The global urgency for climate action has an upside companion in global opportunities for strategic investment that could improve people’s lives and yield sustainable returns. Delivering the keynote address during the recent online commercial real estate sustainability trailblazers (CREST) awards, Dr. Richard Munang, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) climate change coordinator for Africa, underscored how the pursuit of net-zero emissions could open up new markets, create jobs and richly reward investors who move in advance of regulatory mandates.
“Not everybody who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it, chased it. This African proverb describes a critical asset that precedes success and it is summed up in two words: Taking chances,” Munang submitted. “Environmental sector players regularly need to take chances and seize opportunities.”
While the landlord-tenant teams participating in the race2reduce — a climate action initiative of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Greater Toronto aimed at finding energy and water savings and curbing solid waste output within commercial buildings — might not define themselves as direct environmental sector players, they fit into Munang’s broader philosophy of moving key economic sectors onto what he terms the net-zero emissions pathway.
Real estate, he maintains, is particularly well positioned to realize the “economic, social and environmental dividends” of operational savings, enhanced asset value, market influence and emerging new investment asset classes such as energy retrofit and affordable housing. Citing the findings of the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the physical factors of climate change, he reiterated that real estate’s current quotient of 40 per cent of total global emissions also gives it the weight to lead the transition to net-zero status. Projections for a required USD $4.7 trillion global investment in green buildings over the next eight years represent critical leverage.
“The real question that all of us need to ask today, and also need to answer, is how the process of reducing these emissions can actually unlock more investment opportunities for the real estate industry as we drive inclusive economic growth,” Munang asserted. “Real estate can enhance the chances of realizing and attracting capital in green developments. This comes with a reorientation where focus shifts from ordinary markets and investments to niche markets and investments that place a premium on green sustainability.”
Along with the tangible reduction achievements gained through low-emission technologies, passive design principles and renewable energy options, he credits “soft” attributes such as passion, inspiration and boldness for generating interest, drawing participation, bolstering commitment and helping to overcome obstacles. That’s also central to the race2reduce and CREST strategy, which harnesses friendly rivalry while creating a context for collaborative efforts toward a larger shared goal.
As Munang affirmed, that shared goal is a momentous one:
“In the cycles of life, it happens that big challenges befall one generation which must be solved to guarantee the existence of future generations,” he said. “Climate change is the challenge of our generation. And we have all of 10 to 30 years with which to change the cause and narrative for present and future generations.”
The 2021 CREST winners are:
Performance Leadership, Electricity
Performance Leadership, Gas
Performance Leadership, Water
Performance Leadership, Waste
Performance Leadership, Landmark Buildings
Collaborative Excellence, Landlord
Collaborative Excellence, Tenant