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RICS Sustainability Report 2023: Key Takeaways

RICS recently released its 2023 Sustainability Report, offering invaluable insights into sustainability in construction. While the industry strides forward, concerns linger about meeting the 2050 net-zero targets. On one hand, we see a palpable surge in demand for green buildings due to heightened environmental consciousness among investors and occupants. Yet, obstacles like high initial costs and the absence of standardized practices continue to impede progress.

Today we will explore the key findings of RICS’ 2023 Sustainability Report. It covers crucial sustainability aspects such as green certificates, and materials, and understanding the scope and scale of emissions in construction while talking about the challenges that are holding back the industry’s sustainability efforts.

Key Takeaways from RICS 2023 Sustainability Report

Here are the findings of the report. They not only shed light on the current landscape but also pave the way for actionable strategies and solutions to surmount these challenges.

  • Increasing global demand for green buildings
  • Ongoing hurdles related to initial investments
  • The critical absence of standardized practices in green construction
  • Insufficient evaluation of embodied carbon in projects

Global increase in demand for Green Buildings

The report highlights a significant surge in interest for green buildings in 2023 reporting a net balance of +44. Compared to previous scores of +48 and +55 in 2022 and 2021 respectively. This metric represents the difference between respondents reporting increased demand and those reporting a decrease and illustrates a consistent global trend favoring green buildings. Across all surveyed regions, Europe emerged as the leader with a net balance of +73, surpassing other regions like the UK, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, and the Americas.

Globally, over half of the respondents noted an increase in occupier demand for green and sustainable buildings, with Europe showing the most substantial rise at approximately 42%. About 80% of respondents across Europe reported a surge in investor interest, consistent with previous years’ feedback. In the UK, Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific, around three-fifths of contributors observed a rise in investor demand, whereas in the Americas, this interest seemed comparatively lower.

The survey also unveiled nuances in demand intensity. Globally, just under 40% of respondents reported a surge in demand, with approximately one-third indicating a modest rise and only 5% noting a significant increase. Intriguingly, half of the respondents in the Americas reported no change in demand, a higher figure compared to the global average of around 40%. This insight suggests varying degrees of interest in green buildings across different regions.

Initial Costs, ROI Verification, and Other Challenges

Nearly three-fifths of global respondents identify high initial costs as a primary barrier to investing in green buildings. About 40% of professionals highlight the lack of evidence regarding return on investment, coupled with uncertainty and insufficient data on the benefits of acquiring green buildings, as crucial issues. Additionally, just under a third of global respondents cite a lack of investor knowledge, awareness, and expertise in green real estate as a key obstacle.

Some professionals in the Middle East and Africa highlight the critical problem of insufficient knowledge and expertise among investors. This sentiment is echoed by more than a third of respondents in the Asia Pacific region. 

Lack of Common Standards and Definitions

Approximately a third of professionals in the UK and Europe state the lack of common standards and definitions for green buildings as a significant obstacle. In the UK, the necessity for clarification regarding new energy performance certificate (EPC) standards for commercial real estate emerges as essential to stimulate investment in energy-efficient measures and foster the creation of eco-friendly buildings. 

This need for clarity supports the push for improved mandatory energy performance standards across Europe, essential for national governments striving to achieve the EU Green Deal’s ambitious targets.

Lack of Embodied Carbon Assessment

The report reveals that approximately 43% of global respondents do not measure embodied carbon in their projects. When they do, there’s limited evidence suggesting its influence on material and component selection. Only about 16% globally use carbon measurement to guide these choices. Note that just over a quarter of respondents expressed interest in measuring carbon if a standardized approach were available.

Regionally speaking, the majority (around 45–50%) of professionals across all regions are not measuring carbon in their projects. Only in Europe, the number is low, at 38% who do not measure carbon. The rest confirm they assess embodied carbon, impacting their decisions regarding materials and components. 

Increase in Recyclable and Reusable Materials

A notable portion of respondents observe a rising demand for recyclable and reusable materials compared to other components. Prioritizing onsite waste minimization, recycling, and material reusability post-demolition takes center stage. Globally, about 39% indicate that employing sustainable building materials and utilizing recycled, renewable, or waste materials and components is a firmly established principle. 

According to estimates from the European Commission, construction and demolition contribute to over a third of the EU’s total waste. An influential study by Arup and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation underscores the potential of adopting circular economy practices to extract more value from built environment assets. Leveraging policies such as circular public procurement emerges as a catalyst in this paradigm shift. Moreover, planning policies specifying requirements regarding demolition, construction materials, and the use of recyclable and reusable materials in projects can significantly impact sustainable practices in the built environment.

Digitization and Modern Technology Will Go a Long Way

The report also emphasizes on using digital tools to collect, store, and share crucial information about materials and products. Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital platforms promote data sharing and collaboration between teams and stakeholders.

To minimize waste, exploring 3D printing and prefab construction offers efficient and sustainable alternatives surpassing traditional methods. Embracing adaptive reuse represents another pivotal strategy. Additionally, leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) can identify decarbonization prospects in existing buildings and analyze data in new projects to amplify sustainability impact.

Numerous ongoing studies aim to enhance construction sustainability. AI’s role in material selection for 3D-printed concrete and the recent development of nearly carbon-neutral bricks highlight progressive advancements in the field.

Government policies help in facilitating widespread decarbonization efforts and fortifying the built environment against climate change impacts. This includes setting science-based national targets focused on decarbonization, creating roadmaps outlining essential steps, implementing carbon pricing where applicable, and mandating embodied carbon assessments.

Additionally, fostering public-private partnerships to embed circular economy practices and establishing minimum energy performance standards for commercial real estate is essential. 

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