If you are serious about reducing CO2, you should definitely focus on the property sector,” says Ronja Weber, a student at the TU Berlin (School of Economics and Management) during the presentation of her groups’ research on ‘Deep-Tech solutions for Sustainable Construction’ yesterday at Maschinenraum. 

Usually, the public discussion on CO2 mainly focuses on passenger transportation as well as FMCG production but neglects the property sector that contributes as much as 35 % p.a. to global CO2 emissions. Moreover, this industry is currently neither at the forefront of digital transformation nor cutting edge when it comes to sustainable solutions. But as the need for change in that industry gets more and more obvious and coping with large amounts of data is getting easier, we see the digital transformation of prop-tech slowly gaining momentum. 

At wattx we’ve observed this development and, at the beginning of 2020, set out to conduct research projects on the current state and the future development of prop-tech - with particular attention on sustainable solutions. We identified three distinct phases: the designing and planning of real estate projects, the construction of buildings, and, lastly, facility management.

For the research of the facility management sphere, we joined forces with a group of students at TU Berlin, supervised by Prof. Dr. Eric Schott and Ataaz Mir (Campana & Schott), to support us in exploring Deep-Tech solutions for Sustainable Construction. Yesterday, the student group came to our office to present their findings. To give you a taste of their findings, we’ve summarized the main takeaways as follows:

Energy consumption - along with CO2 emissions - particularly within public and commercial buildings, could be significantly reduced if HVAC systems understood and reflected their customers’ behavioral patterns. Needless to say that this is much costlier and time-consuming in existing buildings as opposed to those buildings yet to be built, planned, or designed.

Many modern buildings could be operated much more eco-friendly than they are at the moment.
Frederic Hirschmüller

The older HVAC systems are, the less likely the possibility of controlling appliances centrally. An investment in technologies could reduce properties’ overall energy consumption as well as costs significantly, however, building operators and owners are hesitant as required investments are very high, with no or little ROI to be expected.

VR start-ups, vast technological advancements of smartphones, and relevant technologies (e.g. Facebook Oculus Rift, Microsoft Hololens) are easily accessible, immensely versatile, predestined for application in operation as well as facility management maintenance. Further, they do not require unscalable investments, but amplify cost saving efforts on multiple dimensions.

Making efficient use of existing building space can also make a big difference with regards to the environment, “because every square meter that you don't build obviously saves the most resources”, says Inka Randebrock, advocating digital solutions that optimize usage of existing buildings. However, gains in energy efficiency are obviously much easier, when it comes to new buildings as CO2 consumption can already be taken into account during the planning and construction phase. “But many modern buildings could be operated much more eco-friendly than they are at the moment”, says Frederic Hirschmüller.

For the prop tech industry to be more sustainable, building authorities require a lot of measures before approving a real estate project. Undoubtedly a step in the right direction,  but in practice, a lot of the sophisticated green technology - that gets built-in with the best intention - never gets used. Reasons for that are manifold: Oftentimes, modern sustainable systems are too complex or not user-friendly enough; building operators are lacking the motivation to make the best use of the technology available, or maybe the persons in charge simply do not care to make that investment in experts. “Sadly, we’ve observed a number of cases in which sustainability is obviously more about ticking off boxes on the agenda than about real impact,” concludes Frederic Hirschmüller.

Thanks to Andres Olarte, Frederic Hirschmueller, Inka Randebrock, N. Olesiak, Peer-Simon Somrau, and Ronja Weber.

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