The commercial property sector makes up a major proportion of the total square meterage of real estate in the world’s urban areas. As we move toward a green future,  property developers and managers are realising the importance of environmental management as a key strategy at every step of the office building value chain – from design and construction to sales, letting and even demolition.

South Africa has a good reputation in green building circles. The city of Cape Town stands out for its numerous Green Building Council certified structures and other buildings that minimise wastage and aim to have as small a carbon footprint as possible.

In this article, we provide an introductory overview of environmental management practices that are most applicable to the commercial property sector. Building owners and managers who are keen to position their properties for future success should be able to implement these principles gradually and effectively as they make their properties climate neutral. 

The property sectors’ environmental impact

Commercial property is big business in cities from Cape Town to Shanghai, and the economic opportunities and value addition that the industry produces is undeniable. However, it’s also true that labour- and material-intensive property construction, maintenance and management processes have a large impact on the environment. 

The following statistics from the World Economic Forum‘s report on the property industry illustrate the extent of our sector’s current climate impact. 

  • The global real estate sector (which includes commercial properties) consumes 40% of the global energy supply annually
  • Buildings are responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions around the world
  • Increasing rates of construction in cities around the globe could increase CO2 emissions by 52% before 2030
  • 3 billion tons of raw materials are used in the construction of buildings annually. This amounts to 40% of global raw material usage

These figures may be enough to make environmental activists sound the alarm. But, despite the large environmental impact that the commercial property has, it contributes positively to employment and investment activity in virtually every city on earth. 

What’s more, the resource requirements and environmental effect of building construction and maintenance can be reduced by implementing effective environment management solutions directly on site. 

Environmental Management 101 

Real estate is an essential economic sector that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon – and the aim of good environmental management is to find the balance between nature and the built environment. To make commercial buildings green, sustainable and viable as long-term investments.

In order to achieve this goal, environmental management practitioners have put together a set of best practices with the aim of reducing waste, greenhouse emissions and reliance on dirty energy. 

The following principles are essential to any effective green building management plan.

  • Data management
  • Smart asset management
  • Aircon and climate control analysis
  • Soft landing strategies for facilities management
  • Green lease agreements

Let’s go over each of these strategies in more detail and highlight some of the ways you could implement them in your own building management procedures.

Building data – all in one place

Building managers can enhance their planning by measuring and recording information about energy usage, wastage and other factors affecting the environment. 

A dashboard system that brings all relevant information together in one place for easy analysis can save the building manager time and allow collaboration across the organisation – and with service providers such as maintenance companies.  

Smart asset use for higher efficiency

The Covid era, with its emphasis on remote working, has shone a spotlight on flexible working practices and how they can increase efficiency in every organisation. 

This also applies to resource use within the building which can be reduced by encouraging flexible hours so that energy and resources are not consumed intensively during peak times. 

  • Many buildings are characterised by electricity and water usage that remains relatively low for much of the day but peaks during times when numerous building users place heavy demand on the system. 
  • Flexible hours help to even out resource usage over time and eliminate the need for high-capacity Aircon systems and other devices.

Aircon analytics save power and money

Modern aircon technology includes a variety of data gathering tools that can be used in conjunction with sensors installed throughout the building. By measuring factors like airflow and temperature in the aircon system, this information can allow building managers and commercial property maintenance contractors to tweak the performance of their HVAC systems for energy efficiency and tenant comfort. 

A soft landing approach to eliminate teething problems in new buildings

The soft landing approach allows owners of new and recently refurbished buildings to retain the services of designers and engineers in the first year or two of the structure’s lifetime in order to iron out bugs in its environmental management systems. 

This strategy should be included as a clause in the construction or refurbishment agreement to ensure that the designers and contractors involved in the project produce a commercial building that is designed for ease of use and environmental efficiency. 

Green leases for a shared commitment to green practices 

The final green property management strategy that you may want to consider is a green lease. This describes a lease agreement containing specific clauses in terms of which the building owner and tenants undertake to maintain environmentally sound practices throughout the duration of the lease. 

The specifics of a green lease will differ from building to building and can be modified to meet the needs and level of commitment of the owners and tenants involved. Virtually all of the environmental management strategies mentioned above could be incorporated into the provisions of this type of lease to ensure that the commercial property development’s green vision is realised in practice.

We match green buildings with environmentally conscious tenants

Whether you’re a building owner who has recently implemented forward-thinking environmental practices in your development or a future-forward tenant seeking to rent in a commercial property with a small carbon footprint, our team can help.

Contact us today to speak to one of our area specialists who will take you through our portfolio of premium office space in the greater Cape Town region.