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Urgent Priorities for Transforming Infrastructure

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‘A New Space Race’ report highlights urgent priorities for transforming infrastructure by Jayne Smith encompasses all that is required from all humans to safeguard a future. It has notably confirmed that “reducing carbon emissions, enabling future working models, and providing its potential to play a more active role in the health and well-being of people” is absolutely vital.

The image above is for illustration and is of the IEA on Net Zero by 2050.

A new research report released by Siemens Smart Infrastructure, titled ‘A New Space Race,’ has highlighted the increasingly urgent need to transform global infrastructure to focus on adaptability, resiliency and decarbonisation. Data from the report claims infrastructure leaders worldwide recognise the need for digitalisation to tackle challenges in energy systems and the built environment.

“Infrastructure stakeholders are starting to act with real urgency. They recognise the need to accelerate decarbonisation, to build greater resilience and adaptability, while maintaining competitiveness,” said Matthias Rebellius, CEO, Siemens Smart Infrastructure. “Major change is challenging, but our highest goals are possible if we harness the power of data and new technologies, welcome greater cooperation and keep driving innovation.”

Based on interviews with 500 senior managers from a range of infrastructure disciplines in 10 countries, the report highlights changing priorities in a post-pandemic world. Among its findings is an increasing focus on the role of infrastructure in driving a digitalised energy transition, reducing carbon emissions, enabling future working models, and its potential to play a more active role in the health and wellbeing of people.

Digitalisation as an enabler for decarbonising infrastructure

The report suggests a significant rise in the number of organisations setting low-carbon or net-zero targets, and most respondents are optimistic about these goals, with the majority (94 percent) expecting their organisations to be carbon neutral by 2030.

“Buildings will be a lot more digital in the future”

67 percent of energy infrastructure stakeholders believe that net zero energy is impossible without digitalisation, with AI-driven prediction and automation considered to have the biggest impact on infrastructure assets, projects, and investments over the next five years.

However, the majority (63 percent) of infrastructure stakeholders believe the digitalisation of buildings and power networks is lagging behind digital progress in other industries. Only 31 percent of those questioned said they make full use of the data available to them, with almost half reporting they have not yet done so.

Future adaptability is the most important requirement for buildings

In addition to the impact of infrastructure on the environment, the report also highlights the changing needs and expectations of people in their buildings, factories, facilities, offices, homes and surrounding infrastructure. It claims that for many, adaptability is considered the most critical factor when designing a new building or facility, to allow the re-purposing of spaces to suit changing occupants. Not only was this considered the most important thing to get right; it was also considered the most difficult.

“Buildings will be a lot more digital in the future,” said Rebellius. “A facility manager will not only be able to automate, and remotely control more functionality, they will also benefit from a wider network of better sensors that flow into integrated visualisations and richer datasets. This will support a new level of fine-grained control and insights that are needed to make future buildings more resilient and flexible.”

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Read more on: EnvironmentNewsTechnology

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Sustainable construction must consider the whole business operation

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Imagine a sustainable construction company: what do you picture? Luke Deamer provides an answer such as Sustainable construction must consider the whole business operation . . .

Luke Deamer

Often our first thought is to imagine a construction site. With COP26 now wrapped up, perhaps we think of zero emission piling rigs and construction equipment. Perhaps we picture innovative low carbon cements, or designs that make use of off-site construction. In fact, it can be easy to forget all the other operations of a construction company. Yet other parts of our businesses, such as HR and finance, have a big impact on sustainability. It’s time to start thinking outside of our projects.

There is still a lot of work to be done on site projects. But solely focusing sustainability improvements on site processes limits what we can achieve. Likewise, only focusing on environmental accreditations and innovations means we miss opportunities to improve social and economic sustainability. We need to think bigger. Every business function, from procurement to IT, has a role to play in improving sustainability.

This was the challenge addressed in a research collaboration between Keller and the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability. Together, they assessed the sustainability of every process carried out across a construction company. This investigation covered everything from annual leave policies to the way piling rigs are washed down in maintenance yards. The results were surprising – it turns out nearly every process has an impact on sustainability.

Some of these impacts are more obvious than others. Take how HR processes impact social sustainability. It is probably no surprise that key processes impact employee education and diversity, equity and inclusion. But HR also has other impacts. For example, by controlling the company car scheme, HR can have a big impact on carbon emissions and air quality. Likewise, through managing subsistence allowances on site, HR have an impact on reducing hunger and improving the health of employees.

We see these same hidden impacts across other functions as well. As it turns out, many are of these impacts are positive. IT use firewalls to help prevent online discrimination and harassment. Procurement help reduce modern slavery in the supply chain through pre-qualifications and audits. Finance help cost out climate risks and opportunities, as well as planning for green capital expenditure. By diving into individual procedures, method statements and policies, we can reveal these additional sustainability impacts.

