Sustainability - From buzzword to practical use and long-term value

Published 2019-12-05

Sustainability is currently the word on everyone's lips, and thankfully, it is not just all talk. The legislative proposal about establishing climate declarations as well as the first fossil-fuel-free nursery school are examples of how we're already heading in the right direction. Although sustainability is a much broader concept, we're now focusing on climate impact in construction. Anna-Karin Nilsson, in charge of sustainability at Semrén & Månsson, is analysing where property owners should place their focus, and how sustainability development can be turned into a pillar for the success in future business. 

- Since the 1970s, our building stock has become a lot more energy-efficient and our energy sources much cleaner. As the above graph illustrates, the energy use during the operation of a building represents a significantly smaller climate impact than what was previously assumed. We now need to focus on the construction process and, in particular, the production phase, i.e. raw material, transportation and manufacturing. The construction and housing sector still account for more than a fifth of the emission of greenhouse gas in Sweden, and also contributes to emissions in other countries through the import of construction material. The industry is facing a big challenge in trying to reduce the emissions to zero, but there are also many opportunities to be seized on the journey, says Anna-Karin Nilsson. 

These are five tips, for you as a property owner, on how to reduce the climate impact your project has while creating long-lasting value. 

1. "The buildings that are loved are those that are transformed and long-lasting".
With high architectural quality, we can create efficient, flexible layouts, and dismountable constructions to reduce the need for new material at the time of reconstruction or maintenance. We're moving from a linear process towards a circular one, so make sure that you can take advantage of the building as a material bank, and make use of material during the building's life cycle. Through flexibility, functionalities can vary, and the life of the building be extended. 

2. "Obtain knowledge through more data and get a better basis".
By digitalising the entire planning and construction process, you reduce waste and get a resource-efficient material usage, production, and logistics. The construction is optimised by simulations, and you'll find the best results from weighing several parameters against each other.

3. "The most sustainable square meter is the one that is not built". 
There is a need for new developments, but make sure to take the building's entire life cycle into consideration, and always opt for the solutions with a lower climate impact. Perhaps it's possible to use existing constructions, building elements, and material? In new developments, the frame accounts for the most substantial climate impact in the production phase, and it is, therefore, crucial to choose material with a low climate impact for this element. 

4. "Certifications is a quality assurance".
Come up with strategies for your work with environmental certifications, or use the roadmaps Agenda 2030 or Färdplan 2045. Environmental certifications imply a third-party controlled process which creates a positive spiral effect: The project is eligible for green loans, and green rental contracts mean fewer vacancies, improved wellbeing at the workplace increases the profitability (and solvency) for the tenant, and attractive projects mean lower tenant turnover and less damage. The sustainability focus can also be used to differentiate the project.

5. "The future is access rather than ownership".
Make sure your business model promotes service rather than ownership. Many will find shared spaces and operations attractive. For instance, Airbnb, Spotify, and Netflix base their business models on the supply of a service rather than the ownership of a product. Chosen communities are on the rise, and some say the possibility of co-living is the answer to the housing crisis, so prepare yourself to respond to that request.

- Economising our resources is the very definition of economy. During the construction process, there are several opportunities to make choices that are both wallet- and environmentally friendly. 
A well-defined sustainability profile is not only good for business, but it can also help you position your brand. This is something that research shows is benefits profitability as well as staff motivation, says Anna-Karin Nilsson.   

Are you interested in other aspects of sustainability, for instance, social sustainability or how to work to promote biodiversity? Get in touch, and we'll tell you more about how it can be beneficial to you. 

Anna-Karin Nilsson is a building engineer and is a Swedish Environmental Building certified coordinator. As the person in charge of sustainability at Semrén & Månsson, Anna-Karin Nilsson has an overarching perspective of our processes and workflows, always with the client in focus.