Why decarbonization, ESG initiatives are a bigger priority for building owners

Decarbonization and ESG initiatives are a major focus for building owners and their tenants, but getting them access to the right data remains a hurdle.

By Chris Vavra January 24, 2024
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

ESG and sustainability insights

  • Building owners prioritize decarbonization not only for environmental reasons but also to save money and attract tenants amid COVID-19 challenges.
  • The success of decarbonization and ESG initiatives hinges on obtaining quality data, presenting a challenge for many building owners.

Building owners and tenants are emphasizing decarbonization more than ever as environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives are growing. They’re not only gaining attention for helping the environment, but also because they can help the bottom line. The need to save money and attract tenants is a big priority for building owners since the COVID-19 pandemic. Tenancy is down and they need to find a way to attract customers into their building.

In a panel discussion at AHR Expo 2024 at McCormick Place in Chicago, the discussion on “The Future of Energy Management: ESG, Decarbonization, and Electrification” focused on where things currently stand and where they’re headed down the road.

“Clients are looking for carbon savings,” said panel moderator Brad White, president of SES Consulting. “Building owners are willing to spend money on decarbonizing their buildings.”

Stephanie Poole, a senior decarbonization engineer at SES Consulting, agreed, and noted the shift in emphasis.

“It used to be about energy efficiency. Now it’s about decarbonization and we’re working on some very complex projects.”

She cited an example where a building owner that didn’t have a net zero plan was at risk of losing a valuable tenant, which would have cost them a great deal of money. So they reached out and developed a long-term plan to keep their tenant. This is not a one-off, Poole said. It’s happening more often as owners and companies shift their priorities and emphasis.

For panelist Leon Wurfel, the founder of Bueno Systems, the emphasis on building standards is nothing new in his native Australia. The National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) has been in effect for years and is required for all new buildings that are more than 1000 square meters and uses a rating system of 0 to 6 stars to help determine how energy-efficient buildings are.

He said the system has, “Created a huge amount of opportunity and commercial potential,” noting there was a bit of vanity involved among owners and it helped get buy-in.

Lauren Scott, VP, marketing and sustainability at Acuity Brands, noted there has been a similar push in Europe and it has helped push technology much further than because there is an incentive in the form of penalties and falling behind in general.

Left to right: Leon Wurfel, founder, Bueno; Lauren Scott, VP, marketing and sustainability, Intelligent Spaces Group at Acuity Brands; Stephanie Poole, senior decarbonization engineer at SES Consulting.

Left to right: Leon Wurfel, founder, Bueno; Lauren Scott, VP, marketing and sustainability, Intelligent Spaces Group at Acuity Brands; Stephanie Poole, senior decarbonization engineer at SES Consulting. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Getting the right data to the right people

Decarbonization and ESG initiatives are only as good as the data being transmitted. For many building owners, that remains a big hurdle.

“The number 1 thing is the quality of data,” Scott said. “Users need access to the right information. Try and find the tools for that measuring and monitoring is key.” She added that there is a labor shortage in general and the companies might be hiring some inexperienced to make sense of the data. This can be overcome with the right funding, but it won’t matter if a quick return on investment (ROI) can’t be shown.

Wurfel agreed. “Operationalizing and managing is a challenge. It’s becoming more important as companies rely on the data coming from a building management system (BMS) and putting it into the ESG reporting. Maintaining data quality is important.”

Poole said many don’t even know what they have to begin with. “It’s alarming how people don’t know what they have. No concept of what their systems are. That has been the hardest piece. Is your data accurate? Do you know where your systems are?”

Have a good dashboard can help, but it depends on context. “Develop dashboards for the right people,” Poole said. “For operators the dashboards will be more complex. Ask each person what they want and make things easier.”

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is web content manager for CFE Media and Technology.