So, what does this mean for construction companies?

Firstly, we need to look outside our site projects. This means encouraging all functions to investigate and improve their own sustainability impacts. Across environmental, social and economic sustainability, functions are often surprised by what they can impact.

Secondly, once we know about these wider impacts, we need to capture them. Sustainability reporting shouldn’t be restricted to sites and maintenance yards. Likewise, companies shouldn’t stop at carbon or diversity reporting. As important as these metrics are, we impact far more areas of sustainability. There are great things going on already, we just need to make sure we record them.

Thirdly, we need to look at the process level. Too often, we just focus on pushing sustainability from the top-down. There is still a place for corporate targets and metrics, but great sustainability reporting is meaningless unless we know how we can improve those metrics. To make these improvements, we need to look at the individual tasks we all carry out. It’s these individual changes to key procedures, approaches and policies that actually make a difference. No matter what function or role we’re in, we can drive actual change from the bottom-up.

Finally, everyone has a part to play in improving sustainability. We all have a different impact on sustainability, but we can all do something about it. Everyone, from site operatives to the finance team, can improve company sustainability. Sustainability is not someone else’s problem. It’s an opportunity for us all.

Luke Deamer is a doctoral practitioner in sustainability with Keller

Businesses can’t afford not to invest in Sustainability

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Businesses generally today can’t afford not to invest in Sustainability. This is getting obvious by the day, if only because of all related losses and dire consequences of non-sustainable investments.

We are at a time where sustainability strategies would be considered because these can foster the longevity of the business.

Here is something on Why real estate businesses can’t afford not to invest in sustainability.

The above image is for illustration and is of Zawya.

Why real estate businesses can’t afford not to invest in sustainability

By Jayne Smith • EnvironmentNews

The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), a global network accelerating sustainability and decarbonisation in the building and construction sector, has set out the updated value proposition to drive investment in a sustainable built environment by launching a new flagship report ‘Beyond the Business Case’ at COP26 in Glasgow.

In the lead up to Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day at COP26 on Thursday 11 November, the report ‘Beyond the Business Case’ provides a timely and unique perspective for decision makers to accelerate the industry’s sustainability transformation by capitalising on the economic opportunities, addressing risk mitigation and, importantly, also embracing the social value case.

Why this report matters

This report draws from and embraces the rapidly growing sustainability agenda across the built environment. The evolving scope of sustainability, broadening of what we call ‘green’, and closer alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and finally the rise in social value as not just a consideration, but a business driver for developers and investors.

The report demonstrates seven irrefutable co-benefits for investing in a sustainable built environment, across both the financial and social value case. These are:

• Social benefits, to building occupants through health, productivity & wellbeing
• Lower or equivalent costs at supply chain, construction, and operational phases
• Risk mitigation, providing resilience to inevitable climate impacts, environmentally and financially, as well as future-proofing against legislative changes or corporate expectations and reputational risk
• Higher asset values linked both to performance and asset desirability
• Investment opportunities through a rapidly transitioning finance sector protecting investments, supporting share prices, and increasing requirements on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting
• Access to finance due to availability of finance for green buildings, from banks, bonds and institutional investors.

All of these findings are supported by evidence-based research through innovative case studies which bolster both the current, and future, business case for a sustainable built environment.

Going beyond the business case

A central innovation of this report is the analysis of climate-science aligned 2050 scenario modelling, proving that there is a stronger value proposition for investment in sustainable and quality real estate today. This is presented against a backdrop of recent trends. For example, wellness in real estate is projected to rise to a $198 billion industry in 2022 — heightening demand for healthy, sustainable spaces.

A powerful and up to date business case is essential to drive investment into green, sustainable buildings. With the built environment being responsible for 75 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, and real estate alone accounting for 37 percent, plus 40-50 percent of global resources extraction, the critical requirement for enhancing sustainability in the sector is undeniably clear. For the development of new buildings and the required upgrades of existing ones, the financial input will be monumental — new sustainable buildings alone are set to represent a $24.7 trillion investment opportunity in emerging markets alone by 2030, so tackling barriers to mass market engagement is essential.

WorldGBC unpacks the financial business case to explore drivers including the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or country climate pledges within the Paris Agreement, regulatory change such as the European Union’s Taxonomy, and the rise in sustainable finance and the growth of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting.

Beyond the Business Case also outlines reasons for the optimal economic opportunity from green assets, including greater access to investment, corporate reputation, higher asset value and investment resilience, lower build and operational costs and return on investment through occupant productivity.

Leadership and collaboration from across the globe

This report has been developed by the WorldGBC global network, with collaboration and support from a development task force including the Laudes Foundation, WSP, Johnson Controls, Buro Happold, Saint-Gobain, Mott Macdonald, Foster + Partners, Kingspan, SOM, CBRE, Lendlease, Institute for Human Rights and Business and our member Green Building Councils around the world.

