A new report from the ULI Greenprint Center for Building Performance shows that several of the world’s leading commercial real estate owners and managers are making significant progress in reducing energy consumption, carbon emissions, and water use in their buildings.

Greenprint Performance Report, Volume 8, which tracks, benchmarks, and analyzes the performance of nearly 8,700 properties owned by Greenprint members, demonstrates a 3.4 percent reduction in energy consumption, a 3.3 percent reduction in carbon emissions, and a 4.3 percent reduction in water use between 2015 and 2016.

Since Greenprint started tracking building performance in 2009, the energy consumed by members’ properties has dropped 13.9 percent, carbon emissions have decreased 17.9 percent, and water use has dropped by 12.1 percent. The reductions occurred even as building occupancy rose, suggesting that greater space use does not necessarily cause a decline in building performance.

“To adapt to evolving environmental and climate-related vulnerabilities, building owners and policy makers are thinking about ways to protect against the possibility of eroding asset value,” says Greenprint chairman emeritus Charles B. Leitner III. “Leaders in the real estate industry that have committed to mitigation and adaptation strategies are already benefiting from asset value preservation and creation.” Leitner was awarded the inaugural Greenprint Leadership Award at ULI’s 2017 Fall Meeting in Los Angeles in recognition of his tireless commitment to helping Greenprint grow.

Globally, buildings account for more than one-third of global climate–changing carbon emissions. The results from the new report indicate that Greenprint members are on track to outperform their target of a 50 percent emissions reductions by 2030, which is in line with the goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and ratified by the Paris Climate Accord.

This marks the seventh-consecutive year that members have experienced improved building performance, in terms of energy use and emissions. The reduction in emissions in 2016 is the equivalent of 2.6 million trees planted, 21,500 cars taken off the road, 10,800 homes consuming no energy, and 236,000 barrels of oil not consumed.

“Greenprint continues to be an important catalyst for change, helping its members take meaningful and measurable action to advance environmental performance,” says Patrick L. Phillips, ULI chief executive officer. “Through Greenprint, we are demonstrating how the built environment can contribute to energy and water conservation and be part of the solution to climate change. The achievements of Greenprint’s members are inspiring a broader movement within the real estate sector to improve building performance.”

The report notes that several market drivers motivate property owners to improve environmental performance and create financial value through the implementation of best practices. These drivers include:

  • Investor mandates. The focus on sustainable and responsible investing has grown significantly over the past several years, with investment in the United States surpassing $8.5 trillion in 2016 and accounting for more than 20 percent of the value of professionally managed assets.
  • Tenant demand. Major tenants are embracing sustainability and other next-generation features as part of their leasing criteria. ULI’s Tenant Energy Optimization Program helps owners and tenants work together by offering a returns-based approach to integrating energy efficiency into tenant space design and construction that leads to reduced energy use and costs. This program aligns with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Tenant Space recognition, which helps tenants receive acknowledgment for their investments in energy-efficient spaces.
  • Global adoption of energy efficiency regulations for commercial buildings is helping drive change. These include Energy Performance Certificates across the European Union; mandatory benchmarking in 26 U.S. cities and states, as well as Tokyo and Singapore; and mandatory energy codes for most countries in North America, Europe, and Asia.
  • Goal setting. Many real estate owners have begun implementing multiproperty retrofits, technology upgrades, and operational improvements. Setting portfolio-wide goals helps owners ensure that their investments achieve the maximum return in financial value and environmental benefits. Some examples: Prologis’s goal is to generate 200 megawatts of solar energy per year and reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020; Grosvenor is seeking a 50 percent reduction in energy use across its portfolio by 2023; and CommonWealth Partners is striving for a 20 percent reduction in energy use by 2020.

The report identifies several industry trends related to the reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions, including:

  • Reimagining the energy grid. There is an increasing use of microgrids, which are discrete energy systems with a network of electricity users and a local source of supply; they can be attached to a centralized power grid or operated independently.
  • Investing in resilience. Local governments and investors are increasingly seeking ways to reduce the likelihood of damage to property and infrastructure from major weather-related events and natural disasters. Resilience as applied to the built environment is becoming an integral part of risk management.
  • Legislating efficiency. As governments continue to recognize the impending risks of climate change, they are taking action by raising or setting new targets for building performance through energy efficiency legislation and strengthening building energy codes.

The 8,684 properties owned or managed by Greenprint members are located across 28 countries and account for over 1.9 billion square feet (177 million sq m) of building area. The value of real estate assets under management by Greenprint members exceeds $1 trillion, which is more than 5 percent of the value of high-quality commercial properties globally.

The data used in the report were submitted to the Greenprint Center by its 28 members and affiliated partners, which comprise an alliance of the world’s leading real estate owners, investors, and financial institutions committed to improving environmental performance across the global property industry.

Greenprint’s members are: Bentall Kennedy, Berkshire Communities, BlackRock, CalPERS, Clarion Partners, CommonWealth Partners, Deutsche Asset Management, First Washington Realty Inc., GID, GI Partners, GLL Real Estate Partners, Granite, Grosvenor, Heitman, Hines, Invesco, Jamestown Properties, Jones Lang LaSalle, LaSalle Investment Management, Miller Capital Advisory Inc., Paramount Group Inc., Parkway Properties Inc., PGIM, Prologis, Rudin Management Company Inc., Sonae Sierra, Tishman Speyer, and the Net Group.

Greenprint is part of ULI’s Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance, which also includes the Institute’s Tenant Energy Optimization Program, which helps commercial building tenants save energy and cut energy costs; the Urban Resilience program, which helps communities become more resilient to natural and manmade disasters; and the Building Healthy Places Initiative, which leverages the power of ULI’s global networks to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities.