Earlier this year, a report from the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council found that Australia’s building and property sector could deliver more than one-quarter of Australia’s emissions reduction target by 2030, as well as $20 billion in energy savings, and proposed a National Plan Towards 2050 Zero Carbon Building.
This week, Investa Office Management – Australia’s largest owner and manager of commercial real estate – has taken up the challenge, becoming the nation’s first property company to commit to net zero emissions; an ambitious target it aims to achieve 10 years earlier than ASBEC’s suggested industry-wide goal.
In a media release on Wednesday, Investa said it would pursue the net zero carbon emissions target by 2040 across the operation of its $10 billion+ office portfolio and business activities, not just to do its bit in the global effort to limit global warming, but to “continue to attract investment” and remain competitive.
“Investa must position itself not only as a viable, responsible investment option, but a leader in this space, able to demonstrate a clear point of difference and capability in this sector,” said the company’ CEO Jonathan Callaghan.
“Sustainability leadership will help ensure we maintain access to shifting global capital flows, grow asset revenues, valuations and returns for current investors and support Investa’s overarching vision to be the clear market leader in Australian office.”
But the company is also keen to stress that its “science based target” is part of a global effort that science has deemed necessary to avert catastrophic global warming, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement – which the Australian government has just ratified.
Investa’s general manager of corporate sustainability, Nina James, said the target was set in consultation with the Science Based Target Sectoral Decarbonisation Approach – which requires an industry wide 55 per cent carbon emission reduction on 2010 levels by 2050 – and via extensive collaboration with industry experts and staff.
She said the company’s zero emissions strategy would be based on a “whole-of-building-whole-of-life” approach that addresses the carbon impact of how the building is operated, how it is designed and built and, of course, how it is powered – electricity and gas account for 99.6 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions across Investa’s managed properties.
And while Investa’s move makes it a leader in the industry, experts have warned that without this kind of action, and this kind of ambition, Australia’s buildings stand to consume almost half of its total national carbon budget.
“This is not an option,” said the president of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, Ken Maher in May, in response to the reports findings, based on modelling from ClimaeWorks.
“This sector must be a strong focus if Australia is to meet its international obligations under the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
“Over the last decade, market leaders in the building sector have shown that rapid improvements are possible, and this report demonstrates just how much more opportunity exists.” Maher said.
“Every year we delay will cost us significantly in emissions, climate change, money, and quality of life. Installing inefficient equipment or appliances locks in excessive emissions for many decades into the future.
“Even five years of delay in the take-up of (low-carbon) opportunities could lead to $24 billion in wasted energy costs and more than 170 megatonnes of lost emissions reduction opportunities,” he said.
For Investa, at least, reaching for zero carbon is now just another element to a successful property business.
“Having achieved a 56 per cent reduction in emissions intensity since 2004, this … (target) will ensure we maintain our leadership position and set the pace for a low carbon future in office management,” said James.
“By pursuing these emission reduction actions, we believe we can change the conversation to include whole of building thinking, resulting in a change in the criteria by which leading performance is measured and showing the real benefits of Investa’s approach to upgrading and re-positioning existing buildings.”