“No business can afford not to embrace sustainability in real estate”

Cristina Gamboa, CEO, World Green Building Council, said: “As WorldGBC prepares for the dedicated Cities, Regions and Built Environment day at COP26, we recognise the need for a compelling value proposition for all actors across the global real estate sector, as well as the increasing importance of social value. People must be put at the heart of the business case, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to challenge us.

“Real estate alone accounts for 37 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, our report inspires urgency — but urgency with optimism. We champion an achievable transformation that brings future climate scenarios into today’s business decision making, demonstrating total clarity on why no business can afford not to embrace sustainability in real estate.”

Image: WorldGBC

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Op-ed: Solving the climate crisis

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Op-ed: Solving the climate crisis requires more than switching to renewables—everyone needs equal access as suggested in the Environmental Health News of 2 November 2021 is literally nowadays a must if any agreements at the COP26 were to go through and above all last.

Environmental justice policy is the best path to energy equity.

Carolyn E. Ramirez

In 2020, the International Energy Agency named solar the “cheapest electricity in history,” marking a significant victory for solar energy over fossil fuels in affordability.

This economic turning point is the next step in our global energy journey from wood to coal to oil to gas to renewables. Transitioning to 80% renewable electricity generation in the United States would alleviate an estimated 81% of the industry’s emissions. As a chemical engineer researching solar cell materials, the long-sought economic viability of solar energy is exciting to me—and long-awaited. But it only solves one of a laundry list of problems with the U.S. energy infrastructure, and it will not actually protect those most vulnerable to climate change.Stay in the know: sign up for the Agents of Change newsletter

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Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income communities bear the brunt of climate change’s negative impacts, as discussed in-depth by the NAACPUnion of Concerned ScientistsNature Conservancy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many more. However, renewable energy technologies like solar cells primarily benefit wealthy and predominantly white communities rather than the aforementioned environmental justice communities. Mandates, like the 2020 law in California, which requires all new homes built in the state to have solar panels, price low-income communities out of such housing due to high upfront costs of renewable technologies.

The pivot in U.S. energy infrastructure must be more than just adopting a few new technologies—we must completely change the system by centering environmental justice. Why? Because for centuries that system has disenfranchised and discriminated against BIPOC and low-income communities.

Racial wealth disparities require more than new tech to bridge gaps

Our capitalistic society exploits energy resources rather than equitably utilizing them. Environmental justice is intrinsically anti-capitalist in the sense that for everyone to have equal and just access to clean air, water, food, and energy, there must be some level of government regulation and oversight of these commodities due to unreliable resource access throughout different parts of the U.S.

Racial and ethnic inequality in energy access largely originates from housing inequality, which remains a paramount issue today. In 1934, the U.S. government established the Federal Housing Administration to administer loans to families looking to buy homes. Approximately 98% of the loans granted between 1934 and 1968 were given to white people, and this practice was known as (legally allowed) redlining, a form of segregation that still plagues cities around the country. White families purchased homes and accrued generational wealth while Black families mainly rented homes. This contributed to the racial wealth gap that today also affects all other BIPOC communities and results in stratification of energy and utility access.

Related: How financial institutions engineered climate injustice and the clean energy colorline

Coupled with this were the discrimination and violence against Black people in the work force. Specifically, Jim Crow era segregation in the early- and mid-1900s made workplace discrimination in the government not only legal but encouraged, making it more difficult for Black people to hold well-paying civil service jobs. The effects of Jim Crow still resound today. The segregation and gap in generational wealth between white and BIPOC families determined what commodities and luxuries families could afford.

Because of this immense inequality, BIPOC households are more likely to suffer from energy poverty, whereby they pay a larger proportion of their income than average on utilities. This disparity stems from a lack of energy efficiency in homes accessible to BIPOC and low-income families. Additionally, BIPOC families have less reliable access to utilities, facing more frequent blackouts and utility shutoffs than white families.

None of these problems are intrinsically connected to the source of energy producing that electricity or heat. They are instead products of a racist, capitalist society that allows white wealth to prosper at the expense of racial equity and justice.

Corporate greed won’t change with a different energy product for sale

A march against climate injustice. (Credit: Friends of the Earth International/flickr)

Oil companies have a history of concentrating their industry and environmental impact in BIPOC and low-income communities. ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies spent decades convincing the public and the government of doubt surrounding anthropogenic climate change to ensure their pockets would stay full. While renewable energy sources like solar and wind could alleviate the harmful emissions and pollution that plague fence-line communities, many other environmental justice issues would remain unless other changes are made.

As a glimpse into this future, one renewable energy giant called NextEra Energy emerged in the last few years rather quietly, gaining significant ground economically and beginning to rival the market capitalization of oil behemoths like ExxonMobil. NextEra began as a utility company in Florida and has since expanded nationwide providing solar and wind to cities and states all over the country. While the growing popularity of a renewable energy company is exciting, their path to success feels eerily familiar.

