Real estate is an essential part of society. This encompasses everything from homes to commercial and public buildings. It is a good asset for wealth building and security. As human populations grow exponentially, leading to the boom of commercial and residential housing, it is important to examine the real estate industry through the lens of environmental impacts and situational dangers.
Unlike other assets, real estate properties cannot be moved. So, whatever happens in their environment affects the properties and their residents. Any change within the area affects everything from property value to livability.
To help you understand real estate through the lens of sustainability, the Zero Waste Lifestyle System interviewed licensed realtors, construction experts, real estate developers, realty operators, and real estate agency executives. Get inspired by their insights to invest in sustainable real estate.
What is real estate?
It is undeniable that real estate is such a good asset that we should have. Here are the different definitions of real estate from experts in this field:
According to Eric Nerhood, President of Premier Property Buyers, real estate is any piece or parcel of land with the buildings and improvements thereon both above the ground and directly below the property.
Jonas Bordo, the CEO, and Founder of Dwellsy, also says that real estate is physical property sitting on land such as homes, apartments, retail stores, warehouses, office buildings, etc.
For Chuck Vander Stelt of Quadwalls, real estate is land and any improvements attached or affixed to that land. Improvements are structures built by people. These structures include everything from a house to a skyscraper to a storage shed.
How do governments and real estate companies ensure safety and environmental protections in real estate development?
Real estate is an industry that requires regulations to make sure that both people and nature do not get harmed during the process of development. Here are some ways that real estate companies and governments ensure safety and environmental protection:
States have environmental protection regulations
According to Mitchell G. David, the founder of Beach Life Ocean City, Maryland’s original real estate blog, all real estate companies must comply with Federal and State environmental laws. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal agency responsible for dealing with environmental issues. Each state also has environmental protection regulations that every real estate agent must follow.
Strict Building Codes
For Jonas Bordo, today’s best and most robust protections come from building codes, establishing how a building has to be constructed and requires environmental protection. Typically, the challenge is that those codes only apply when a building is being constructed or significantly renovated, leaving out older buildings from new developments.
Public Health And Safety Laws
To Chuck Vander Stelt, government entities protect public health and safety and the environment by setting laws, rules, and regulations that real estate developers must follow. The government bodies are continuously weighing the needs of people versus environmental concerns when considering current or new rules and regulations and real estate development projects. The real estate industry plays its part by reporting back the effects of these rules and regulations on all facets of real estate development.
Dangers of Real Estate Development
Real estate development poses a lot of dangers to the environment and to the people living in the area.
Risk of Overconsumption of new resources
To Jonas Bordo, real estate development is both great and terrible from an environmental standpoint. Terrible because construction requires new materials and a variety of ecological resources to construct a new building. Great because virtually all new buildings are more environmentally responsible than those they replace due to newer materials and building codes.
Loss of Natural Landscape
For Chuck Vander Stelt, the danger of real estate development in an area is the loss of the land’s natural state being developed. This includes defoliation of plant life, disturbance of animal life and their habitats, and water rerouting from precipitation. Unrestrained, unsupervised development can have traumatic effects on the ecology close to the development.
Environmental Impact of the real estate industry
The real estate industry affects the environment in many damaging ways:
Loss of Nature
For Chuck Vander Stelt, the real estate industry does negatively impact the environment, but all things made by people have a negative impact on the environment. New development disturbs previously unadulterated plant and animal habitats. However, people need to live somewhere, too.
High Energy Consumption
According to Jonas Bordo, estimates of real estate’s environmental impact range widely – but the spaces we occupy are generally thought to consume 40-50% of our energy and 20% or more of our carbon emissions. Older buildings are dramatically less energy efficient than newer buildings.
Energy-intensive and invasive construction process
Mitchell G. David said that the real estate sector uses more energy than any other sector and is a growing contributor to carbon emissions. According to World Economic Forum, the sector consumes over 40% of global energy annually, and 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions originate from buildings. There is a projected 56% increase in building carbon emissions by 2030.
To Geopolymer International CEO William Hoff, whose company is the leading producer of geopolymer binders and concrete, an eco-friendly alternative to traditional Portland concrete. real estate development has a major impact on the environment. There’s a loss of natural habitat and forest as we clear land. But the larger impact is the building materials that we create and bring in. Wood is a natural resource, but we’re consuming more than we can replenish. Concrete is the third most pollutive substance on the planet, and it is mostly used in construction. One ton of concrete creates one ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Once buildings are finished, there’s the question of energy used in heating and cooling those buildings.
Can real estate development be sustainable?
Even if the real estate industry has a history of damaging the environment, there is a growing movement towards sustainability. There are many different ways that you can develop buildings, homes, and other properties while reducing your impact.
There are a few factors that can help in the development of sustainable homes, according to Trey Van Tuyl, a real estate agent and owner of Discover Homes Miami, a boutique residential real estate firm in Miami.
1. Electrification and decarbonization. It is promoting the use of electric heating, insulation, and energy-efficient appliances. This not only results in a home that’s less expensive to run but one with greater asset value.
2. Energy management systems. Homes with efficient energy management systems allow residents complete control over their energy consumption.
3. Retrofitting. In the case of older properties, slow and steady upgrading to meet national and international standards is key.
