Business 2.0, Sustainability

Energy savings in high-density residential

I wrote recently about the value of creating connections to nature in an urban environment.

I came across a striking statistic that really reinforces this point:

By 2030, 80% of City of Sydney residents will live in apartments and 90% of all new homes built will be in high rise apartment buildings.

A layman’s reading of this is that much of the benefits of energy efficiency in addressing emissions are going to have to come from improvements at the high-density residential level.

Some forward thinking cities and property developers recognise this, and are instituting programmes to address high-density residential opportunities for energy efficiency and conservation. City of Sydney’s work on smart green apartments, Green Strata and the multi-coucil/stakeholder Smart Blocks initiative are just some examples.

However, it is a notoriously difficult space, with not a lot of “pull” coming from body corporates, developers and building managers. From a development perspective, the split incentive problem (where the expenditure for savings is borne by a party who doesn’t receive the benefit of the resultant savings) is particularly prominent. Whereas in the commercial property sector there is a strong pull from tenants and other end customers for more sustainable buildings (due to the productivity and cost saving gains that are evident in well-designed properties), this is apparently less so in the residential market.

If we take a view that current building stock (i.e. those being built today) have a life span of 50–100 years, this means that a lot of design decisions are being made that will be difficult, or expensive, to change and adapt in future years as efficiency becomes more important.

So, how might we send appropriate demand signals to developers that drive more sustainable decisions at the time of build? In the absence of strong commercial drivers, how else might we make this a priority for developers (outside of legislation/regulation)?

Feature image credit.

Also published on Medium.