Needless Construction And Architectural Arrogance: Climate Crisis And The Future Of Work
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The shift to hybrid work has the potential to have a huge impact on the battle against climate change — if the real estate industry can change its idea about the best way to make a profit, and corporate occupiers change their view on what constitutes an environmentally friendly building.
Of all the ways in which an increase in working from home can influence the carbon emissions of big cities in the U.S. and UK, by far the most significant is the impact on office demand. If office demand falls, then there should be less need to build new offices, experts said in the latest episode of the Bisnow podcast series Office Politics: The Battle For The Future Of Work.
“I don't think there is a need to build much more than what we currently have,” Alstria Chief Executive Olivier Elamine said. "Or at least planning authorities should ask the question, why do we need a new office?"
The construction of new buildings is a huge carbon emitter, due to all the concrete, glass and steel they use. According to a study by Architecture 2030, using figures from the U.N. and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 75% of the carbon emitted during a building’s life cycle comes from its construction and demolition, and just 25% from its operations.
New office construction has been a popular strategy for developers because densifying a site creates a tidy profit. But the focus should now fall on refurbishing existing buildings as a less carbon-intensive strategy.
Refurbishments create their own carbon footprint, and it can be difficult to make the operations a retrofitted building as efficient as a new building. But the amount of carbon that is saved as a result of not knocking an old building down and building a new one makes it by far the best option environmentally. It can be very profitable, too.
“I think there's no greater motivator than the almighty financial one,” FORE Partnership Managing Partner Basil Demeroutis said. “And what we've been able to demonstrate is that, actually, an old building that has been refurbished can drive rent just as much as a brand-new shiny building.”
The mantra to refurbish rather than redevelop will not always be simple. Unfortunately the sins of the past will create problems long into the future. All those glass office towers that have been built over the past 50 years, even relatively modern ones that are supposedly energy-efficient, are not going to age well as the world gets hotter.
“Because they have been designed with a kind of architectural arrogance, that doesn't respect the fact that our climate is changing, those changes in climate will make those spaces unserviceable and uninhabitable,” Hillbreak founder Jon Lovell said. “We have built, in my opinion, a huge amount of stock that will be obsolete much quicker than people envisaged at the point at which it was designed.”