As the world continues to adapt to the profound impact of the global pandemic, workplace practices are currently under the microscope. Thinking about the future of business operations presents an opportunity to also consider how climate change is transforming commercial properties. With a return to the office on everyones’ minds, the looming threat of climate change is shaping the way commercial buildings will operate in the future. This article explores the relationship between commercial properties and climate change, and how buildings may have to adapt in the future.
Is The UK Successfully Fighting Climate Change?
According to the BBC, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached record levels in 2020, despite lockdowns forcing people to stay at home. 2020 was over 1.2°C hotter than the average year in the 19th Century, and the hottest year on record in Europe. However, the wheels are in motion to fight climate change and counteract this atmospheric warming. The UK government recently announced plans to introduce the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) recently published a report that argues that the progress made by parliament to reduce carbon emissions so far does not correlate with the urgency of the challenge. The report claims that numerous long-promised schemes including the Heat and Buildings Strategy have been delayed for over a year, creating a large policy gap and a failure to cut carbon emissions. Moving forward, the government must lead the transformation of commercial buildings through a rapid scale-up in low-carbon investment and low-carbon choices.
Carbon Emissions From Commercial Properties
Numerous studies have demonstrated that commercial properties around the world are a large contributor to global warming. The lighting, heating and ventilation of commercial buildings accounts for over half of their primary energy use and plays a huge role in emitting carbon into the atmosphere. Last year, the heating of properties accounted for around 37% of the UK’s carbon emissions, highlighting the importance of low-carbon heating methods such as heat pumps and gas boilers. To learn more about decarbonising buildings, click here to read our article.
The Impact of Climate Change on Commercial Properties
As global warming continues, energy consumption will change as workplaces adapt to new environmental conditions. If the average temperature continues to increase, offices will require a higher level of air conditioning to ensure occupants are comfortable. Therefore, the amount of electricity used for cooling will increase and the use of natural gas and other fuels used for heating will fall. This creates a vicious cycle; when the atmosphere gets warmer, more energy will be used to cool commercial buildings, increasing the amount of carbon released and perpetuating global warming.
Studies show that global warming causes extreme weather conditions, resulting in more natural disasters and erratic changes in weather. This unpredictable weather may impact the energy efficiency and sustainability of commercial buildings, as well as indoor air quality and thermal comfort. Similar to the issue of rising temperatures, commercial properties may use more energy to combat extreme weather issues and continue to provide occupants with a comfortable indoor environment. Some companies may also need to invest in protective measures against extreme weather conditions such as lightning conductors and flood defences.
To fight climate change, companies that emit high levels of carbon will have to invest heavily in upgrading their facilities and reducing the amount of carbon produced by their sites. Widespread refurbishment of carbon-emitting systems within buildings is key to reducing emissions and can be achieved through numerous changes such as upgrading the insulation, lighting and HVAC system. For fast results, low-carbon HVAC systems must replace existing HVAC systems which are more carbon-intensive. To create further reductions in carbon emissions, the building’s energy usage should be optimised by adjusting systems such as lighting and air conditioning based on the occupancy rate.
Smart Buildings And Climate Change
The technology that powers smart buildings creates a huge opportunity to transform commercial buildings in response to climate change. Using numerous sensors including occupancy, temperature and humidity, smart buildings monitor environmental factors and make real-time adjustments to reduce energy usage. For instance, smart lighting only uses energy when it’s needed by detecting when a room is occupied. Smart HVAC systems use sensors to learn how much air and heat is needed in each section of a building, creating significant energy savings. The smart sensors also allow the HVAC system to optimise its own performance, further reducing carbon emissions. To learn more about smart buildings and how they can save energy, please read our article.
Regardless of the response from the government, commercial properties will have to adapt to global warming in the near future. If the government introduces stringent laws, companies may have to invest in low-carbon solutions to transform their properties and reduce their emissions. On the other hand, if appropriate action is not taken, global warming will continue to create warmer summers and cooler and wetter winters. As a result, commercial properties will have to adapt to these new weather conditions and use more energy in the form of oil, gas and electricity for heating and cooling. Smart technology, low-carbon systems and retrofitting are all viable ways that commercial buildings could manage these changes in weather without increasing carbon emissions. If you’d like to speak to an expert about reducing your site’s carbon emissions, please contact us.