4. Recycled materials. Continuing to promote the use of recycled materials in new construction is essential in the continued efforts to produce net-zero or close to net-zero buildings.
For William Hoff, real estate development can become more sustainable by smart design and a better material choice.
Smart design can minimize long-term environmental impacts by reducing the amount of energy needed for temperature control. Building orientation is the simplest factor to consider. But passive heating and cooling systems can also improve the long-term environmental impact of real estate.
Short-term impacts can be reduced by choosing sustainable materials. Many sustainable materials can be locally sourced, leading to less impact. Most sustainable materials are wood replacements. But the impact of replacing concrete would be incredible. Geopolymer concrete is a safer, stronger, sustainable alternative to concrete. It’s stronger than traditional concrete, but it creates 90% fewer carbon emissions due to a different chemical process. Even better, it uses recycled materials, diverting trash from going into rivers and landfills and putting it to constructive use.
According to Sean Woolley, the Founder and Director of the leading real estate agency Cloud Nine Spain, developers, and agents are seeing sustainability and eco-friendliness becoming an increasingly important aspect within architecture. We’re looking for solutions to become more sustainable. One exciting option is to reuse shipping containers and upcycle them as construction materials. Cloud Nine Spain collaborates with the German Schween family of architects and developers to launch eco-builds into the market in Southern Spain, re-using shipping containers base on green architecture.
Container architecture offers a unique way to use upcycled materials to build an aesthetically pleasing and affordable home using a material that is already there, rather than producing or trying to sustainably source materials.
It is known as “green architecture,” as its origin and focus lie in upcycling used steel shipping containers, readily available. Either these steel boxes would have to be melted down, which requires around 8000 kWh of energy per container, or they remain unused, not fulfilling any purpose and taking up space. At the same time, these could be used as a sustainable solution to produce affordable housing, upcycling and saving approximately 17,500kg worth of steel for a home that utilizes five shipping containers as the primary raw material.
The recycling and reuse of existing raw materials is not the only environmental benefit of the off-site construction method we’re using for The Astonishing Collection. It significantly reduces the need for trucks, heavy machinery, and materials to be transported to the site, thereby decreasing carbon emissions. The only transportation required is the moving of containers from the factory to the site, and as no excavation is typically needed, the whole process is a lot more sustainable. Lastly, the energy used in home construction is also considerably lower as the architects are working with existing materials that do not have to be created, keeping energy use low.
Enhancing Building Codes
For Jonas Bordo, enhancing and enforcing building codes and elevating requirements will make a difference. For example, requiring the addition of solar panels on the roof and charging stations for electric cars will create significant environmental benefits – and make the buildings more attractive.
Learning to Live with Respect to Nature
To Chuck Vander Stelt, real estate development can be sustainable. There is more than enough space for people to live in the homes they need and want while preserving sufficient space for the natural environment. Additionally, new construction materials with less environmental impact are continuously coming on the market.
Tips on greening the real estate industry
Governments should foster innovative minds in the sustainable building industry
For Chuck Vander Stelt, government bodies should do more to encourage the research and development of alternative building materials. For example, currently, their lumber prices are high. This includes OSB boards which are a lumber product used for the roof decking of most residential homes. Why have we yet to engineer an alternative product which can provide the same function but is made out of recycled plastic or rubber. Government should support funding for research, development, testing, and use of these product types.
Resolve owner-resident conflicts
To Jonas Bordo, one of the biggest challenges in the real estate industry is to solve the conflicts of interest between owners and occupiers. For example, the landlord pays for improvements like solar panels in an apartment, but the renter gets the benefits in lower energy costs. Innovative tools exist to reconcile these conflicts. We just need to implement them.
Go green in building
Rick Abbiati, owner of Colony Property Investments, LLC and ColonyBuysHouses.com, says, “We must incorporate into our buildings live vegetation, green open spaces, and self-sustaining energy-efficient capacity.”
Mitchell G. David’s recommendations:
- Construction professionals should encourage homebuyers to build eco-friendly homes.
- Proper education on energy and waste management should be provided.
- Government should provide stimulus to build green homes.
- Commercial, as well as residential buildings, should use LED lights instead of other energy-consuming lights.
- Commercial real estate should follow ISO 14001 – Environmental Management regulations.
In this day and age, the focus of governmental bodies and real estate developers has been to increase sustainability. Governments are enacting new regulations while developers and owners are taking a closer look to recognize any potential hazards that aren’t overlooked in developing a piece of property.
Eric Nerhood says, “Building, Using, and the Demolishing of houses disrupts and erodes soil, disrupts habitats, depletes natural resources, pollutes the air and water, and uses up all available land. With this in mind, developers are taking more time to be cognizant of the topography of an area. Not doing due diligence on where the building is being done can lead to flooding and other environmental problems.
Air and Water quality is something that people have become more conscious of. Two items that are in high regard are Climate and Population Density. Developers are giving preference to locations with milder or warmer climates. It has become more desirable to build in places where the temperature is great year-round, and the Population is neither too Overcrowded nor too sparse.”
Ultimately, we must learn to live in tune with nature. As human populations grow, it is our responsibility to make sure that the real estate industry and other industries that affect human life adhere to environmental protection standards. We must build a sustainable future for our children and succeeding generations.