They grew profits by slowly and quietly using federal tax credits to fund new solar and wind projects and growing in market valuation until they could significantly undercut other renewable energy companies’ prices, becoming the largest renewable energy company in the country. Their board is composed of mostly white and male leadership, and while they support environmental stewardship, none of their company objectives available on their website mention environmental justice.

So, while the country is finally excited about transitioning to renewable energy, rebranding our capitalistic energy industry with shiny solar cells instead of oily black gold will still leave BIPOC and low-income communities with most of the same problems they face today.

We need environmental justice now

The problems of inefficient energy infrastructure in homes, energy poverty, frequent blackouts, and loss of power in natural disasters will continue to disproportionately affect BIPOC and low-income communities regardless of the type of energy fueling their homes. True alleviation of climate change requires many policy initiatives including: household and utility plant weatherization funded at the federal and local levels; government regulation of energy companies to prevent price gouging and provide strong consumer protections; and involvement of stakeholders at all levels of local communities in the implementation of renewable energy.

I recently proposed a series of policies addressing these needs which fit into the Biden administration’s current budget and promise to provide significant financial support to environmental justice communities. We cannot wait any longer to support our most marginalized communities. We need policy action centering environmental, climate, and energy justice, now.

Carolyn E. Ramírez is a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate at Northwestern University researching new materials for organic solar cells. Follow them on Twitter @CRami77.

Banner photo credit: Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon

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Why the MENA region is sorely lagging behind in RE growth

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Zeenat Ganie wondering Why the MENA region is sorely lagging behind in RE growth in ESI Africa of today could not find better than “The MENA […] is home to geopolitical tensions, global interests and a wide variety of multifaceted contexts. […] Untapping MENA’s renewable energy potential will be crucial to equip the region with the right tools to face these challenges.”

In a new study, RES4Africa and Enel Green Power address the reason why only 1% of the global renewable energy (RE) growth occurred in the MENA region over the last decade.

The Middle East and Northern Africa region reached just 1% of global RE capacity addition in the last 10 years, despite remarkable potential in renewables generation. To examine the situation and propose targeted solutions, RES4Africa Foundation in collaboration with Enel Green Power launched its new study Connecting the Dots, 10 Years of Renewable Energy in MENA: What Has (not) Happened? The analysis was presented during the homonymous virtual event.

“Connecting the Dots” is a series of studies aimed at unveiling insights into the renewable energy sector in high-potential regions. The last analysis focused on the main features of MENA, examining them against three dimensions:

– what has happened in the last 10 years,
– what limited the growth of RE sources, and
– what would be needed to achieve a full energy transition.

The MENA region has seen major changes in the last 10 years, but not always for the best. Climate change is tangibly affecting the region (droughts, rise in the sea level, increasing migration) as well as worrying temperature rises. Moreover, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the outputs of the region shrank by 3.9% and the youth unemployment rate has seen a remarkable increase of up to 27%.

The worsening environmental and economic situation is not matched by a proper development of renewables. In the region, more than 90% of electricity still comes from fossil fuels, with per capita emissions among the highest in the world. Despite wind and solar having reached 36% of RE capacity in the last decade, further clues of unevenness can be traced: just five countries out of 19 (Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Jordan and Israel) accounted for more than 80% of the additional solar and wind capacity.

The study identifies the main obstacles to full development and growth of RE in the region.

The regulatory and policy framework, with a few exceptions, is still far from meeting its goals and from showing adequate standards of openness, attractiveness and readiness. Additionally, the power sector is still affected by a lack of sufficient cross-border trading as well as frequent outages and a quasi-fiscal deficit of utilities, the latter costing up to 4% of the GDP.

The key actions identified by the analysis highlight the need to diversify the energy mix and to formulate clear energy transition plans. According to the analysis, targeted reforms should also be implemented in order to move away from highly subsidised and distorted fossil fuel-based markets while reducing the inefficiencies of utilities, supporting the creation of independent regulatory authorities and the implementation of transparent tender procedures.

President of RES4Africa Foundation and CEO of Enel Green Power, Salvatore Bernabei said: “Unleashing MENA’s green capability can be a driving force for a sustainable socio-economic development. Joining efforts for a more sustainable and prosperous future for all can therefore promote dialogue and mitigate the already tangible effects of climate change”.

Secretary-General of RES4Africa Foundation, Roberto Vigotti added: “The MENA […] is home to geopolitical tensions, global interests and a wide variety of multifaceted contexts. […] Untapping MENA’s renewable energy potential will be crucial to equip the region with the right tools to face these challenges.”

Access the report: Connecting the Dots, 10 Years of Renewable Energy in MENA: What Has (not) Happened?

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