Big in 2017: 4 trends for sustainable real estate

Though energy efficiency, green building certifications and more recently, health and well-being, are important design trends worldwide for the real estate industry, major technological, and social changes will be even bigger trends in this industry. In 2017, real estate will continue to be fueled by innovation; here are some examples of key issues to watch for!

1- Commercial Real Estate and Digital transformation

According to a recent Deloitte study (Digital disruption in real estate, catalyst for growth ?”): “It’s clear that digital innovation will affect all real estate classes as space users and advanced technologies continues to transform workplaces, shopping centers, distribution centers, homes and so on”. This new reality constitutes a challenge for real estate developers and owners, who are facing the entry of new competitors such as WeWork, Breather, etc…, which base their value proposition on access to services rather than ownership :

« The premise of the tech disruptors is simple: let the Commercial Real Estate companies own the assets and we will own the platforms that enable residents and tenants to access what they need, when they need it, and whenever they need it, using today’s real time, Big Data, and cloud technologies ».

In an article called “Assets vs. Access: A Digital Reality for Commercial Real Estate”, the authors, propose a 5 step non-linear approach called PIVOT, where « the CRE industry leaders need to shift both their mental models of value (non-things vs. things) and business models (technology vs. non-technology) and put digital at the center of everything they do. ». A must read, for more information click here.

2- Materials: wood is back

Wood is intensively used in North America to build homes and low rise residential; however, there are recent impressive examples of commercial and institutional buildings using wood, with an objective to reduce their carbon footprint.

In Canada, Montreal’s award winning new soccer stadium was designated the country’s most ambitious public building in a recent article from The Globe and Mail (see above): “The roof above is a dramatic composition in itself, held up by a lattice of wood box beams that crossed at random-seeming angles and stretch as long as 69 metres. This is the work of Quebec fabricators Nordic Structures, a uniquely large-scale and sculptural use of engineered wood. […] This could and should be an important new line of business for Canada’s forest industry.”

In the US, tall wood building advocate Mickael Green has just completed an impressive seven-story office building in Minneapolis (see below). The 224,000 square feet building is built with 3,600 cubic meters of exposed timber beams, columns and floor slabs. “This will have the ambiance of the old warehouses with timber beams that everyone wants, but solves all the problems of energy efficiency and light” explained Bob Pfefferle, director of Hines Real Estate. According to Green, the use of timber is about much more than aesthetics: “Our data from past mid-rise timber projects has shown a significant reduction in life cycle impact for a timber structure, as compared to a concrete structure”.

The construction of large residential projects with wood structure is also trending in Canada. In the Griffintown neighbourhood, Montréal, Lemay’s Arbora project (see rendering below) will include 434 condos, townhouse and rental units. In Quebec City, the Origine tower will have 13 storeys and 92 units. Both projects will be completed in 2017.

For more information about the tall wood building trend, and related technical issues, read this article : Building wood towers : How high is up for timber structures ?

3 – A path towards Net Zero Energy buildings

The Net Zero Energy standard is progressing internationally. On 1st January 2021, every new building will have to meet the net zero energy standard in Europe according to 2010/31/EU fiat**. Released during Paris-held COP21 conference, the Pan-Canadian Framework on clean growth and climate change, which represents Canada’s contribution to address climate change, identifies several aspects to green the built environment* including the development of a “net-zero energy ready building code”. In Canada, the building sector accounted for 19% of energy used in 2012 (30% in the province of Quebec, in 2014).

Moreover, November 2nd 2016, the Canadian Green Building Council (CAGBC) announced a net zero label program to foster high efficiency buildings, with a pilot phase starting spring 2017. As detailed in the press release: “The next phases of the Zero Carbon Initiative include the identification of specific pathways to zero carbon, a zero carbon building pilot program, and the development of a verification program to be completed and launched by CaGBC by the end of the second quarter of 2017. »

As stated by CAGBC and Buildings Performance Institute Europe***, a clear definition for zero carbon buildings, including key components for the evaluation of building carbon footprints is a must. Having this issue in mind, CAGBC’s net zero label will introduce 5 evaluation indicators:

  1. A greenhouse gas intensity metric for assessing a building’s emissions, calculated using regional emissions factors
  2. Energy intensity metrics to incentivize the design of highly efficient, reliable, and resilient buildings
  3. A peak energy demand metric to encourage the use of “peak shaving” measures
  4. An embodied carbon metric to recognize the importance of building material lifecycle impacts
  5. A requirement that renewable energy be generated on-site, or procured directly in order to ensure the addition of clean power generation

4 – Refined green building certifications

In 2016, green building certifications were refined to enhance their criterion, ensuring their advance ahead of building regulations.

Since 1st November, USGBC’s fourth version of LEED called “LEED V4” is compulsory and is avoiding low hanging fruit. Among the changes, energy performance is reinforced by using the AHSRAE 90.1.2010 standard; the material category is completely redesigned with a deeper focus on life cycle analysis through the use of Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), and Integrated Design Process is more valued. For a synthesis of LEED V4 main changes, read this article from Voir Vert (in French).

Following USGBC’s alignment with WELL standard, BREEAM’s certification body, BRE, announced a similar agreement with WELL last November 2016.

The French certification HQE, also released its new scheme in 2016, which completely redefines its approach using 4 main engagements: Life quality, Economic performance, Environment respect, and Responsible management. For more information (in French).

These new schemes will be intensively applied to projects in 2017, and will continue to challenge architects, engineers and designers, in an attempt to improve sustainable building design and operations!

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* (1) making new buildings more energy efficient; (2) retrofitting existing buildings, as well as fuel switching; (3) improving energy efficiency for appliances and equipment; and (4) supporting building codes and energy efficient housing in Indigenous communities.

** Article 9, Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings

***Buildings Performance Institute Europe, « Nearly zero energy buildings definitions across Europe », page 8