Real estate currently contributes 40% of the world’s carbon emissions. As a result, the property sector’s ability to decarbonise is integral to the future sustainability of the planet. Most industry leaders recognise how high the stakes are, not just for the planet but for the future viability of the real estate sector.

Pupil AI

Pupil AI

While most are aligned around a net zero vision, our latest research sets out some sobering realities in terms of our current preparedness to make this vision a reality.

Sixty-nine per cent of carbon dioxide emissions from the real estate industry come from the use and operation of existing buildings, while 80% of the buildings that will be in use by 2050 have already been built, meaning they are already behind the curve in terms of energy efficiency and environmental impact.

Therefore, there is a huge challenge ahead to retrofit a massive amount of old stock, at a time when households and global economies are struggling. The average retrofitting bill costs around £30,000 to £40,000 per home, which will be unaffordable even for the relatively well-off.

At the same time, the IEA estimates that until 2060, new floorspace equivalent to the size of Paris will be added to the global built environment. So, not only do we need to upgrade unsustainable buildings; we also need to make sure we are adopting net zero construction practices as swathes of new buildings come on stream over the next 40 years.

With economies faltering, and reaching net zero already a daunting prospect, we need a comprehensive approach to change that starts with an honest assessment of how well prepared we are for the challenges ahead.

One area where we are falling a long way short is engagement from government and industry about how the quality of underlying property data affects our ability to drive change. Previous research we have conducted has shown that average residential properties are mismeasured by 54 sq ft, while the average EPC floorplan was inaccurate by 87 sq ft. How can we ever hope to accurately understand the current impact of our buildings, or the effectiveness of our proposed solutions, if we start from such a fundamentally inaccurate understanding of a building’s shape, size and configuration?

As well as setting targets, caps and incentives, government needs to link net zero policies to accurate measurement of real estate, not to wildly inaccurate EPC ratings based on incorrect floorplans.

At the same time, industry needs to adopt better measurement practices to ensure its solutions are the right ones and efficiencies are maximised. The technology exists to do this. Through AI and LiDAR, our Spec and Stak products can now capture millions of spatial data points for every property, mapping the built world to unprecedented accuracy in the form of digital twins. It is this standard of data accuracy that will be the catalyst in terms of our ability to meet net zero.

To provide an example, accurate digital twins will minimise the necessity to travel to site to conduct due diligence. In the UK’s residential sector alone, 26.8 million physical viewings could be replaced by virtual tours, if the accuracy is guaranteed. This could lead to a combined reduction of 410 million driving miles and a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 95,300 tonnes, the same carbon footprint as 11,800 homes.

This is just one example highlighted by our research. Beyond this, the applications of digital twins are vast in terms of their ability to support decarbonisation. Accurate spatial data can facilitate better airflow modelling and the installation of more effective heating systems. It can reduce dead space and facilitate more in-depth construction planning, to reduce material waste and drive down emissions reduction during the building phase. It can help optimise building operation and facilities management, and it can help us maximise the efficiency gained via retrofitting.

If government and industry are serious about decarbonisation, they need to think more holistically about how underlying property data affects our ability to hit those targets. We cannot meet net zero until we drive up standards of property measurement and mapping to provide a proper baseline understanding of environmental impact and the ability to properly assess the impact of net zero interventions.

Harry Turner is UK managing director at Pupil