Climate protection in buildings: using sustainability as a driver of innovation
Sustainability involves much more than just maintaining the status quo. It can also be a key driver of innovation. One sector that could benefit from that is real estate: if the industry is to achieve the goal of virtual climate neutrality by 2045, it must rapidly undergo fundamental transformation. What makes the pressure to innovate particularly high is the fact that the German building sector has in recent years regularly fallen short of the Federal Government's intermediate climate targets. Moreover, in contrast to many other sectors, buildings have a very long life cycle. Accordingly, any new building constructed today should already meet the climate targets.
Currently the building sector accounts for some 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, therefore representing an energy transition factor that should not be underestimated. Climate protection in buildings must be tackled within the framework of an interdisciplinary sustainability strategy. There must be no more “business as usual”.
Pioneering role of forestry
But what does “sustainability” actually mean? The basic idea and the term are first found in the 18th century in the German forestry industry. A new guiding principle arising at that time was to cease extracting more wood from the forest than can grow back. Forests were not to be plundered, but rather preserved as valuable economic resources for future generations.
Perhaps the most pithy modern formulation of sustainability dates back to the 1987 Brundtland Report, published by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, which defines it as follows:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ”
For the building sector, climate protection is the chief item on the agenda regarding sustainability today. To achieve this goal, energy consumption and CO2 emissions must be significantly reduced. Digitisation of building infrastructure can provide a valuable key here, since appropriate, largely data-based solutions and services for the housing industry facilitate increased efficiency gains and optimisation, which in turn promote both energy efficiency and profitability. To this end technology-neutrality is one fundamental principle, because only an unblinkered approach will allow us to find the best solutions for specific problems. The interoperability and network capability of components and systems form two further central requirements.
A decisive advantage of digital technology is that it can be used very effectively, particularly in existing building stock with a poorer energy balance. By digitising the energy transition, inefficient buildings that cannot be renovated at short notice, or only at great cost and effort, can make the leap into a superior building energy class, thereby swiftly cutting costs significantly and reducing energy consumption.
Digitisation as the third pillar of building-related climate protection
Practical experience has already shown that digitisation can make a tangible contribution to climate protection. For instance, digital metering technology and consumption transparency have a demonstrably positive effect on energy consumption. Smart thermostats with energy-saving assistance functions, such as open window detection and other user-friendly features, lead to energy savings of a good 15 per cent.
Another example: using digital technology to provide tenants and owners with comparative values creates incentives to be more aware of their heating behaviour and to reduce consumption. Thus digitisation in all its facets becomes a vital third pillar in building-related climate protection, on top of the insulation of building envelopes and innovative heating technology.
The role of tenants and politics
Major changes call for all stakeholders to pull together in order to generate a positive long-term impact. In the first instance, tenants are needed who are willing to play their part in climate protection. A study on the role of the tenant shows that acceptance is high in the field of automation and sharing consumption data. The study reveals that more than two-thirds of tenants take the view that efficient climate protection in buildings and the housing industry is only possible with their help.
Secondly, politicians must create a framework that ensures predictability. Specifically, this involves incentives for retrofitting and the expansion of research, while also restoring the attractiveness of the skilled trades and thereby ensuring the next generation of skilled tradespeople.
How sustainability helps to keep housing affordable
The environment benefits from climate-intelligent real estate through lower emissions, but that is not all. Owners and managers can cut their costs through efficiency-enhancing digital processes, as well as reducing the financial burden of avoidable CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, intelligent heat regulation enables residents to reduce their heating energy consumption without foregoing their accustomed level of comfort. Thus climate-smart real estate also helps to keep housing affordable, making a real contribution to social sustainability.