Tim Parker, WSP’s National Sustainability Director, says transforming the property sector for net zero is a multi-disciplinary task as there are many technical solutions.
“There is a real opportunity here as all Australian capital city councils have net zero plans and property accounts for over 50 percent of their carbon emissions.”
The thing to keep in mind is there are three levels of carbon emissions and what can be done at each level.
“Scope one is direct emissions from company-owned resources, scope two is indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy, from a utility provider and scope 3 is all indirect emission that are linked to an organisation’s operations” Tim says.
“But when people talk about the life cycle emissions of an asset, they’re really bringing in the whole scope into a matrix. This is really important for properties and infrastructure to be aware of.”
“We recently finished a project for the City of Sydney where every single development with a development application after 1 January 2026 must be net zero.”
With this in mind, the opportunity for the property sector is huge to continue to transition towards net zero.
Making existing assets Future ReadyTM
Matthew Payne, Director of Sustainability in NSW, says that globally buildings are responsible for a substantial share of the emissions in our economy, around 40%.
“It’s an attractive sector to cut emissions from, but we often forget that a major part is upgrading and repurposing existing infrastructure rather than just concentrating on new builds.
“The building sector as well as local councils are recognising this need and we are starting to see a lot more work coming through in this space.”
The first step is outlining a footprint of what could be included within a property’s emissions, keeping in mind operational emissions, embodied emissions, refrigerants or transportation emissions from building users.
“After establishing the footprint that we look at avenues for efficiency in design and operations,” Matthew explains. “So, thinking about what initiatives can be put in place to operate the building in a more effective and efficient way.
“Electrification will be a big part of this, as well as implementation and integration of onsite, renewable energy and offsite, renewable energy procurement. With rapid decarbonisation of the electricity grid, we have reached a tipping point where the electrification of building heating needs is a core strategy for many buildings considering lowering or eliminating emissions.”
The final step in the process is offsetting the remaining carbon through accredited programs.
Matthew adds, “We typically encourage offsets to be the last resort for building owners. Relying heavily on offset programs for your net zero status means you are potentially left exposed to an ongoing financial liability that may continue to rise over time.”
No one size fits all
Brenda Kingston, Director of Sustainability in Victoria, says that while many organisations have committed to the 2050 target, some are looking at trying to do improvements as soon as possible.
“We worked with Growthpoint Properties to audit their current office portfolio,” says Brenda. “By upgrading to energy efficient equipment, using onsite renewables, transitioning to 100 percent offsite renewable energy for residual needs and offsetting gas and corporate emissions, they are on track to reach net zero by 2025.”
However, it is not just commercial properties that benefit, planning within government assets is critical to making sure Australia hits zero emissions targets.
“Adelaide’s new Women’s and Children’s Hospital will be Australia’s first all-electric major hospital which works in with South Australia’s significant work to decarbonise their grid,” Brenda adds. “The next stage we will look at is low embodied carbon which is still ongoing.”
There is no straightforward answer to achieving net zero with existing or new buildings and understanding what the organisation wants to do and what net zero means to them is key.
Tim concludes, “Ultimately, net zero should be part of long-term strategies for government and corporate assets but how we get there is the challenge. We’re all looking at 2050 as the finish line but there are a multiple of opportunities for people to get ahead of it and embrace it sooner rather than later. Net zero is already seen as a competitive advantage - it is just a matter of which organisations want to set shorter term targets, because it is possible in the Property sector.”
Find out more about Sustainability in property.